April 01, 1997

He Who Laughs Last ...

He Who Laughs Last ...

Смеяться, право, не грешно над всем, что кажется смешно.
It’s not a sin, of course, to laugh at everything that seems funny.
– Nikolai Karamzin, 1796

Russians have long believed that laughter is the best remedy for whatever ails you: смех – лучшее лекарство. But somehow it seems that Russians don’t always practice what they preach. Could it be that Russians are corrupting their own medicine with the bitter pill of tears? Hence, another laughter-related idiom, “laughing through your tears” смех сквозь слёзы. This is an apt expression, for in Russia, the comic usually borders on the tragic, and vice versa. Therefore, for many of Russia’s most celebrated artists, tragicomedy (трагикомедия) is the most popular genre. When they encounter a tragicomedy in everyday life, Russians say: и смех, и грех (it’s fun, it’s a sin).

But no matter how they may love to laugh, Russians are suspicious of those who laugh without a reason. That is why (Americans take note), Russians, aghast at someone who is always smiling, may say: у него рот до ушей (his mouth has stretched to his ears).

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