Russian Idiom: The Orphan of Kazan
“The Heart of a Dog” – Mikhail Bulgakov

Russian Idioms: Hard nut to crack

Крепкий орешек” (Hard nut to crack), this is how we call people which are slow to understand or трудно уговорить согласиться на что-либо (which are difficult to persuade to agree on anything), and also people who have trouble taking any kind of decision.

idiom is related to the time of Peter the Great, and the liberation of the ancient Russian fortress Орешек (Nutlet). The fortress was founded at the mouth of the Neva River in 1323, to protect the city of Veliky Novgorod and the important trade route from Novgorod to Europe through the Lake Lagoda.

Throughout its history, the fortress and the city inside has been attacked many times by Sweden, and for that reason, крепость неоднократно перестраивали с целью укрепления (it had been rebuild several times in order to strengthen it). Так крепость стала практически неприступной (thus the fortress was practically impregnable).

However, in 1612, during Смутное время (the Time of Troubles), when Novgorod alone had to resist the attacks from Sweden and Livonia, the Swedes managed to captured the fortress. Осада крепости тогда продолжалась 90 дней (the siege lasted 90 days), resulting in the starving of thousands of defenders and only a hundred or so survived. The city and its fortress was renamed Notoeburg (Noteburg) and was the possession of the King of Sweden for 90 years.

At the beginning of the 18th century, возобновилась борьб за торговые пути и свободный выход в Балтийское море (the struggle between Sweden and Russia for the trades routes and the free access to the Baltic Sea resumed). Besides, in 1703 Peter the great founded a new city of the bank of the Neva River, St. Petersburg, and transferred the capital state to it. The fortress of Noteburg, thanks to its location was, according to Peter's words “ключ от города” (the key of the city). Owning the fortress, the king of Sweden had practically the keys of St. Petersburg in his hands.

The period of struggle between Peter the Great and the King of Sweden is called “Северными войнами” (the Great Northern War). It lasted 21 years, from 1700 to 1721. During this time, in 1702, the Russians won over the fortress. It has been a very difficult victory. The fight went on for 13 hours. One Swedish historian estimated that during the battle 6 000 bombs and 10 000 shells were dropped on the fortress. The losses on both sides were enormous. When the remnants of the Swedish garrison surrendered, Peter the Great, в знак уважения к достойному противнику (in deference to a worthy opponent), did not take them into captivity but allowed them to leave the castle with their banners unfolded.

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In assessing this difficult victory and remembering the old name of the fortress, Peter the Great said “Крепкий орешек!” (Hard nut to crack!). However, the fortress was given a new name “Шлиссельбург” (Shlisselburg), which translated from German means “город – ключ” (city – key).

Hard nut to crack, this is how we call people which are slow to understand or which are difficult to persuade to agree on anything