Russian Winter Words
01 December, 2016
Russian Winter Words
As winter arrived and snow began to fall, I realised that I lacked the vocab that is most needed right now – words to help me describe the weather! I don’t mean any old weather, I mean the words to describe more specifically how the conditions on the street are making your commute that bit tougher and your bed that bit cosier, or maybe your walks in the park a bit more magical and the view from your window much more beautiful. So I’ve put together a list of some of the key words for the wintertime, crucial if you’re planning on surviving Russia’s most infamous month.
Snow – Снег
I think you’d be hard pushed to not know this one already, what with snowfall being an inherent part of Russian winters. Almost the entire territory of Russia is under a permanent layer of snow in winter, excepting just the Krasnodarskii Krai, Crimea and the plains of the Northern Caucasus. Other words associated with snow include snowflake – снежинка – and snowfall – снегопад. A сугроб is a snowdrift and they can naturally form in the most beautiful and unexpected shapes with the help of the wind. I first learnt this particular word from one of my first Russian textbooks, which warned me that Russians happily jump into them in wintertime after a stint in the burning hot sauna – all part of the banya experience, or so I am told. I myself haven’t experienced this yet, and I’m not sure if I’m sad or glad of the fact. Other crucial snow words include snow angel – снежный ангел – and snowman – снеговик or снежная баба – both of which can be made by kids of any age, and snowballs – снежок – which are crucial weapons in the only war that is worth waging. But snowball fights aside, if you haven’t tried the dairy drink снежок, then what on earth have you been doing with your life? If however, like me, you fall in love with this sweet fermented milk drink, then be cautious not to order a snowball in winter in the UK. It is a different affair entirely!
Ice – Лёд
But don’t be fooled into thinking that only snow falls in Russia. Sleet, a mixture of rain and snow – дождь со снегом or мокрый снег – is also a regular guest in wintertime, along with hail – град – and ice pellets, which is also known as ice rain – ледяный дождь. Ice rains can be pretty, like the one we had a few weeks ago in Moscow (perfectly round teeny tiny balls of ice fell, leaving the ground white as if covered in snow, but they didn’t compact down and instead, when kicked, puffed into the air like puffs of polystyrene) but they also can be sharp and fall hard, and in such circumstances, calling them ice needles or ледяные иглы wouldn’t be inaccurate! Diamond dust – алмазный пыль – is one of the most beautiful ice phenomena and is when a cloud of little ice crystals twinkle in the air. We had some yesterday as it happens, but heck if my camera could catch it on film.
Frost, the icy coating that gives your back garden a wintery feel in the UK but can turn entire forests white without a drop of snow in Russia, is иней, but people often confuse this with морозь. Морозь means very low temperatures but English uses the word frost to describe this as well (though more commonly it refers to the icy layer rather than the general conditions), hence the confusion. The type that covers those trees so beautifully is known as изморозь. Ice also creates its own beautiful artworks in the form of an icicle – сосулька – but be careful of walking too close to buildings as icicles falling from guttering can leave you worse for wear.
Attention! Slippery! – Осторожно! Скользко!
Now if you saw my earlier post on how not to slip, then you know that that is my biggest wintertime quandary, despite being a big fan of snow and freezing temperatures. That is because of two things in particular and if you love a good moan at the end of the day, then you’re probably gonna need these two phrases: slush – слякоть – and black ice – гололедица. Why on earth Mother Nature allows for these two frightful phenomena I do not know, but there they are. Гололёд (glaze ice, which is literally naked ice in Russian and isn’t limited to flat surfaces) and its wicked little sister гололедица are the devils of the winter walk home, especially at night on the poorly lit route from the metro. Слякоть is the ruin-er of nice boots and trouser hems, and bottoms if you’re unlucky enough to slip and fall. A little message to black ice and slush in the words of Doris Day, should they be reading: I could do without you!
So there we have just a few key words to get you through this winter. There’s many more phrases we could add such as “stuck in a blizzard”, “housebound due to ten-foot snowdrifts” or “tongue stuck to frozen pole”, but I think I am going to be optimistic and hope that they need never come up during your experiences of the winter wonderland that is Russia! After all, snow is my favourite thing in the world and nothing beats the proper winters that Russia has. I was luckily enough to spend a winter two years ago in Irkutsk, Siberia. Never have I had so much fun, playing in the snow like an excited kid and witnessing the magic that nature is capable of creating. So go out and enjoy the snow, and let’s remember to look after our world so that future generations can also experience wonderful winters.
Ellie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow