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Russian Idioms and the Memory

Today, we will discover three expressions related to the memory.

“Mark my words”

Зарубить на носу” (literally: to make a cut to your nose) or “завязать узелок” (to make a knot) are two expressions that we are using to insist on the fact that what has been said should be remembered, and both expressions could be translated in English with the idiom “Mark my words”.

In the expression “Зарубить на носу”, слово “нос” (the word “nose”) has nothing to do with this central element of our face. It turns out that in the old days, так называли небольшие дощечки (it was the name given to a small board), in which sharp cuts where applied.

The second expression “завязать узелок” refers to the time when it was natural to always have носовой платок (a handkerchief) at hand, so if you were making a knot to it, you would be sure to always remembered.

“Ivan not remembering his kin”

Иваны, родства не помнящие” (Ivans not remembering their kin), this is how we call people которые отказываются от своего прошлого, своей семьи и своей страны (who reject their past, their family and their country). The negative connotation of this expression is obvious.

This idiom takes its roots in official documents filled in at police stations in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. It most often referred к крепостным крестьянам, бежавшим от помещиков (to serfs who had run away from their landlords), or преступникам, бежавшим из тюрьмы или с каторги (criminals who had escaped from jail).

If these people were caught back by the police, they swore they didn't know their names or surnames. They didn't have, of course, any documents attesting their identity, so the police officer would fill the protocol, writing: “Иван, родства не помнящий”.

“Talk of the devil”

Лёгок на помине (talk of the devil): talking about кто неожиданно приходит в тот момент, когда о них заходит речь (a person appearing suddenly at the exact moment when we are talking about him). In modern language this expression doesn't have a positive connotation.

Its origin is related to an ancient superstition: люди боялись нечистой силы (people were afraid of evil spirits), and believed that if the word “чёрт” (devil) was pronounced aloud, the devil will hear it, and thinking he had been called, would immediately appear. To avoid this, people came up with various other names for all the representatives of the evil forces. Another expression was quite common: “от лукавого” (from “лукавый” - sly, cunning). “Это от лукавого” (it is the devil's work).

Today, we will discover three expressions related to the memory: Mark my words, Ivan not remembering his kin, Talk of the devil.