to flirt

I walked
into a small shop the other day to see a handsome young man smiling at the
saleswoman over the cash register. The young woman handed him his change and
said: “Только не надо борзеть!” He
looked pleased with himself, she smiled in spite of herself, and I understood

hing — except what she said.

So I came
home and looked it up. Now борзеть
is my new favorite verb. It means “to be insolent,” so the
cashier was saying, “Don’t get fresh with me!” But the level of impudence in борзеть seems to range from
charmingly cheeky, like the guy chatting up the cashier, to truly
inappropriate: Андрей быстренько стал борзеть, жену тиранил, гадости ей говорил (Andrei quickly began to act up —
he terrorized his wife and said horrible things to her.) Sometimes борзеть is beyond bad: Совсем страх
потеряли, борзеют (They’re not afraid of anything or anyone. They’re completely
out of line.)

Борзеть has produced the verb доборзеться, which like all verbs of this type
(intransitive — that is, ending in -ся — with the prefix до-) means to act so badly that your insolence lands you in trouble. I’d
like this verb more if it didn’t seem to be used almost exclusively to describe
wives who weren’t submissive enough: Жене надо задуматься о
том, что можно доборзеться и до
развода, если не
уважает мужа (A wife should think about
the fact that she might smart-aleck her way to a divorce for not respecting her
husband.) But you could also say to a man or woman: Доборзеешься, пощёчину получишь (You keep talking fresh like that and you’ll get

On the
sunny side of борзеть are verbs that let you chat up someone within the bounds of
propriety. You might кокетничать (to flirt), although some people think there
is an age limit on this: Он не
кокетничал, ему было за сорок (He didn’t flirt; he was over 40.) It seems флиртовать (to flirt) is used slightly more
often to describe women and their behavior, but this is not a hard and fast
rule: Он сидит
за столом, радуется хорошему вину, шутит, флиртует с дамами (He sits at a
table, enjoying the good wine, making jokes and flirting with the ladies.) And you’d
be surprised at who you can flirt with: У русских интеллектуалов склонность флиртовать с правительством (Russian intellectuals have a tendency to flirt with
the government.)

word is used even more often for political or ideological flirtation — заигрывать (to flirt, come on to). In
most cases there is a tinge of disapproval, either about the object of
flirtation or about the way it’s done. For example: Нельзя заигрывать с
политическими экстремистами (You shouldn’t flirt with political extremists.) В 1989 году Политбюро и Горбачев, которые уже
заигрывали с западной демократией, решили провести выборы по-другому (In 1989 the Politburo and Gorbachev, who were
already flirting with democracy, decided to hold the elections in a different
way.) It sounds as if the leaders of the Soviet Union decided to change the
system on a lark.

Of course, заигрывать is not just Communist Party
behavior, it’s get-down-and-party behavior. On the flirt-o-meter it registers
as quite active — more than a wink and a nod: Саша сыплет комплиментами и заигрывает со всеми девушками, и
уговаривает одну удалиться с ним в
лесок (Sasha piles on
the compliments and makes passes at all the girls, and then talks one of them
into going off into the woods with him.)

Finally, there’s
заискивать (to
curry favor with), which is fake flirting with an ulterior motive. This is what
some folks do with their bosses: Начальника побаиваются и перед ним заискивают (They’re afraid of the
boss and suck up to him.) This fawning is often done with the dreadful заискивающая
улыбка (ingratiating smile).

back on the scene in the shop, it’s hard to say if the guy was flirting or
fawning. I guess is depends on what kind of favors he wanted — kisses or

Michele A.
Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, author of “The Russian
Word’s Worth,” a collection of her columns. Follow her on Twitter