5 Russian Diminutives You Don’t Want to Confuse
Russian diminutives can be quite deceptive. Make sure to read through this list before you ask someone for a glass of water!
At first glance, Russian diminutives seem pretty simple. You just add a -chka to any word, and it gets tinier and/or cuter. However, what you get is not always what you expect. Some of these bloopers can be quite embarrassing, as illustrated in the following five examples.
#5. Nosik vs nosok
Nos, as you could guess, means a nose. It’s natural that sometimes you want to highlight how adorable the nose of your significant other or child is. The noun you would use in this case is nosik. But make it nosok (also technically a diminutive of nos), and instead of a cute little nose you get a . . .
Nosok originally refers to the tip (“nose”) of a shoe/foot. From there the meaning was carried over to the clothing item.
Socks can be beautiful, too, but it’s probably not what your love wants to hear.
#4. Bratik vs bratok
In Russian, brat means “brother” (I know). An affectionate form to refer to one’s (usually younger) brother is bratik. But one wrong move, and your sibling turns into a . . .
Originally, bratok was a familiar form of address to any man of relatively the same age. However, in the 19th century it entered the so-called blatnoy (“thieves'”) jargon. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the ensuing criminalization of the Russian society, the term came into common usage.
When inquiring someone after their little brather, take care not to allege that they are in a close relationship with the Russian mafia.
#3. Babushka vs babochka
Baba is an archaic and/or derogatory term for a woman. When you add an -ushka, you get a babushka, which means either any elderly woman, or someone’s grandma.
By the way, the contemporary meaning of the word babushka (a kerchief) comes from the “traditional” headscarf worn by Russian babushkas.
But confuse -ushka and -ochka, and your grandma becomes a . . .
There is a belief in Russia that the souls of the deceased turn into butterflies after death. Hence, babochka etymologically refers to the “little souls” of one’s late predecessors (grandmothers).
By the way, in some antiquated dialects butterflies are still called dushechka — “a little soul.”
#2. Vodichka vs vodochka
One usage of Russian diminutives is to indicate a portion of something. For example, you can ask for khlebushek for a piece of bread (khleb), or vodichka for a small amount of water (voda). However, when demonstrating your mastery of the Russian vernacular, make sure to use i not o, or instead you’ll someone for a . . .
shot of vodka!
“Vodka” itself is etymologically a diminutive of voda, which until the late 19th century referred to any liquid. Correspondingly, vodochka was initially equivalent to vodichka, but has ultimately came to refer to the beverage only.
By the way, although a staple of Russia, the present-day vodka arguably has nothing to do with the actual beverage that the Russians drank down the ages.
Given the Russian traditions, your request for vodochka might well be satisfied, but you might be surprised with the outcome — and “no” will not be an option!
#1. Lobik vs lobok
And here’s our winner.
Did you think it would be quite embarrassing to confuse one’s nose for a sock? Well, then you’ll have to reinvent “embarrassing,” for the same confusion turns lob (“forehead”) into . . .
the mons pubis!
Well, probably the “little forehead” is meant to be above the “little face”, so . . . yeah . . .
What can I say? Although “May I kiss you in the forehead?” is a nice way to show affection, “May I kiss you in the mons?” requires a different level of intimacy — and now you know when to use what.
That’s it for today. Mind you, this list is by no means exhaustive. Russian diminutives can turn berries into buttocks and Persians to peaches. But these are stories for another day — follow us and stay tuned to know more!