An Earful of Russian

Ухо: ear

When I grow
up — or retire, whichever comes first — I want to get a Ph.D. in linguistics by
writing a dissertation on The Role of Body Parts in Russian Expressions. There
is nothing more fascinating or funnier than noses, eyes, cheeks and chins showing
up in every day expressions. This week I’m all ears.

Russian ear expressions are easy to remember because there are almost exact English
equivalents. This makes for
общийязык (common language) when
mothers of the world unite to talk about their kids.
Мамы (moms) complain that their
valuable advice is not assimilated and retained by their teenage children:
говорю, чтообразованиевсё, ноэтовходитводноухо
ииздругоговыходит (I keep telling him that
education is everything, but it goes in one ear and out the other.) And when
said teenager commits to a university degree, moms and
мамы shout in joy: Яне
верюсвоимушам! (I can’t believe my ears!)

Meanwhile, the
teenager tells his buddies:
образование, япропускаюмимоушей (When my mother tells me
about education, I just let it go by, literally “go past my ears.”) Sometimes
however, teenspayattentiontomoms: Я во все уши слушал, как
она напилась в школе — чтобы потом напоминать! (I was all ears when she told me about getting
drunk in school — so I can remind her about that later.)

Russian ears
do amazing tricks. They droop to show disgust: Он такие глупости нес
ёт, что уши вянут (It makes me sick to listen to the
crap he says.) Or they stand up straight to show wariness or concern:
Онскользкийтип. Держитес
нимуховостро (He’s a slippery customer. Watch out with him, literally
“keep your years pricked.”) They can even flap in the wind, either to indicate
incomprehension or a failure to do something important: Покамыбудемхлопатьушамиисмотреть, сколькостоитнефть, ничегоне
изменится (As long as
we sit on our hands doing nothing — literally “wag our ears”— and just watch
the price of oil, nothing will change.) You can even stand on them, which means
that you are going all out to do something:
ушах, чтобысдатьномервпечатьвовремя (The whole editorial team
bent over backwards — literally “stood on their ears” — to get the edition
ready for press on time.)

Ears can also serve as visual aids. For example, since you can’t see your own ears, невидатькаксвоихушей means that you’ll never get something. Наэтойзарплатеновуюмашинуневидатькак
своихушей (On that salary you can forget about buying a
new car.) Sometimes the visuals are metaphorical.
(to cut the ear) means “it sounds bad,” like an accent or
Названиеновогоавтомобилярежетухо (The name of the new car
sounds awful.) Sometimes ear talk is very
долгахпосамыеуши (He
was up to his ears in debt).

But you can
be up to your ears in something good, too: Он в неё влюбился по самые уши (He
was head over heels in love with her.)

Towhichthe momssay:
В любви он не смыслит ни уха, ни
(He doesn’t know a thing — literally “not an
ear nor a snout” — about love.)

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