Essential Russian: the NO signs

A wise learner of language will start not  not with lame dobroye utropozhaluysta, kak proyti na Krasnuyu Ploschad kupit matreshkas and such but with words and phrases that are at the core of the culture. Warnings and prohibitions is what defines Russian mental set, and words and phrases to that effect permeate the language.

Here are several random NO and BEWARE signs.


Words to learn from a very typical sign above:

ЗАПРЕЩЕНО (zapresheno) – prohibited. Possibly related to Buddhist “preta”, “hungry ghosts”, the souls of those who trespassed, preceded with prefix “za”, beyond.

Doesn’t “запрещено” sound sort of the same at “trespass”?

СТРОГО is “strictly”, thus СТРОГО ЗАПРЕЩЕНО is much more serious than just ЗАПРЕЩЕНО.

Related to German or Dutch “strak”.

ШТРАФ (shtraf) – fine, penalty. From German “Strafe”.

In use since Peters the First times.

Have you trespassed? Are shady characters demanding $$? Don’t be a sucker. Fines of this sort (see “Zapresheno, shtraf 2000 roubles” above) cannot be enforced. Insist on a policeman being present and an offence protocol filled out. Save yourself an equivalent of $70.

Let’s consider another sign (below)that warns agains icicles (of often giant dimentions) falling on your head.


ОПАСНАЯ (opasnaya) – dangerous, adj. f. Probably related to “pass” in the sense of “go away”, something to stay away from.

СОСУЛЬКА (sosul’ka) – icicle, but СОСУЛЬКА is named so because it can be sucked. Etymologically Russian СОСУЛЬКА is related to soup, sauce, and of course suck. СОСУЛЬКА can also mean a prostitute who specializes in oral services. will almost certainly take you to a site offering prostitutes, usually cheap ones.


We already know ЗАПРЕЩЕНО. Here it take slightly other form, “запрещен”, which is masculine. Don’t be concerned with case and gender endings though. For you it is all the same whether it is ЗАПРЕЩЕНО, ЗАПРЕЩЕН, ЗАПРЕШЕНЫ or whatever. 80% of the meaning is in the root, 10 in the prefix, no more than 8 is the suffix. Case or gender and number endings carry very little information. Don’t bother with them. Not worth it if all you need is “survival” Russian.

СОБАКА is “dog”. Probably a Tartar word. A true Russian word is “пес” (pes). Funny that “собака” submits easily to being used as an offensive word while pre-Mongor “пес” does not.  To make “пес” into a swear word you need to add an adjective, e.g. “смердящий” (smerdyashiy, stinky, like in the name of Dostoyevsky’s character Smerdyakov). But “собака” is capable on serving like an invective on its own. Just one of many tiny pieces of evidence pointing that the Gold Horde invasion is what gave Russians our peculiar if not to say difficult character.

ВЫГУЛ may mean “walking” (the dog) or letting it off the leash. Not clear what exactly is prohibited but vagueness is another caracteristic of Russian rules and laws. The recent propaganda of homosexuality law is a good example because anything, including the fact of being one, can fall under “propaganda”. The point of laws and rules is to make everyone vulnerable. The rest is up to how well you get alone with those above you.



That’s a good one. НЕ КУРЯТ is not the usual imperative but an impersonal statement. The literal meaning is “(they) don’t smoke”. This one was found near the Old Believers church, but that’s a separate cultural enclave.



Often prohibiting signs are preceded by ВНИМАНИЕ – attention.

This one is at the entrace to a “regulated” area which means that foreigners need to apply for a permit way ahead of time. The vicinity of Kandalaksha, Kopa peninsula. About areas of the Kola Peninsula that are off limit to you foreign spies see Categories > Attention foreign travellers and especially the note on restricted areas.


permitted_toilet_signA rare one with “РАЗРЕШАЕТСЯ” (razrezhayetsya, permitted). Prefix “раз” means “un” or “out”, and the root “реш” is related to English “wrap” (through the old form “wrion”. Literally “разрешить” is “unwrap” and it is used as “allowed”. This sign says, verbatim


“Просьба” (prosba, reques) is one of very often heard words.

“Уважаемый” (uvazhayemiy, respectful) is an official form of address commonly used by policemen, often when you are already in trouble.

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Essential Russian: the NO signs — 1 Comment

  1. Good one, my friend. Read my way through the the heartland of Russia. Risked trouble with immigration in a small town protected by thirty-six missiles. I will be doing it all again some time.

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