Why is the first pancake always lumpy? Russian idiom explained

22 February, 2017

This well-known phrase has not so obvious explanation. According to a modern spelling ПЕРВЫЙ БЛИН КОМОМ, it literally means “the first pancake is always a lumpy one” and reminds us not to expect the first attempt to be successful.

But historically, the phrase has more to do with bears than with cooking. Ancient Slavonic tribes celebrated spring with a fest called Komoeditsa, the predecessor of a modern Maslenitsa. The arrival of spring was marked by bears waking up from their winter sleep, and Slavs used to bring the first pancake to the bear’s den to coax it. The bears were honoured as human ancestors and played important role in ancient Slavic worldview. A bear was KOM is in ancient Slavic, so ПЕРВЫЙ БЛИН КОМАМ.

Later the phrase changed it’s spelling to a modern one, it was now ПЕРВЫЙ БЛИН КОМОМ, but the meaning was far from the one used nowadays. In Christian Russia, first pancake was eaten in remembrance of the deceased relatives. It was supposed to get stuck in your throat, tightened by emotions.  So actually it was a sort of a clog, wasn’t it?

Today no one goes into the woods to bribe the bears, and the tradition of commemorating the departed with food had almost vanished. But the phrase continues to live it’s own life, encouraging us not to give up despite first attempt being a failure.

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