An English equivalent to a quaint Russian idiom

ljod

New Member
Russian
I would greatly appreciate if you could help me find the most appropriate English equivalent of a Russian idiom "Koschei's needle".

To quote Wikipedia, Koshei is a male antagonist in Russian folklore, a very old and ugly man who is usually desribed as a person adbucting the hero's wife. The thing with him is that he is deathless/immortal and cannot be killed by conventional means targeting his body. "His soul (or death) is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest, which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on an island in the ocean."

"As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will bolt away; if it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the needle has Koschei in their power. If the eedle is broken (in some tales, this must be done by specifically breaking it against Koschei's forehead), Koschei will die."

In Russian, "Koschei's needle" is used to desribe some ultimate truth hidden behind many lies and confusion, the bare essense. By asking, for instance, 'Where is the Kosche's needle hidden?" you basically inquire what is the true meaning of some thing.

My question hence - is there an English equivalent to this expression? Preferably, something rooted in folklore as well - so that the quaint fairy-tale connotation is not lost.

Many thanks for all your help in advance.
 
  • Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    In the U.S., the question "Where's the beef?" is often used.

    That question originates in a television commercial for Wendy's Hamburgers from a few decades ago. In it, a grandmotherly woman buys a competitor's hamburger. The part with the meat (beef, meat of cattle) is so small that she can't see it, so she asks "Where's the beef?" The commercial became famous. (I'd post a link here, but YouTube links are not allowed; however, it can be found easily by searching YouTube.) The phrase is still used widely, even by people who are too young to have seen the original commercial.
     

    cando

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The only thing that comes to mind is a quote from Winston Churchill that seems strangely apposite.

    "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key."

    I don't know if he knew the fairy tale in question, but he does seem to have summed up some element of the Russian soul that that story expresses.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    We might be able to help you better if you told us the actual situation/circumstances you're intending to use this in, preferably the actual sentence or sentences, Ljod.
     

    ljod

    New Member
    Russian
    Thanks, Ewie! There is the same expression in Russian - <---> which translates exactly as "kernel of truth". A good one, but I still hope to find a folklore equivalent :)
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    ljod

    New Member
    Russian
    It's basically the title of a short article on recent geopolitical developments in Europe: "Where is Koshei's needle hidden?/What is the Koshei's needle in all of this?]" I forwarded the text to my English friend who speaks Russian quite well, and he asked what is Koshei's needle - I explained to him, and it made me curious if there is a laconic English equivalent to this expression, that preserves the nuances of the idiom as well as its folklore quaintness.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    :):thumbsup: Sorry, still can't think of a folklorish equivalent:(

    [From an earlier edit of this post: According to the (English) Wikipedia page on Koschei the story doesn't appear to be a folklore 'type' ~ Cinderella/Золушка/Cendrillon/Aschenputtel, for example, is type 510A ['Persecuted Heroine'] in the Aarne-Thompson classification. If there was a recognized and well-known equivalent of the tale, it might be possible to adapt the English-language version ...]
     

    ljod

    New Member
    Russian
    Oh, that's useful to know, thanks. I sincerely thought it was a universal tale of sorts, not a culture-specific story.
     

    Charliewyoung

    New Member
    English - United States
    We have a similar story (maybe you do too) common in spoken english, the story of Achilles. However, the meaning of the expression "Achilles' heel," refers to a hidden weakness, not a hidden truth.

    In Greek mythology, when Achilles was a baby, it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent his death, his mother Thetis took Achilles to the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, and dipped his body into the water. But as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river. Achilles grew up to be a man of war who survived many great battles. But one day, a poisonous arrow shot at him was lodged in his heel, killing him shortly after.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achilles'_heel
     

    ljod

    New Member
    Russian
    Yes, we also use same expressions from Ancient Greek lore, I was hoping to find something English-specific. However, as Ewie kindly pointed out, the story of Koschei is not considered universal, which will make it impossible to find a proper equivalent since there is probably none.

    Still, thanks a lot for taking the time to respond!
     
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