the meaning of к чёрту

Discussion in 'Русский (Russian)' started by mkrzeminski89, Jan 13, 2013.

  1. mkrzeminski89

    mkrzeminski89 Junior Member

    Polski
    Hello everyone!

    I came across a funny russian phrase "к чёрту" in my книги на русский язык. The context is as follows:

    А: У мегня сейчас эгзамен.
    В: ну ни пуха ни пера!
    А: к чёрту!

    According to the book the phrase in this context means literally 'to devil' but its true meaning is 'thanks'. I looked it up in a dictionary (PONS) and it lists several possible meanings of the phrase. One of the meanings listed are: 'curse it' and 'f-word you'. None of them is 'thanks'. Is it really possible that depending of the context the word means 'f**k you' or 'thanks' ? The idea seems presposterous and I suspect that one of the sources must be wrong (or maybe not). The question is which? :)

    PS As my command of Russian is not very good (yet) I would prefer answers in English, Polish or very very simple Russian ;)

    Спосибо!
     
  2. igusarov

    igusarov Senior Member

    Moscow, Russia
    Russian
    Your sources are absolutely correct, it's a curse. This word never means "thanks", but in this particular phrase it indicates that the person knows what that "bad wish" actually means and how to respond to it.
    "К чёрту" is a short form of "Пошёл к чёрту", which could be translated as "go to hell" (almost literal) or "to hell with your wishes".

    The thing is, "ни пуха, ни пера - к чёрту" is what you can call an old formula: an immutable form of a wish that must be answered with specific and immutable words. This phrase originates from long way back, when a positive hunting wish was rumored to give an evil eye and bring bad luck to the hunter. Out of that superstitious fear people had inverted the wish and response. So, supposing the positive dialog sounded like "wish you catch lots of animals - thank you", the inverted form became "let you shoot neither beast, nor a bird, let your arrows miss every target and your traps stay empty - go to hell". Or, in its short form: "neither beast, nor bird - to hell".

    Edit:
    Of course, this is a good wish! People understand that it actually means "best of luck to you".
    Does it sound as absurd as the English wish "break a leg"?
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2013
  3. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    Русский
    Таким образом очень часто отвечают на фразу «ни пуха ни пера», которая означает «[не получи] ничего» и поэтому является умышленно недобрым пожеланием. Тот, кто отвечает, переадресует пожелание чёрту, чтобы у отвечающего получилось всё хорошо, а у чёрта — всё плохо. Две фразы вместе образуют ритуал, который часто используют, когда хотят пожелать удачи.

    В этом ритуале нет ровным счётом ничего противоцензурного или оскорбляющего чей-то слух (кроме, может быть, истово верующих, но таких очень мало), и он относится больше к разговорному языку; упоминания черта вне этого ритуала звучат чуть-чуть более жёстко, но и они в обществе цензурируются мало (практически никем и никак). Поэтому сравнивать с «f-словом» — это, по-моему, слишком. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2013
  4. mkrzeminski89

    mkrzeminski89 Junior Member

    Polski
    @ igusarov

    First of all, thank you very much indeed for your elaborate and comprehensive answer ;) What struck me as odd here was the fact that in the first context 'к чёрту' means 'thanks' and in the other is translated as 'f**k you'. 'f*ck you' is a very heavily marked and one of the most offensive curses in English, it's just like the russian 'пошел на х*й'. Would you say that 'пошел на х*й' is as offensive as 'к чёрту' ? In Polish, if we want to tell someone to bu*ger off we also say things like "a idź do djabła!' (literally: oh, go to the devil) which is very much like the Russian phrase 'к чёрту' but the Polish phrase is not considered very offensive. Just slightly. What I'm trying to establish here is whether 'к чёрту', which is a curse as we have agreed, is indeed as offensive as the English phrase 'f*ck you'.

    Cheers!
     
  5. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    Русский
    No, certainly not. In this context, you can use it with just everybody, only given that the formula is colloquial and close to informal. When not in such context, it's slightly offensive, but not in any way "dirty" (unlike most curses).

    By the way, there is an important difference in Russian between "чёрт" and "дьявол". The first word is less serious, less heavy, more 'jocular', and most often it names less serious 'creatures' (almost never does it name the Satan herself (himself?), whereas the second does it usually).
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2013
  6. mkrzeminski89

    mkrzeminski89 Junior Member

    Polski
    Thanks for your answer! Now everything is crystal clear :)
     
  7. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    I think the whole phrase, both lines, should be treated as an idiom. It is something people say before exams, or other life challenges, for good luck. It cannot be interpreted by separating it into parts. It probably comes from the hunting jargon, when in the old times people would jokingly wish the hunter no catch -- no bird in his poach. ("ну ни пуха ни пера!"). To avert the bad luck he would say: K чёрту! -- Damn it! Go to Hell!" Also you are not really supposed to thank anyone, if they wish you good luck before an exam (in many cultures at least). In this case, Damn it, may really be a better response.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2013
  8. igusarov

    igusarov Senior Member

    Moscow, Russia
    Russian
    Thank you, e2-e4! This is an interesting and very sensible interpretation.

    The first phrase is by far more offensive than "к чёрту".
     

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