Putin's piglet soliloquy

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has often shocked - and sometimes entertained - Russians with his use of vulgar slang, has delighted foreigners with his latest foray into choice colloquial Russian.

"I'd prefer not to deal with this issue at all," he said, questioned in Finland about Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower stranded in a Moscow airport. "It's like shearing a piglet - too much squealing, too little wool." In English one might say, "too much heat, not enough light", or (quoting Macbeth) "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

Russian Wikipedia has a long entry devoted to Putinisms, most of which are his own invention. The piglet line appears to be an authentic but little-used Russian saying. One Russian source tells the Monitor that the full version begins: "Arguing with a woman is like shearing a piglet etc."

Much better known was the idiom used by Mikhail Gorbachev, just after the 1991 coup, when parliament speaker Anatoly Lukyanov, an old friend from college, tried to convince him he had played no part in it. "Don't hang noodles on my ears," Gorbachev snapped. In other words, "don't pull the wool over my eyes", or "don't pull my leg".

Listeners to BBC Radio 4's Today Programme this morning tweeted their favourite Russian idioms. Here is a selection:

  • Mark Wallace: Your elbow is near, but you can't bite it - for something that looks easy but isn't
  • MarketChaser: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree - like father like son
  • UptheTrossachs: Having a beard does not make you a philosopher
  • Gareth Evans: They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work
  • Matthew Holehouse: The stupid farmer tells his pigs they smell of manure - ie don't argue with idiots

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