November 01, 2007

Worms for Snacks

Worms for Snacks

Have you ever put your teeth on a shelf? Unless you have dentures, you will probably find this question strange. However, this is exactly what Russians do when they find themselves in straitened circumstances. The idiom полож≈ить з≈убы на п≈олку (literally, “to put one’s teeth on a shelf” or “to starve”) is one of our many idiomatic expressions referring to the essential need for nourishment.

Russians put great emphasis on eating enough and eating well because, as the proverb has it, гол≈одное бр≈юхо ко всем≈у гл≈ухо (“A hungry belly has no ears”). To remedy the situation, a hungry person might choose to have a snack or, in Russian, замор≈ить червячк≈а (“kill a tiny worm”). Linguists claim that the phrase was borrowed from the French tuer le ver (literally, “to kill a worm”), which meant having a drink on an empty stomach. It was believed that this measure could help to get rid of intestinal parasites (i.e. worms). 

Yet, “killing a worm” might not be enough, since Russians are used to at least three meals a day. Four at children’s summer camps: breakfast, lunch, п≈олдник (afternoon snack) and dinner. In Soviet times, before each meal at one of these summer camps, an instructor would encourage the kids to say a rhyme together: Когд≈а я ем, я глух и нем. (“When I’m eating, I’m deaf and mute”). The idea was that the kids were not supposed to talk while eating, to avoid choking (or maybe to give the adults a few moments of peace and quiet). 

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