One Fast Way to Experience the Power of a Wrong Word

Paul Thomas Swann
2 min readJul 27, 2022

Turns out, that a stupid idea, in any other language, is still stupid.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

I’m on a bus in northern Russia.

Our small group consisted of my future mother-in-law, a friend named George, and me. We were headed somewhere in town.

My Russian skills then, like now, were nonexistent, but I want to tell my mother-in-law something.

I needed to tell her the one thing that all women worldwide appreciate hearing from a man.

I want to tell her to calm down because well, she did need to.

Or so I thought.

I turn to George.

“George, what’s the Russian word for “relax?”

Because what could go wrong?

Am I right?

We were both single, so neither had any real substantive thought process going for us.

George says, ‘tell her, “расслабиться’ (rasslabit’sya).

I repeat it softly until I feel comfortable with a louder pronunciation.


After a few minutes, I garner the courage and say, “Muza, rasslabit’sya.”

And I’m telling you folks, this grown Russian woman for reasons I’ll never know, did not appreciate my noble efforts nor the trouble I undertook in learning a most difficult Russian word that was really for her own good.

I mean, I intervened for her sake, not mine here!

She should have thanked me, right?

Who wouldn’t have appreciated such a kind gesture?

Turns out…

Not. One. Person.

Hey, do y’all remember that cool TV show, “Lie to Me?”

It was based on the study of quick micro-expressions and being able to discern if someone was lying or otherwise hiding something.

Well, that Russian lady quickly flashed a micro expression on poor George, who for some strange reason also didn’t understand his transgression.

But I saw.

And understood…

That perhaps this little word could have been learned on a different day and in a different context.

But mainly, I understood that stupid ideas in English usually have no problem gathering strength and galloping right over the language fence and kicking you right in the face.