This Live Journal features Russian slang words and expressions, with stressed syllables helpfully indicated in red. One useful post [scroll down to Friday, August 5, 2005, 6:58PM – That’s, Like, Totally Bad Russian] reprints a Michele Berdy Moscow Times column about слова-паразиты, literally “parasite words.”

Sometimes they are used as intensifiers, but more often they just seem to appear in your speech all by themselves. Nasty little parasites that they are, you don’t notice them until they have taken over half your utterances. And then ridding your speech of them is virtually impossible.

Like all speakers of Russian in Moscow, I’ve been infected by the parasite как бы. This is a perfectly useful phrase that means “as if.” You can use it legitimately in sentences like, Как бы в шутку он сказал, что хочет жениться. А, может быть, он серьёзно? (As if in jest, he said he wanted to get married. But maybe he’s serious?) According to linguists, как бы as a parasite originated in St. Petersburg, but it has swept through Moscow like a particularly virulent flu. It doesn’t really mean anything and is used the way some people use “like” in English. Он как бы поехал купить хлеб. (He, like, went to buy bread.)

Another parasite is типа, which, like как бы, has a legitimate use: to express a comparison or similarity. Он купил новую машину — она типа Джипа, только меньше размером. (He bought a new car — something like a Jeep, only smaller.) As a parasite it means “kinda, sorta, like.” Я, типа, хотел ей позвонить. (I kinda wanted to give her a call.) It can also be used to indicate a quote: Она, типа, не хочет пойти сегодня в клуб сегодня. (She’s like: I don’t wanna go to the club tonight.) This can be sometimes translated by the equally appalling “go,” used in Valley Girl English to mean “say.” Он, типа, хочет выпить. И ей, типа, всё равно. (He goes: I wanna drink. And she’s like: Whatever.)

She goes on to discuss короче, конкретно, чисто, прикинь, and понимаешь. In the comments to the LJ post, there’s a joke that depends on the word типограф ‘printer’ being pronounced with the stress on the final syllable, so that it can be confused for типа граф ‘like, a count’; I thought it was tipógraf, with the stress on the penultimate, but I guess I’m behind the times as usual. (Via


  1. It seems that “????????” has shifted accent, in order to make the pun possible. Normally it’s “????????”, of course. There are other words with “????” accented, e.g. “????????”. “????????” sounds to me rather excentrically anachronistic.

  2. (2nd attempt)
    It seems that “tipogrAf” has shifted accent, in order to make the pun possible. Normally it’s “tipOgraf”, of course. There are other words with “grAf” accented, e.g. “poligrAf”. “TipogrAf” sounds to me rather excentrically anachronistic.

  3. Ah, thanks — I’m glad to know I was right about the word!

  4. Maybe this has been asked and answered elsewhere, but on a tangential topic, do you know why there are so many Russian users on LiveJournal? Even allowing for the fact that for various reasons you’re more likely to hit a random LJ than a random blogspot blog, I still see more journals in Russian there than any other language except English. What’s the deal?

  5. Eugene Gorny has an interesting discussion (abstract). More here.

  6. Fascinating! Thanks!

  7. Is it a typical Russian habit to tell jokes (anekdots)? I was surprised to encounter them in the (Russian-language) newspaper when I was in Latvia. Also, the Russians I know tell them continuously.
    I am still a beginner in learning Russian, but one of the first things I understood are the typical girls sounds to convey some emotion (no parasite words though):
    Oi! is used to indicate suprise
    Oh! is used to indicate disapproval. Once I heard it being followed by Da, oh!.
    Owèh, owèh, owèh (actually, the sound is a small o followed by a more pronounced wèh) is a suitable counterreaction to an embarrasing joke about you. Also, I heard it once in an attempt to value a just opened present.

  8. Bertil:
    Can’t think of any interjection standing for ‘oweh’, shame. A humble attempt: can’t it just be a ‘wow’ (so fashionable these days in Russia), only somewhat reduced (typical trait of the Russian vowel system)?
    Native Speaker

  9. It’s really hard to transcribe this sound. Typically, it’s repeated three times, said on a somewhat disdaining tone and only used by women.

  10. Bertil: Could you try to give more of an idea? Is it a form of “oi, oi, oi”? There is no w in Russian, so it’s hard to interpret “oweh.”

  11. Sorry, forgot about this.
    I thought about and perhaps the sound that is repeated thrice is better described by an “oo” that ends with the mouth opening in such a way that it proceeds to form an è.
    LanguageHat, I meant an English/Dutch w.

  12. Fifteen years later: I’ll bet bertil was hearing the Russian spitting sound (to ward off bad omens, express disgust, etc.).

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