#RussianProverbs: Spoken Word ≠ Sparrow & Tongue = Enemy

Lime Tree Hanging Cupboard from Abramtsevo, 1920s
Lime Tree Hanging Cupboard from Abramtsevo, 1920s

Слово — не воробей, вылетит — не поймаешь (slóvo — ne vorobéi, výletit — ne poimáesh).

Literally: a spoken word is not a sparrow, once it flies out – it cannot be caught.

Meaning: mind what you say to be polite and not to offend someone.

English equivalents:

  • a word spoken is past recalling;
  • when the word is out it belongs to another.


Язык мой — враг мой (yazýk moy — vrag moy).

Literally: my tongue is my enemy.

Explanation: sometimes you may regret what you said even though you didn’t mean anything wrong. So watch what you say because you can hurt people with your words, telling confidential information about another person, etc.

English equivalent: a man’s ruin lies in his tongue.

P.S. This is a classic Soviet poster (1941) saying literally:

Soviet Poster Don't Blab

“Stay alert,

In those days

Even walls overhear.

Gossip and idle talk are not far

from treason.


There are many (de)motivational posters and collages made using it, e.g. one with Snowden:

Snowden Poster Don't Blab



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