Every language has expressions that are a bit more than just sounds and letters. They are verbal reflections of the national traits and uniqueness, like the carefree dolce vita of Italians, the brave Spanish ¡No pasarán! or the romantic French cherchez la femme.
The Belarusian language is rich in such juicy sayings as well. And they deserve to be learned and used.
Усеагульная млявасць і абыякавасць да жыцця
Łacinka: Usieahulnaja mljavaść i abyjakavaść da žyćcia…
Literal translation: Widespread apathy and indifference to life
Meaning: You know that feeling when life goes by and you just don’t care? You don’t really want anything, feel anything and nothing really matters. Sounds like the symptoms of deep depression?
Well, for many Belarusians, it’s the way of life and philosophy they usually apply to anything that is happening in the world, country, and even their own lives. In fact, even statistics prove general apathy in Belarus.
The Global Emotions 2018 survey named Belarusians one of the least emotional nations in the world… And we are okay with this fact, you know, whatever.
Хавайся ў бульбу!
Łacinka: Chavajsia ŭ bulbu!
Literal translation: Hide in potatoes!
Meaning: Don’t look for the phrase in a thesaurus or a phraseological dictionary – you won’t find it there. But what does it mean and what are the circumstances to trigger it?
One may assume that the expression is used like direct instructions to hide in potato bushes to avoid any troubles. This is not far from the truth. And still, the phrase has its own connotation of surprise or irony when something really, really bad happens.
Interestingly, Russians use more neutral “bury one’s head in the sand” saying, while Ukrainians, on the other hand, have “hide in wheat” expression that is obviously closer in meaning to its Belarusian analog.
Згінуў у пошуках ежы
Łacinka: Zhinuŭ u pošukach ježy
Literal translation: He disappeared in search of food
Meaning: Another mysterious saying with a dark past whose precise meaning as well as its origin remains blurry.
Today’s 20-30-year-olds who happen to use it, say they heard it from their parents/at school/somewhere else but have no idea where it comes from and what it means. And still the phrase is alive and breathing.
Цырк на дроце
Łacinka: Cyrk na drocie
Literal translation: A circus on the wire
Meaning: Whenever something super funny or super absurd happens, Belarusians say “cyrk na drocie!”
By the way, the phrase has nothing to do with acrobats and wirewalkers, but rather with serious people behaving pointlessly. So, it seems, “cyrk na drocie” would suit many of modern political developments.
Мая хата з краю
Łacinka: Maja chata z kraju
Literal translation: My house is on the edge
Meaning: Have you ever heard of Belarusians intervening in other nations’ affairs or pushing their policies on someone? No, and that’s because “our house is on the edge”.
The closest meaning of the phrase is “none of my business”. Still “maja chata z kraju” is much wider since it reflects, in a way, the Belarusian life philosophy.
Whatever goes around – war, revolution, fire, flood, wedding, birth or death – it’s none of my business until it concerns me directly. Belarusian classic Yanka Kupala even devoted a poem to it.
It’s hard to say where that way of Belarusian thinking comes from and if it was determined by the history or something else, but let’s not judge us for it. After all, every medal has two sides!
А можа так і трэба?
Łacinka: A moža tak i treba?
Literal translation: Maybe it’s the way it should be
Meaning: The phrase is a national meme but its history is far longer than the history of the internet. It goes back to the 1905 verse of Belarusian poet and political activist Alaiza Pashkevich.
The poet is indignant about the patience and lack of struggle from common people against oppression.
“A moža tak i treba?” perfectly describes what a typical Belarusian thinks in a stressful situation – we aren’t happy about it but we will most likely put up with it.
Call it fatalism or “mljavaść i abyjakavaść” (remember phrase No 1?), we don’t care. Because maybe it’s the way it should be!
Чарка і скварка
Łacinka: Čarka i skvarka
Literal translation: A shot of vodka and a small piece of fried bacon
Meaning: Funny at first glance, the phrase has serious economic meaning. The Čarka i skvarka Index is Belarusian analog of the Big Mac Index.
It helps to calculate the purchasing power of the Belarusian ruble and compare the incomes of Belarusians against neighbors through the cost of 100 grams of pork and 100 grams of vodka.
Besides the economic reports, modern Belarusians also use the phrase in daily life to describe the values of a person who is unambitious and too focused on basic material needs.
In other words, čarka i skvarka is a yummy appetizer but it is better if you don’t stop at it!
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