7 Untranslatable Russian Words

Russian is an Indo-European language, and the biggest Slavic language in terms of speakers. It is actually the 8th most spoken language in the world. It uses the beautiful and lively Cyrillic alphabet, and they have a fabulous anthem.

In order to spark your desire to learn Russian, we have compiled a list of eight curious and untranslatable Russian words. These few words are enough to make you go and discover the intricacies of this great language. After all, there are 278 million Russian speakers across twenty-one countries around the world and Russian is increasingly demand by companies.

  • Toska (‘Тоска’ in Cyrillic)

Vladmir Nabokov said: “No English word can translate all the facets of the word toska. In its deepest and most painful sense, it is a feeling of great spiritual anguish, often without a specific cause. A dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to be desired, a sick longing, a vague restlessness, mental agony, anxiety. In some cases it could be the desire for something or for someone in particular, nostalgia, a pain of love. At its lowest level, it boils down to boredom.”

And no, it’s not the same as depression.

  • Pochemuchka (‘Почемучка’ in Cyrillic)

А person who asks a lot, a person that is inquisitive. But, there is actually no proper translation for this word. It is another one of those great untranslatable words of the Russian language.

  • Tak (‘Так’ in Cyrillic)

It is used in any situation where you would otherwise respond with the words ‘yes‘, ‘in order‘, ‘OK‘ or ‘well‘. Так has lots of versatility as a word.

E.g. Would you like some coffee? -Tak. How’s everything going for Mother Russia? -Tak.

  • Zapoi (‘Запой’ in Cyrillic)

Remember all of those gifs and videos of drunk Russians? Well, they actually have a word for it. Запой means to endure several days of drunkenness and to wake up in a place you don’t recognize.

  • Troika (‘Тройка’ in Cyrillic)

It’s a very rare Russian word nowadays and means a carriage pulled by 3 horses used in the eighteenth century as a postal service and, later, as a transport dedicated to leisure and travel.

If you have ever seen Russian movies like Anastasia or Doctor Zhivago or any other film that takes place in Russia, you have probably seen this type of carriage.

  • Sputnik (‘Спутник’ in Cyrillic)

It’s one of the rarest words today and it means literally “satellite” so it’s not technically untranslatable when it comes to the topic of aerospace. However, before the mid-twentieth century, it meant “a traveling companion, a person traveling with another.”

Sputnik is one of the most famous Russian words and probably the first to go global after the launching of the Sputnik 1 satellite. However, its original meaning is still valid, so remember, every time you are travelling with a companion, you are actually two sputniks to each other.

When you come to think of it, the entire Fellowship of the Ring gang was a big Sputnik gang!

  • Pogrom (‘Погром’ in Cyrillic)

Another rare word in the Russian language with the meaning of “series of massive violent actions directed against a group of the population”.

And as a treat, the glorious Russian anthem (and the anthem of the USSR in the past):

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