Like everyone else, I’ve been mesmerized by the video clips of the recent meteorite that streaked over Chelyabinsk and exploded, and as a student of Russian I’ve taken particular note of the expressions that burst from the mouths of the people recording the event. In English one would expect “holy shit!” or “(what the) fuck!”; the three most common Russian exclamations used, in my totally unscientific estimation, have been ебать! [ye-BAT], ни хуя себе! [ni-khu-YAH-si-be], and пиздец! [piz-DETS], all of which could be rendered “Oh, fuck!” (the first one, ебать, is the infinitive of the verb ‘to fuck’; the morphology and etymological semantics of the other two would lead us too far astray). I was a bit surprised not to hear what I think of as perhaps the most common spontaneous outcry of indignant surprise, блядь [blyat] (literally ‘whore’), but this elegant explanation by fad_gel in Anatoly’s thread on precisely this topic (meteorite swearing) cleared it up for me:
Забавно, что реакции “бляТь!..” и “ебать!..”, видимо, противопоставлены как ближний и дальний локусы ) То есть “бляТь!..” используется как спонтанная реакция в ситуациях, которые затрагивают (или могут затронуть) “произносящего”, тогда как “ебать!..” — скорее, наблюдение за событием с безопасной (по мнению “произносящего”) дистанции.
[It’s amusing that the reactions “blyaT!” and “ebat!” are evidently opposed as proximal and distal locus; that is, “blyaT!” occurs as a spontaneous reaction in situations that affect (or could affect) the speaker, whereas “ebat!” is rather an observation on events from a safe distance (from the speaker’s point of view).]
For more on the linguistic aspects of the meteor event, see Elif Batuman’s A Meteor in the Russian Sky (on the New Yorker blog—I thank Ben Zimmer for the link); at the first video clip embedded there (the 49-second one), you can hear the driver using some of the cited expressions with admirable clarity and imperturbability.