Once you have mastered the Russian alphabet (which, as our previous post explains, isn’t as painful as it seems), you can begin making sense of the words. Very often they can only be learned by understanding their Slavonic roots, prefixes and suffixes – but sometimes you’ll come across a word that sounds rather more European.
If your day at work has been a nightmare, you could say it was a кошмар (pronounced “koshmar” - from the French word for nightmare, ‘cauchemar’). You might decide to unwind after your bad day by spending an evening at your favourite ресторан (“restoran”, from ‘restaurant’).
If your restaurant is a Georgian or Azeri place in Russia, you may find a гастарбайтер – “gastarbaiter” – or two sitting at the next table – from the German ‘gastarbeiter’ (guest worker). But your koshmar is sure to get even worse if, when leaving the restoran, you drive straight into a шлагбаум (“schlagbaum” – the barrier at the entrance to car parks).
Russian has also borrowed several words from English: ‘engineer’ is инженер (“inzhener”), ‘computer’ is компьютер (“kompyuter”) and ‘jeans’ are джинсы (“dzhinsy”).
Sometimes the foreign roots to Russian words have fascinating origins. On his website English in Russia, Russian linguist Alex Jude looks at some that have unusual stories behind them – from the Russian Tsar who built a little piece of south London in his garden, to the ancient Slavs who gave doctors a taste of their own medicine. Read them here - it is the most interesting article about the Russian language that A Brush With Russian has read in a long time. JC