20 Interesting Facts about Russian

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I recently dug up a bunch of papers from summer school in Nizhny Novgorod. One page was a double-sided list titled 20 занимательных фактов о русском языке (20 interesting facts about the Russian language) that our teacher handed out during class one afternoon. Instead of tossing the paper, I thought it would be fun to share a translation of it here first…

Russian is one of the most versatile languages in the world. It’s spoken by a staggering amount of people all over the world. With that in mind, it’s time to discover 20 interesting facts about the Russian language.

1. Almost all Russian words that start with the letter a are borrowed words. There are very few words in modern-day Russian that begin with a, such as азбука, аз, and авось.

2. In old Russian, the letter x was called хер, which led to the word похерить (to cross something out by drawing an X on paper). Only later did the word acquire its current meaning: to ruin something, to lose something, to fuck something up.

3. The only Russian words with three Es in a row are длинношеее (long-necked) and змееед (snake eater).

4. Until the 14th century, all swear words were called «нелепые глаголы» (which at the time meant ugly speech).

5. The word соответственно is both a preposition and a conjunction.

6. To successfully master the difficult phrase я люблю вас, English speakers use the similar-sounding phrase “yellow blue bus”.

7. The Russian alphabet is very strange itself. Some letters are exactly the same as latin letters. Other letters look the same but sound very different. The letters ъ and ь can’t be pronounced by themselves.

8. Russian has a total of 74 words that begin with the letter й, but most Russians can remember only 3: йод, йога, Йошкар-Ола. Words that start with ы are all used to name towns: Ыллымах, Ынахсыт, Ытык-Кюёль. (All of these towns are in Yakutia.)

9. There’s one Russian word that uses the letter о 7 times: обороноспособность.

10. Russian currently has 260 million speakers, making it the 5th most spoken language in the world.

11. Russian is the second most popular language on the internet, second only to English.

12. In 2009, in accordance with an order from the Russian Ministry of Education, the gender of the word кофе at last became simultaneously masculine and neutral.

13. Although the word баба is now slang, it previously was a very respectful word. It originally meant a woman who had given birth to a boy.

14. Many people consider the word хулиган to be native to the Russian language. In reality, the word came from the last name of a rowdy British family.

15. Ё is the youngest letter in the Russian alphabet. It appeared in 1783.

16. The first words ever spoken in space were Russian words spoken by Yuri Gagarin.

17. In 1993’s Guinness Book of World Records, рентгеноэлектрокардиографического was named the longest word in Russian. It contains 33 letters. (Although apparently this record was broken a few years later by превысокомногорассмотрительствующий.)

18. Рука is more than just an important part of the body; it also appears in many common Russian expressions, like носить на руках, руки чешутся, and рука об руку.

19. In old Russian, the letter я was the first letter of the alphabet.

20. In the 18th century, the ! symbol was called точка удивления. (It’s now called восклицательный знак.)


I’m not sure where our teacher found the list, when it was written, or even if all these statements are true- words that start with a are mainly foreign words? there are exactly 74 words that begin with й? didn’t баба originally mean married woman? -but at least some of the “facts” are familiar. For example, ё really is the youngest letter in the alphabet; the letter celebrated its 230th birthday a few years ago. Gagarin was the first human to travel offworld. Похерить is a real word.

Have you ever heard any of these “facts” before? What’s your take on “yellow blue bus”? 😉

2 Responses

  1. Robert
    | Reply

    Have you ever heard any of these “facts” before? What’s your take on “yellow blue bus”? ?

    I first heard this in Saint Petersburg. I thought it was vas not bus.
    At the time I was traveling and looked for yellow blue vases everewhere. I found one in Kronberg, Denmark at the maritime museum. it now is at our home in Nakoda, Russia.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Yes, excellent point! Vase (in British English) is even better than bus – it sounds just like я люблю вас. I hadn’t even thought of that.

      PS: Congrats on your vase find 🙂 And St Petersurg, Nakhodka, wow…it sounds like you’ve done quite a bit of traveling in Russia. Any favorite spots or stories?

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