Russian MiniLessons: Ссориться по-русски – Fighting in Russian

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The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

The Russian language, like English, has a rich vocabulary for discussing conflicts. The verb “to fight” has several equivalents in Russian. If we list them according to the degree of severity, the most severe are драться and скандалить (note that the root of the word is “скандал”).

Конфликтовать sounds less severe and more official. Even less severe, and more commonly used, are the verbs спорить and ссориться. Friends may ссориться из-за женщины/мужчины, or из-за разногласий. Married couples the world over often ссориться из-за денег or из-за того, что муж/жена проводит слишком много времени с друзьями .

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Friends might спорить and оскорбить each other or спорить because one оскорбил/ла the other. A particularly strong оскорбление may result in a длительная вражда (note that “вражда” is from the root “враг”). Соперничество is a softer term and may exist even between friends who, for example, want to excel in their studies or who have fallen in love with the same person. An escalated fight might turn into дать/получить нагоняй.

Russian also has a rich lexicon for reconciliation. It may be possible to reconcile people who are fighting by saying to them: “Ну хватит вам, что вы завелись…” or “прекращайте, (вы) друзья – а ссоритесь…”.

There is a belief that “чем быстрее вы помиритесь, тем быстрее вы почувствуете облегчение и спокойствие на душе”. There also exist sayings like “худой мир лучше доброй ссоры”  and “всякая ссора красна примиреньем” . In English, we often say that it’s best to let bygones be bygones. Russian phrases the same thought very strongly, perhaps reminiscent of Gandhi’s “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Russians say: “кто старое помянет, тому глаз вон” .

After all, if a fight is left unchecked, friends might перестать разговаривать. Spouses or lovers might расстаться, разорвать отношения, or разорвать брак.

Fighting on an international scale can be even more dangerous. When Russians speak about fighting between countries, they most often use the formal verb конфликтовать, which can refer to just about any type of conflict that might occur. Countries might fight over пограничный спор, разные идеологии , религия, проблемы торговли, or they might fight чтобы получить доступ к природным богатствам. An international fight often starts with эскалация напряжения and словесная война and can result in торговая война, пограничные стычки, or военный конфликт .

American President Barak Obama declared at a summit in Moscow, that “холодная война закончилась миром”. However, war very rarely ends so simply. Война and the violence it causes can lead to lasting tensions. For instance, the Caucasus region of Russia was very recently a war zone and is still widely seen as in conflict. Those who have had relatives, family members, or clan members killed will, according to their culture, declare a кровная месть on those whom they blame for the deaths. These types of tensions can persist even after those involved in the initial violence officially объявить перемирие or заключить мир.

Two examples of international conflict in Russia’s recent history also show that conflict can be handled and thought of very differently. The trade conflict between Russia and Belarus in 2009 was treated quite softly by the Russian side. Prime Minister Putin struck a conciliatory tone, stating “мы – единая семья, в семье могут происходить и ссоры, и скандалы, но все равно жизнь идет своим чередом”. However, in the aftermath of the 2008 military conflict with Georgia, President Medvedev’s words can be seen as anything but conciliatory: “мы, конечно, предполагали, что у нашего соседа не все в порядке с мозгами, хотя и не ожидали, что до такой степени”, referring to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s decision to invade Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Even the Cold War, it can be argued, has not ended quite as simply as Obama’s quote assumes. In fact, it would seem that on many levels, relations between Russia and the US are still marked paradoxically by дружба и соперничество одновременно. This can often happen when two countries with a complicated past, with both сталкивающиеся и перекрещивающиеся интересы, and when both countries are strong enough to prevent the other from declaring war or escalating tensions too far – as is the case with Russia and the US today.

About the Author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

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Josh Wilson

Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

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