A reader (thanks, Bill!) sent me this piece by Will Englund from the Washington Post about the linguistic changes that have accompanied or prefigured recent political upheavals in Russia; here’s the core of it:

But if there’s a single word that stands out day after day as people denounce, lambaste and lampoon the Russian authorities, it’s an old one that over time has taken on a new meaning. The word is dostali, and it means “fed up.” […]
More recently the faddish response was voobshche, a word that literally means “in general” but took on a sense akin to the English “You gotta be kidding me!”
But now Russians are fed up. From passively standing by while a nightmare enveloped them, they moved into a state of incredulity. Now, faced with mushrooming corruption, arrogance and stupidity, they say, “Enough. We’re fed up.” And when people are fed up, the implication is that they’re not going to take it anymore. […]
In Soviet times, dostali meant getting something that was hard to obtain. Now it has been flipped around and literally means that something or someone you don’t like has gotten to you.

It’s nice that they’re doing a piece on Russian usage and citing actual Russians, like Olga Severskaya and Mikhail Epstein, but is this really a new development? I know достать [dostát’] ‘to fetch; reach; get’ has had the slang sense ‘to irritate (someone), get under (someone’s) skin’ for some time; has it acquired the stronger sense ‘to make someone fed up (so that they won’t take it anymore),’ or is that just an overinterpretation by the reporter?


  1. Nope, definitely an overinterpretation. This meaning of “достать” has been in active public use at least since the 1990s.

  2. David Derbes says

    My Russian is rudimentary at best, but I thought it connected with достаточно, which seemed to me to carry the sense of “that’s enough”, the sort of thing you’d say to a friend pouring you a drink.
    So Достали for “we’ve had it up to here” doesn’t seem like a reach to me, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s had that sense for a long time.

  3. Having learned Russian in the mid-nineteen-nineties, in the Baltics, I clearly remember the words being used in its negative sense. I found out much later, actually, that they had a more positive meaning. My wife insists she has been using the expressions her whole life, which would be from the seventies.

  4. I agree, the reporter must have picked up the word from protesters’ signs and trying to create a story around it.
    The slang meaning of “достать” is stronger that “irritate”; it’s akin to “be sick of”, which is quite close to the reporter’s interpretation. I remember it being used even back in the 70s.
    By the way, the widespread usage of “кошмар” and “вообще/[вааще]” as interjections (often ironic), is older than the author of the article claims to be.

  5. «Доставать» (imperfective aspect) means ‘irritate’: «Он меня доставал» — ‘He irritated me’. «Достать» (perfective aspect) means ‘be sick of’: «Он меня достал» — ‘I’m sick of him’. And it’s been quite long. I can remember from my school years (1970–80s) kind of joke to let a person know he bores you: «Знаешь, как по-английски “надоел”? — …? — Does-tull.»

  6. I don’t have it handy, but I am fairly sure that my Russian college textbook printed in the early 80s included the expression «Он меня достал» meaning “I’m sick of him.” “достал” can also still be used in the sense of getting something hard to obtain, at least in my generation. I think Englund is just trying to sound clever.

  7. Here is an example of usage of word “достали” meaning “fed up” as early as 1990:
    It’s a video for the song “Никто не услышит (Ой-йо)” by a popular Russian rock band “Чайф” from their album “Давай вернёмся” released in 1990. There is a line (starting at 2:09 in the video) which goes: “По телеку рядятся, как дальше жить – достали,” and is accompanied by singer’s gesture with the same meaning.

  8. Jeffry House says

    In my Russian classes with Miss Kolaida in 1965-66, I don’t recall learning the sense of вообще discussed in the article. Can anyone point to examples?

  9. «Доставать» (imperfective aspect) means ‘irritate’: «Он меня доставал» — ‘He irritated me’. «Достать» (perfective aspect) means ‘be sick of’: «Он меня достал» — ‘I’m sick of him’.
    Thanks, that makes perfect(ive) sense! So the semantics of the article are fine, it’s just that the author is falling prey to the recency illusion.

  10. I agree with previous comments: I’ve heard достать and вообще used in these ways since at least the early ’90s.

  11. I don’t have a date for this cite, but I’ve heard the joke in the early 90s:
    Сидят Маугли и и Каа на ветке.
    Маугли увидел на вершине какой-то банан и спрашивает у дремлющего Каа:
    – Каа, а бандерлоги до того банана достанут?
    Каа очнулся, посмотрел,говорит:
    – Достанут.
    Маугли посидел ножками поболтал и спрашивает:
    – Каа, а сильный Балу до того банана достанет?
    Каа вздрогнул, очнулся, говорит:
    – И сильный Балу достанет.
    Маугли посидел, поймал муху, послушал у уха, съел и спрашивает:
    – Каа… Каа…
    – У..
    – Каа, а ловкая Багира до того банана достанет?
    – Достанет, достанет.
    Маугли еще ножками поболтал, макушку почесал, за бабочкой посмотрел, толкает Каа:
    – Каа, а Каа, а Маугли до того банана достанет?
    Каа, переворачиваясь на другой бок:
    – Достанет. Маугли, он вообще (sic) кого хочешь достанет…

  12. Victor Sonkin says

    It has been in use for quite a while, but intensification of the meaning, inherent in the word itself, is certainly at play here. So the two points are not mutually exclusive.

  13. I’m sure I heard in back in the 70s, typically in singular past tense, and the meaning was an obvious extension of “to reach” / “to get to”, as in “he’s got to [my nerves]”. A mat equivalent is very widespread too, заебал (they are used more or less interchangeably as they sound somewhat alike, and I can’t be sure if one of them inspired the other, or if both evolved independently)

  14. A most pious old Jew had prayed in the synagogue thrice every day of his adult life. His worldly business partner had not once set foot therein. And in his seventieth year, the old Jew addressed the Lord as follows:
    “Oh, God, Blessed be Thy Name, have I not every day since my Bar Mitzvah celebrated Your Glory? Have I ever made a move, named a child, taken a trip, without consulting You first? Is there a more devout, humble observing soul in all Your fold? And now I’m old, I can’t sleep, I’m poor … But my partner! That no-good! That apikoros! Not once has he even made a prayer! Not a penny has he given to the Synagogue! He drinks, he gambles, he runs around with loose women — and he’s worth a fortune! Dear God, King of All the Universe, I am not asking You to punish him, but please tell me, why have You treated me this way?”
    The synagogue rumbled as the Voice intoned, “Because all you do, day after day, is mutche me!”
         —Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish, s.v. mutche

  15. I, too, remember “достал” (“has got to”, perfect verb type, past tense) being used in the early 90s, possibly quite earlier, the meaning being something like “they finally got to the limit of my (our) patience”, sometimes, but not always, implying that wacky action should ensue. This “getting at” is probably the link with the conventional meaning of the verb.
    If I remember correctly and don’t confuse things, the French have a usage of “me chercher/me trouver” that would be quite analogous to this.

  16. I agree, it’s not very recent. I think I can remember it from the eighties, but not before.
    There must have been some intermediary stage with this expression.
    To reach, to get to meaning is noted in Dahl. The newer meaning may have developed from phrases like Я тебя достану – I’ll get you > Она меня достанет-She’ll get me > Она меня достаёт-She’s getting on to me/onto my nerves > Меня все достали/Меня всё достало-Everybody is getting on to me/Everything is getting on to me/I’m fed up with everything.

  17. Yes, that sounds very plausible.

  18. Jeffrey, the sense of вообще the article speaks of is better described as either real or mock amazement; it’s usually used with ну: “ну вообще!”. It might be used in about the same situations where an English speaker might say “Wow!” or “Get outta here!” There’s no connection I can see to “достали”, nor did one colloquial phrase replace the other – they have both been current since at least the 80s, probably before.
    On Web forums, social networks, etc. it’s often spelled phonetically “ну ваще!”. Google will find many examples of its use in either spelling.

  19. @Sashura: I’d wager that the meaning of “getting to someone” is also linked to the use of доста(ва)ть in the expression кому-нибудь достаётся which, in my experience, can refer to anything from receiving verbal abuse up to beatings or other serious problems. That meaning is already attested in Krylov’s fable Гуси:
    Не очень вежливо честил свой гурт гусиной:
    На барыши спешил к базарному он дню
    (А где до прибыли коснется,
    Не только там гусям, и людям достается).
    So the transferred meaning of receiving abuse or worse was already there in the eraly 19th century. I didn’t do any search, so it’s possible that this expression is attested even earlier.

  20. Some add’l early uses in Dahl’s
    достать на орехи, угроза, кара, побои…Ему досталось на орехи. А вот дурню на орехи.

  21. Достал – I remember hearing/using this in St. P in the early 90s.
    As for вообще, the usage here isn’t necessarily a particular meaning of the word; it’s how it’s used. The best example I can think of is the late Christopher Hitchens lampooning an expression of English upper-crust outrage: “I mean, I must say, really!”

  22. Joining this conversation late — it’s all holiday all the time here in Russia — but wanted to say that although the phrases aren’t new, I think he was trying to make the point that in the early Putin years the buzz words were all about how great everything was and now the buzz word is how fed up everyone is. When you ask people why they attended the demonstrations — in most cases for the first time in their lives — they say: Dostali. I also like the constrast between dostat’ in the sense of “to manage to buy something” of the Soviet years to dostat’ in the sense of “to be fed up” in the late (or mid) Putin years.

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