12 Russian proverbs to get you through the World Cup

The Russian language is awash with hundreds of proverbs. Many originated centuries ago, but the bite-sized moral messages still endure in popular culture today. With the biggest tournament in football kicking off in Moscow in a matter of days, we’ve been pulling together some traditional words of wisdom from the host nation. Try throwing a few around - you’ll be sure to impress your fellow footy fans. And who knows, they might just help you stay calm and composed in the face of defeat. Or victory!

1. Without effort, you won’t even pull a fish out of a pond

A charming, angling-based alternative to the expression “no pain, no gain” – reminding us that we need to put work in if we are to reap rewards. Even the simplest of tasks requires effort! Let’s hope the players hear this one…

2. Love is evil – it will make you fall in love with a goat

This isn’t suggesting that we frequently fall for farm animals, but rather that love is blind – and it’s easy to become besotted with the wrong person (or team!). We can’t see the faults in the ones we love.

3. A spoken word is not a sparrow. Once it flies out, you can't catch it

Once something is said, it cannot be unsaid. So think before you speak! Especially if you’re in a pub with opposition fans. (One would think a sparrow is very difficult to catch, but seemingly not for the person who penned this proverb.)

4. If you like to sled, you have to like to drag the sledge

The Russians know a thing or two about sledging, and have sensibly brought the theme into an idiom or two. This one reminds us that to do the things we love, we will have to undertake things we don’t. Quite simply, there is no pleasure without pain. Much like being a football fan.

5. In a quiet lagoon, devils dwell

A wonderfully evocative alternative to “still waters run deep”, this proverb’s purpose is to warn us that a person’s calm and placid surface may conceal a passionate or dangerous interior. It’s always the quiet ones.

6. Your elbow is close, yet you can't bite it

This one’s a little like, “so near, and yet so far”. A task may seem easy, but it’s probably harder than you think. Your team might have made the final, but they’re not lifting the trophy just yet!

7. Don’t go to another monastery with your own rules

In other words: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Although not many of us frequent monastic houses these days, the message still applies: adapt yourself to the traditions and customs of the people you are amongst. Vodka, anyone?

8. Live for a century, learn for a century

This simple proverb reminds us that life is, forever, a learning process. No matter how old we get, we should never presume we know it all. Try telling that to the pundits.

9. If you are going to call yourself a milk-mushroom, get in the basket!

What a fun(ghi) expression! This means, if you make a claim, be ready to follow through on it. In other words, “put your money where your mouth is.”

10. I ran from the wolf but ran into a bear

Wolves and bears pop up in Russian proverbs a lot. What better way to translate this one than “out of the frying pan and into the fire”? Your team had a tough game against Uruguay, but now they’re facing France!

11. Work is not a wolf. It won’t run away to the forest

This wolf-themed idiom seems to have a different meaning, depending on who you ask. For some it implies that work and pressing tasks won’t simply disappear – you need to tackle them. While others see it as a reminder to take it easy: the work isn’t going anywhere, so you can return to it later. Relax, rewind, and watch some of the World Cup!

12. An old friend is better than two new ones

Unless, of course, one of your new acquaintances has a spare ticket to the FIFA World Cup final.

Listen to Word of Mouth, a series exploring the world of words and the ways in which we use them.