Friday, January 23, 2015

Russian melancholy?

From 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 ( 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.

Copyright © [2014] Simon Ager. For more language-related musing, go to

As for why Russian might be melancholy by nature, I can only say that I grew up in Alaska where it is cold and dark much of the year. Easier to be melancholy when you don't get much sunlight. In the summer when it is bright all the time, it is easier to be happy and active.

I'm still plugging way learning the first words for happy and sad. Though, in about two months I learned the Cyrillic alphabet and reading through podcasts at LingQ I'm nearing the middle of the "beginning" levels.

The other night I sat down next to a Russian speaking lady at one of our local casinos and the Spanish speaking gentleman next to her was trying to flirt in Russian with her. She was not happy with him, she was sad. Ha.

She left soon there after, so he ruined my chances at practicing Russian in real life. Sad that he was a wee bit drunk because it isn't that often I've run across someone I can talk with in three languages.