Russian melancholy?

The other day I was trying to learn some adjectives in Russian, and noticed that there seemed to be more Russian words for sad (9) than for happy (4), at least in one dictionary I checked (bab.la). This might be a coincidence as in other dictionaries are more words for happy than for sad. In fact, combining the words together gives us nine words for happy and ten for sad.

Words for happy include:

- счастливый = happy (also: fortunate, lucky, providential, blessed)
- весёлый = happy (also: gay, cheery, fun, hilarious)
- довольный = happy (also: glad, pleased, amused, content)
- удачный = happy (also: successful, felicitous, chancy, fortunate)
- благополучный = happy (also: safe, trouble-free)
- ликующий = happy (also: jubilant, exultant, gleeful, elate, cookahoop, triumphant)
- радостный = happy (also: jolly, joyful, joyous glad, merry, cheery, high, gleeful, frabjous)
- удачливый = happy (also: lucky, successful, prosperous, fluky)
- улыбчивый = happy (also: smiling)

Words for sad include:

- прискорбный = sad (also: sorry, lamentable, regrettable, grievous)
- грустный = sad (also: melancholy, wailful, lamentable, minor)
- печальный = sad (also: down, sorrowful, deplorable, dolorous)
- тёмный = sad (also: dark, dirty, cimmerian, darksome)
- унылый = sad (also: moody, dreary, chap-fallen, cheerless)
- ужасный = sad (also: awful, horrible, terrible, dire)
- отчаянный = sad (also: desperate, foolhardy, hotshot, reckless)
- тусклый = sad (also: dim, gloomy, blear, bleary)
- тяжелый = sad (also: heavy, difficult, hard, grinding)
- досадный = sad (also: annoying, provoking, pesky, plaguesome, vexatious)

I wondered if this might reflect the reputed Russian melancholy nature of the Russian character. Do you think there’s anything in this?

Are all of these words in common use, or are some used more than others?

Even if this has no particular significance, it does illustrate the difficulty of choosing the right word when translating from one language to another.

Sources: http://en.bab.la/dictionary/english-russian/, Reverso, EUdict

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Russian, Words and phrases.

11 Responses to Russian melancholy?

  1. Magnus says:

    Как интересно!

    Before trying to draw too many conclusions about the link between Russian character and language, it would be an interesting exercise to draw up a similar list of synonymns for English (or any other language) and see how our happy words stack up against our sad ones.

    I notice that most of the other translations given for all the happy words in your list are things that we might use as synonyms for “happy” (if we wanted particular shades of meaning or a bit of variation) and similarly for the sad ones. My Russian is very rusty but I can remember that the primary meaning I learned for тёмный is “dark” and I suspect that for many of the other words on the list “happy” or “sad” is probably also secondary meaning.

  2. Magnus says:

    Oops, just spotted a typo in my last comment and there doesn’t seem to be a way of editing it!

    I was writing (elsewhere) something about hymns just before I wrote that comment, so I wonder if that’s what subconsciously guided my fingers the first time I tried to write “synonyms”?

  3. FM says:

    for some reason the comment that I’m trying to post is getting blacklisted

  4. Simon says:

    FM – that’s probably because it contained something that set off the spam filters – you can send the comment to me at feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com and I’ll post it here.

  5. IronMike says:

    I spent 20+ years studying Russian, to include 3 years (2009-2012) living in Russia. The following words for happy I’ve heard in conversation:

    - счастливый = happy
    - весёлый = happy
    - довольный = happy (mostly heard for content or satisfied)
    - удачный = happy almost 100% heard for “lucky”)

    The following words “for happy” I’ve NEVER heard, ever:
    - благополучный = happy (also: safe, trouble-free)
    - ликующий = happy (also: jubilant, exultant, gleeful, elate, cookahoop, triumphant)
    - удачливый = happy (also: lucky, successful, prosperous, fluky)
    - улыбчивый = happy (also: smiling)

    This word I’ve heard, but not for happy. Heard so little that I don’t recall the context:
    - радостный = happy (also: jolly, joyful, joyous glad, merry, cheery, high, gleeful, frabulous)

    The only word for sad I’ve ever heard:

    - грустный

    I’ve never heard ANY of these words (not for “sad” at least):
    - печальный = sad
    - тёмный = sad (I’ve only ever heard this for “dark”)
    - унылый = sad
    - ужасный = sad (I’ve only ever heard this for “horrible” or “shocking”)
    - отчаянный = sad
    - тусклый = sad (also: dim, gloomy, blear, bleary)
    - тяжелый = sad (I’ve only ever heard this for heavy or difficult)
    - досадный = sad

    I think there’s a big difference between dictionary definitions and words in common use.

    Cheers,
    Mike

  6. Olga says:

    I’d say all these words are very much in use today. Just few additional comments on the use of some of them below:

    - благополучный = happy (also: safe, trouble-free) – would be used to describe a happy family, marriage – благополучная семья, literally means ‘receiving blessing’. That is happy in a trouble-free way: as a successful relationship and successful financially and as
    a consequence – happy

    - ликующий = happy (also: jubilant, exultant, gleeful, elate, cookahoop, triumphant) – more common as a verb but will be used as often as jubilant in English, i.e. not too often

    - радостный = happy (also: jolly, joyful, joyous glad, merry, cheery, high, gleeful, frabjous). More common as a noun – радость – joy, or a participle – рад(а).

    - улыбчивый = happy (also: smiling) really means smiling but can be referred to as happy if someone is smiling hence they are happy.

    - прискорбный = sad (also: sorry, lamentable, regrettable, grievous) a bit bookish, I would use it more an adverb – прискорбно – for example to state a sorry state of something.

    - печальный = sad (also: down, sorrowful, deplorable, dolorous). Subdued, very much used.

    - тёмный = sad (also: dark, dirty, cimmerian, darksome) – Not sure about this one.

    - унылый = sad (also: moody, dreary, chap-fallen, cheerless). Definitely used, for example as a verb – Не унывай! – Cheer up!

    - ужасный = sad (also: awful, horrible, terrible, dire). More of an equivalent of sad in ‘it is awfully sad’

    - отчаянный = sad (also: desperate, foolhardy, hotshot, reckless) Yes, used.

    - тяжелый = sad (also: heavy, difficult, hard, grinding). Not so sure as a direct equivalent of sad. More burdensome.

    - досадный = sad (also: annoying, provoking, pesky, plaguesome, vexatious). Yes, used often as annoying.

    To the sad ones I would add:

    Тоскливый
    Горестный
    Горький

    Oh, forgot to mention I am a Russian.

  7. MadFall says:

    @ Mike

    This is a very interesting idea- words actually used as opposed to dictionary suggestions. I’m always amused when non-native English speakers reveal themselves by using “many” instead of the more usual “lots of”, “loads of”, “tons of” of colloquial (UK) English. As for myself, I found the Spanish word “chabacano” in the dictionary for “naff” but have never heard it used by a native Spaniard!

  8. MadFall says:

    Also non-native English speakers making a distinction between, “may I?” and “can I?”. Very pedantic and not in accord with actual usage. (OK I know there are some native English speakers who will disagree with me on this- but I likewise accuse them of pedantry).

  9. Lev says:

    As a native speaker of Russian, I can say that you have a lot of errors in both lists, e.g.:

    довольный = pleased, content, but not amused
    удачный = fortunate, but not happy. It’s not even applied to people.
    благополучный = favorable
    ликующий = jubilant

    And so on. The translations in parentheses are mostly correct.

  10. Shenn Ghaelgeyr says:

    Re: MadFall (second post) – In elegant, as opposed to demotic, speech, there is a world of difference between ‘May I?’ and ‘Can I?’ If that makes me a pedant, then I glory in the name!

  11. gregory the priest-monk says:

    Primary meanings of the above given words are so different than ‘happy’ and ‘sad’, that the conclusion about ‘menacholy’ simply fail immediately. Or else you’d end up drinking the real cloud in your cloudy juice!!