I woke up last night wanting a drink of water, and it popped into my head to wonder what the Russian word for ‘thirsty’ was. I drew a blank, which alarmed me. ‘Hungry’ is golodnyi, ‘thirsty’ is… ? It wasn’t just that the word temporarily escaped me, which happens now and then; it was as if there were empty space where the neurons containing that word should be, which was alarming. I got my drink and headed for the bookshelves. It turns out (as I knew perfectly well, somewhere in there) that there is no Russian word for ‘thirsty’; you say you want to drink (which is what came to my mind when I was scrabbling for the adjective: khochetsya pit’). Isn’t that an odd asymmetry? ‘Hungry’ and ‘thirsty’ seem like such a natural pair; it’s like having a word for ‘left’ but not ‘right.’ Language is stranger than is dreamt of in Chomsky’s philosophy.
Addendum. In the comments section Avva brings up the symmetrical absences of solnechnyi zaichik (meaning ‘reflected sunlight (e.g., on the wall)’; the Russian translates to “sun bunny”) in English and of “dust bunny” in Russian; for those who read Russian, there is a discussion of the subject in progress at his site.


  1. I’ll have you know I was flabbergasted to find out English has no single word or convenient idiom for “solnechnyj zaichik”.

  2. True, and it’s worse than the situation I described, because of course Russian handles thirst perfectly well, just without an adjective, whereas in English you point and say “Look at the… that… those…. Isn’t it lovely!”

  3. Would one of you kindly make an attempt (however feeble) at “solnechnyj zaichik” for those of us out of the loop?

  4. Sorry about that! Solnechnyye zaichiki are bits of reflected sunlight.

  5. Well, English got its revenge with “dust bunnies”. Although perhaps they’re somewhat less lovely to look at 😉

  6. I should explain that solnechnyi is the adjective from solntse ‘sun’ and zaichik is a diminutive of zayats ‘hare’ (stress on the first syllable in all these words), so that the English equivalent would be “sun bunnies.” Alas, it doesn’t exist in this context.

  7. Too bad; I quite like it. Thanks for the translation!

  8. Me too. Hey, let’s start using it! Whenever you see them, say to the person you’re with “Look at those sun bunnies!” We could end up introducing a valuable new lexical item into English, as well as making it slightly easier to learn Russian…

  9. I could swear I’ve read the word “sunshard” to refer to broken-up (but not diffracted) sunlight. Can’t name a source, though (could even be a fever-dream).

  10. Anonymous says:

    Colloquial Russian doesn’t have a word for thirsty. Literary Russian has zhazhdushchiy and alchnyy.

    Yesterday I discovered a 1960s song about Brezhnev by the poet-songwriter Yuly Kim, which has the words “Moi brovi zhazhdut krovi” (my eyebrows are thirsty for blood); it will be somewhat awkward, but you could also say “Moi brovi, zhazhdushchiye krovi, ochen’ pyshnyye” (my eyebrows, which are thirsty for blood, are very luxurious).

    I think you can also say “alchnyy do slavy” (thirsty for fame) and other figurative expressions with alchnyy/alchnaya/alchnoye/alchnyye.

  11. Ilya Vinarsky says:

    That was me.

  12. Ilya Vinarsky says:

    Another odd assymetry:

    Russian has a native Slavic word for both the male and the female sexual organ. English has a native Germanic word only for the female one.

  13. Ilya Vinarsky says:


  14. “Cock” and “prick” are both native Germanic; I think the difference is rather that Russian has a single (colloquial) word whereas English (for whatever reasons) has several, none clearly preponderant. But in general Russian has a much richer stratum of obscene language than English.

  15. Michael Davies says:

    The thing I’m still confused by in French is how there can be no word for “kick” or “to kick”. “To kick” is “donner un coup de pied”.

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