Russian provebs and their English equivalents

Please,do me a favour.The matter is that I can’t find an english equivalent for a russian proveb - на чужом несчастье счастья не наживешь.In English it sounds like this - You can’t build your own happiness on someone else’s unhappiness.

I’d suggest this:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Vladimir, I don’t think we have that proverb in English, because – and I say this respectfully – people in the English-speaking world don’t think that way as often as people in Slavic countries do, at least from my experience in them. In fact, we don’t even have a word for Злорадство, and we have to use the German word “Schadenfreude”, as you can see if you look it up in an Oxford Russian-English dictionary. If we need to express that exact sentiment, we just create a normal sentence. Your best bet is to translate the proverb directly into English, which you did impeccably. It sounds like a proverb anyway.

The whole thing is an interesting cultural issue. Russians have all those jokes, like the one where a man gets a wish from a genie and thinks his life will be happy if the genie kills his neighbor’s goat. In my entire life I’ve never heard an English joke of that type, even though I’ve looked for them.

Where have you looked, Jamie?

Hi Jamie,

What about ‘gloat’?

Best regards

It’s not quite the same, because you can gloat even when no tragedy has occurred to anyone. For example, you can be in an argument, and then you can gloat when events prove your opponent was wrong. This inflates your ego temporarily, and that’s when you gloat, even when your being right isn’t any particular tragedy for the other person.

I agree that the word has a similar meaning. However, I don’t think the emotion behind it is quite the same as that emotion I saw so much in Eastern Europe, where someone thinks his life will get better if someone else’s gets worse. That emotion involves all-consuming envy (and is even the basis of communism, in my opinion), whereas gloating is just a sort of self-satisfaction.

Hi Vladimir,

As I am without any Russian, I am somewhat in the dark about the quotation you have given. I would like to offer something from the poet John Donne, who expresses perhaps a similar idea. The piece that is highlighted is the most well known:

John Donne (1572-1631).


and what about

Actually, as I’m sure you already know, “злорадство” is a compound word, composed of 2 words “Зло”/“evil” and “радоваться”/“to joy”. Maybe because in our “nook” people are so into enjoying others mischiefs, we had to come up with a separate word for it.

There is a word for the concept not just in Russian, but in many languages until you hit the western border of Germany, and then it appears not to exist. When you look up the Russian or German term in French, English or Italian bilingual dictionaries, you get an explanation instead of another word.

In German and Czech, their term is a combination of their words for “damage” and “joy”.