Image of the enemy in Russian phraseology and paremiology

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With the intensity of modern research devoted to the reconstruction of the linguistic world picture and cultural linguistics, such conceptual oppositions as “friend” - “enemy,” naturally, rose the scientific interest. The purpose of the study is a multifaceted semantic analysis of the concept “enemy” on the most complete Russian phraseological and paremiological material reflected in a three-volume dictionary. The corpus of these paremiological dictionaries includes the classic collections of Russian proverbs and sayings, extracts from the latest dialect dictionaries and the records made by the compilers. With this approach, the concept “enemy” receives a detailed description, taking into account the entire set of paremiological variants. This ensures the possibility of structural-semantic modeling of the analyzed paremiology, and the dominants of the concept “enemy” are revealed. One of the tasks of the analysis is to determine to what extent and in what way the semantic characteristics of the lexeme “enemy” and some of its synonyms are implemented as part of three types of paremias - stable comparisons (comparatives), sayings (resp. phraseological units) and proverbs. The revealed semantic dominants correlate with the characteristics of the concept “enemy” in explanatory dictionaries. The proposed analysis shows that the concept “enemy” and its lexemes constitute an active part of the Russian phraseology and paremiology. The word “enemy” (vorog), which forms the main part of this fund, preserves the ancient semantic impulses and is actualized in Russian paremias. At the same time, the semantic characteristics of the corresponding lexicon largely determine the connotative and axiological potential of proverbs and sayings. However, quantitatively and qualitatively, they are represented in them in different ways. On the one hand, such differences are observed in three different groups of Russian paremiology: in stable comparisons they are relatively few in number, in phraseological units they are semantically selective, in proverbs they are extremely active and multifaceted. Their imagery, reproducing both ancient and modern semantics and connotation of this concept, allows to reconstruct a bright and multidimensional “enemy image” in the mirror of the Russian language.

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With the intensity of modern research on reconstructing the linguistic picture of the world and linguocultural studies, such conceptual oppositions as “friend” – “enemy” have naturally remained in the sphere of scientific attention of linguists (N.N. Balabas, O.M. Luntsova, V.Yu. Orlov, O.E. Pokhalenkov, Y. Kirillova, K.N. Kapitanova and others). The positive pole of this opposition seems to draw more attention (Mokienko, 2021) than the second pole. But the concept “enemy” has also become an object of analysis on the material of different languages. Most often it is considered in the context of the named opposition. Thus, on the French material N.N. Balabas reveals the semantic content of the verbal means of expressing the key and universal concepts “amitié” (friendship) and “hostilite” (enmity), which the author rightly refers to the universal anthropocentric paradigm (Balabas, 2010). O.M. Luntsova offers a comparative lexical-phraseological analysis of the gradient concept “friendship – peace – hatred” in Russian and English linguistic cultures (Luntsova, 2007). V.Yu. Orlov is interested in the linguistic realization of the concept “enemy” in the English language against the background of Russian (Orlov, 2013). For O.E. Pokhalenkov (Pokhalenkov, 2011) the concept “enemy” becomes the key one when characterizing relations and typological similarities in the artistic works of E.M. Remarque and the Soviet “lieutenant prose” of 1950–60s. Y. Kirillova (Kirillova, 2013) offers a detailed description of the concepts “friend – enemy” in the Bulgarian language world picture on the paremiological material. K.N. Kapitanova demonstrates the didactic possibilities of the concept “enemy” in school practice, using V.I. Dal’s collection “Proverbs of the Russian people.”

The word “enemy” ‘ruthless opponent, implacable foe, relentless foe that takes military action personally against the subject’ attracts the attention of linguists and linguocultural specialists as a direct opposition to the lexeme “friend”. It is no coincidence that it is given a special place in V.V. Kolesov’s “Dictionary of Russian Mentality,” where, as we can see from the dictionary definition, enemy is interpreted with the help of the synonym foe. The dictionary also offers a detailed description of this concept, marking the specificity of the Russian mentality: “As the center of anger (fiend), it is broadly identified with all the evil of the world (the enemy of the human race, the devil, the Satan). The enemy is not static in relation to the subject as an opponent, but manifests itself in action and requires a reciprocal action, unlike a neutral foe, being an object of emotional attitude (from fear to hatred, enmity) and evaluation. At the same time, the enemy may hypocritically pretend to be a friend, therefore a person should always be careful (‘do not tell the friend what the enemy must not know’) and not give in to deception (‘if the enemy seems a mouse, look at him as a lion’).” It is further noted (with reference to M.M. Makovsky) that the concept “enemy” corresponds to the concept of “otherworldly, being on the periphery,” which correlates it with the concept of “wolf,” which also goes back to the concept of “alien.”

The semantic evolution of the word “enemy,” according to V.V. Kolesov, is reflected in our language chronologically: Ancient Russian from Old Slavonic. In the meaning ‘hated, hostile’ – ‘a devil, an enemy (of the human race)’ (1037) and ‘enemy, foe’ (12th century) in the Russian form “vorog” ‘enemy’ (1095), ‘ill-wisher’ (1147) or ‘villain’ (1175), and later ‘sorcerer’. In the contemporary Russian language, the meaning of the word broadens: ‘about a principal adversary’, ‘one who brings evil’ (cf. dialectal: vragun, vragusha ‘enemy, ill-wisher, foe’). The language historian from St. Petersburg also gives a whole series of epithets, which vividly underline the actual negative evaluation of the word “enemy:” ‘ruthless, powerless, external, internal, impudent, most vicious, evil, bloody, wicked, fierce, insolent, invisible, implacable, principled, mean, convinced, predatory, furious.’ To this series we can add the phrase “sworn enemy,” which has become a set phrase – “eternal, irreconcilable,” whose irreconcilability is fastened by the ritual of incantation, paternoster. Hence the oxymoronic nature of the modern jokingly ironic expressions “sworn friend” and “inseparable enemy.”

The aim of the research is to show how the outlined by V.V. Kolesov and described in the explanatory dictionaries semantic dominants of the lexeme “enemy” and its synonyms are reflected in Russian phraseology and paremiology. Thus, we offer a multidimensional semantic analysis of the concept “enemy” on the fullest Russian phraseological and paremiological material. One of the tasks of the analysis is to determine to what extent and in what way the semantic characteristics of the lexeme “enemy” and some of its synonyms are realized in three types of paremia – stable comparatives (comparatives), proverbs (resp. phraseological units) and proverbs.

Methods and materials

The material for the study included proverbs, sayings and stable comparisons, recorded in a three-volume paremiological dictionary. The author of the article was the editor and one of the compilers of the dictionary. The corpus of these paremiological dictionaries includes classical collections of Russian proverbs and sayings, as well as extracts from the latest dialectal dictionaries and notes by the compilers. Quantitatively, this material is seven times larger than the material of Dal’s classic collection “Proverbs of the Russian People” and includes in total about 300,000 paremics. This material corresponds to the principle of lexicographic completeness, formulated by B.A. Larin (Mokienko, 1999), and ensures the consistency of the linguistic analysis. The comparative-historical, linguocultural and linguocognitive methods were used. Special attention is paid to the method of structural-semantic modeling of paremics, developed by the author of the article (Mokienko, 1989).


As a result of the complex research, the concept “enemy” receives a detailed characteristic taking into account the whole set of paremiological variants, providing the possibility of structural-semantic modeling of the analyzed paremiology. Thanks to this approach, the dominants of the concept “enemy” are revealed. The analysis shows the activity and dynamism of the paremiology characterizing the concept “enemy.” The lexemes, nominating this concept, preserve the ancient Slavic semantics, which is creatively developed and connotated in the paremiological system. At the same time, the analysis demonstrates significant quantitative and qualitative differences in the three structural and thematic groups of Russian paremiology – stable comparisons, sayings and proverbs. What remains common to these groups is their axiological dominant – the negative evaluation of the concept in the paremiological embodiment.


A deep dive into the etymology of the word “enemy” reveals a diachronic sequence of its meanings branching. It is indicative that the etymological dictionaries of the East Slavic languages contain the word “enemy” in its full-vowel variant “vorog” (vorag), considering (as we see, rightly) the incomplete-vowel form “vrag” as an Old Slavic loanword (vorgъ). Its meanings in Slavic languages on the whole show similarity, characterizing a person as vopposed to a “friend,” but in some of them they are concretized, denoting a ‘murderer:’ Russian obsolete and colloquial and Ukranian vorog ‘foe, villain,’ Belorussian vorag, Polish wróg ‘enemy,’ Czech, Slovak vrah ‘murderer,’ Upper Lusatian obsolete wróh, Bulgarian vrag ‘enemy,’ Macedonian vrag ‘devil,’ Slovene vróg ‘the same,’ Old Slavonic vragъ ‘enemy, devil.’ All of them derive from Proto-Slavonic *vorgъ ‘enemy, villain’ – a probable derivative from the verb *vьrgati ‘to throw,’ related to Lithuanian vargas ‘woe, trouble, wicked,’ Latvian vargs ‘weak, vain, causing evil’ and others. Probably, these words are based on Indo-European root *urg ‘to pursue,’ ‘to abandon,’ ‘to torment.’ Since Indo-European *urg (ureg) meant also ‘to chase,’ Proto-Slavonic *vorgъ also reconstructs as ‘expelled from the clan, thrown out, ejected’ – cf. Proto-Slavonic izverg, Russian izverg and a phrase “an outcast of the human race” (Trubachev, 1959: 176).

Some etymologists consider Proto-Slavonic *vorg to be a borrowing from Germanic languages: Old Norvegian vargr, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish varg ‘wolf.’ And the Old Norse vargr and the Old English wearg also denote a criminal, a robber, a villain. Old Saxon and Old Upper German warg ‘robber, outlaw’ goes back to Goth ga wargjan ‘to curse.’ Consequently, such a ‘villain,’ ‘murderer’ was proclaimed ‘a wolf in a sacred place,’ i.e. a creature not wanted anywhere, cursed, rejected by people, to whom people had the right to treat as a wolf who had entered a sacred place. Hence it is clear that for the Slavs “enemy” was not only ‘murderer’ but generally ‘unfriend, foe.’ In the Germanic languages the word was tabooed. The author of the Slovene etymological dictionary also acknowledges a connection of this word with Norse and other Germanic languages in the meaning ‘wolf,’ reconstructing the original semantics for Proto-Slavonic *vorg ‘tormentor, executioner.’ In the opinion of the author of the “Croatian Etymological Dictionary,” Proto-Slavonic * vorgъ originally had the meaning ‘the one who kills, killer’ which is proved by Proto-Slavonic *vražda (on the model of *pravьda, *krivьda), that denoted a blood feud, a circular murder, when all the elders gathered the trial for the blood of a killed relative and the payment for the crime was determined, so the word *vražьda in various Slavonic languages developed the meaning ‘murder’ or ‘relationship and actions imbued with enmity, mutual hatred.’ The meaning ‘devil’ of the Proto Slavonic *vorg received only during Christianity. Cf. also the Ukranian diminutive from vorog – vrazhenya, vrazhcha ‘a small devil.’

As we see, the original semantic core of the word “vrag” ‘enemy’ from the ancient times is rather syncretic. In fact, in the Russian language, its meanings do not differ substantially. So, the explanatory dictionary, edited by D.N. Ushakov, distinguishes 5 meanings, and the first three of them are quite close to each other: “1. (both about a man and a woman). A person who fights for other, opposite interests, an opponent. A class enemy. An ideological enemy // A detractor, a person endeavouring to do harm. After this quarrel we became enemies for life. 2. only singular, collective. The same as a foe (in the 2d sense (military, rhetorical)). A person hostile and dislikeful to somebody or something. The enemy crossed our border. 3. Anything that is harmful, unpleasant, evil. My tongue is my enemy. Wine is his enemy. 4. of what. One who hates something, feels aversion to something, is against something. I am an enemy of alcohol. 5. The devil, the hell (religious and colloquial). The enemy has bewitched me.” Close to this is the branching of meanings of the word “enemy” in the modern explanatory dictionary edited by S.A. Kuznetsov.

“The semantic range characteristic of the lexeme ‘enemy’ is also characterristic of some of its synonyms, which are rather significant in number: antagonist (bookish), vorog ‘enemy’ (folklore, poetic), vrazhinya ‘enemy’ (colloquial), nedrug ‘adversary,’ protivnik ‘opponent,’ supostat ‘enemy’ (obsolete), suprotivnik ‘enemy’ (obsolete). 1. zlozhelatel’ ‘ill-wisher,’ zlopyhatel’ ‘ill-wisher,’ nedobrozhelatel’ ‘ill-wisher,’ nedobrokhot ‘ill-wisher’ (obsolete), nenavistnik ‘hater,’ *protivnaya storona ‘the opposite side’ (colloquial). 2. nedrug ‘foe’ (folklore, poetic), nepriyatel’ ‘foe,’ *military opponent. 3. see devil. It is the enemy’s work; the enemy of the human race (Kozhevnikov, 2009: 104).

It is known that word components as part of phraseological units and proverbs are semantically selective. Some of them keep, or rather conserve, the oldest meanings of this or that lexeme, while others incorporate well-known meanings into the composition of reproduced units, and some develop their own phraseological and paremiological connotations. The set of synonyms of the core component of phraseological units and paremics, is also selective here.

Let us look at the semantic range of the linguistic units with the component “enemy” and some of its synonyms.

The image of the enemy in Russian stable comparisons

Comparative phraseology uses “enemy image” selectively – only in two dictionary meanings of the word “enemy,” namely, in the first and fifth ones.

In the first meaning, it is a characteristic of a person who fights for interests different from those of the opponent and a malignant ill-wisher; it is reflected in seven comparisons: as an enemy, to look at someone as a public enemy; an obliging fool is more dangerous than an enemy (the latter comparison is a quotation from the fable by I.A. Krylov “The Hermit and the Bear,” the proverb is also included in the collection of V.I. Dal); sought as a city, surrendered as an enemy; feed a horse like a son, but beware like an enemy; fight as enemies; (do something) like enemies [fierce enemies].

In the fifth meaning the lexeme as a nomination of the devil, the devil is more demanded in folk comparisons, which may be explained by a higher quota of imagery in this semantics as compared to the estimating, but unimagery meaning ‘enemy:’ to buzz like the enemy (shout like the enemy); as the enemy bound something to somebody; to shout (yell) as an enemy; shaky-headed as an enemy (shaky-headed is ‘talkative’); thin as an enemy.

Cf. also expressions with derivatives of the word “enemy” in the same demonological meaning: vrazhenenok ‘little enemy’ = ‘little devil’ and vrazhina – ‘evil spirit:’ (kids) as vrazhenyata; as vrazhina; as if vorogusha had caught someone, where vorogusha is a fever.

Stable comparisons are also formed with synonyms of the word “enemy.” Thus, the component nedrug ‘foe’ is a part of the same proverbs exclusively in the first meaning – ‘enemy, malicious ill-wisher:’ the arrow in foe is like a spear; the arrow in foe is like an arrow in a stump; the arrow in foe is like in a stump, and the arrow in a friend is like in myself. The expressions have a common meaning of the perception of one’s own and someone else’s pain.

The component “protivnik” ‘adversary’ is recorded only in the meaning synonymous with “enemy” ‘devil, demon’ in one dialectal comparative: swear like the adversary ‘swear, using words.’ A peculiar series of dialectal stable comparisons reflecting the ‘image of the enemy’ are the expressions with the components “svedentsy,” “svedenki,” “svedyonyshy” ‘stepchildren’ and “svedenik” ‘stepson or brother.’ All of them derive only from the first meaning of the synonym of the word “enemy” ‘enemy, malicious ill-wisher:’ sit [silently] like svedentsy; Why are you like svedentsy! (the mother’s phrase when she stops fighting children); they cannot tolerate each other as two svedeniks; to fight as if they were svedeniks; to live as svedeniks, etc.). It is characteristic that one of these comparisons is directly semantized with the word “enemy:” like svedentsy.

The image of the enemy in Russian phraseological units (resp. sayings)

The component enemy and its synonyms develop more diverse, sometimes diffuse and expressive meanings in non-comparative phraseology. We have identified five meanings:

  1. The characteristic of a person who fights for interests opposite to those of the opponent is reflected in 21 phraseological units. At the same time, such semantics without additional connotations is reproduced, perhaps, only in one of them: you will not wish this to your enemy ‘folklore, disapproval of something very bad, bad.’ A number of units name political realities: public enemy ‘political, colloquial – political criminal in the years of repression;’ using the same model in a different time and political situation the expression enemy of perestroika is formed with the meaning ‘publicistic, disapproving – the opponent of changes in society;’ enemy image ‘publicistic, disapproving – the totality of ideas about someone or something as an alien dangerous force.’

Some expressions in the modern dialectal and sociolectal usage undergo carnivalization, become humorous and ironic characteristics of everyday phenomena: public enemies ‘Seliger – swearwords about scattered hens;’ public enemy ‘jargon, youth, jokingly – the same as the enemy of children.’

The playful and ironic transformation of some free word combinations also create phraseological jargonisms: partisans behind enemy lines ‘jokingly, ironically – pupils in the teachers’ room;’ behind enemy lines ‘jokingly, ironically – about pupils sitting on the first desk,’ ‘school jargon – about a pupil in the teachers’ room,’ ‘army jargon, ironically – about soldiers in AWOL.’

  1. The characteristic of a person who is hostile, dislikeful of somebody or something is reflected in two phraseological phrases with military-rhetorical connotation. One of them is obsolete, going back to the Bible (1 Cor. 15.25): to put all enemies under one’s feet ‘obsolete – to defeat the enemy.’ The second is dialectal, but possibly also inspired by Old Believer biblical reminiscences, vrag-suprotivnik ‘Nizhnyaya Pechora. An adversary, an enemy, a foe.’
  2. Meaning ‘anything that brings harm, trouble, evil’ is also realized by phraseological means: white enemy ‘publicist – salt, sugar.’ Close in stylistic tone to the paraphrases of the third type are also phrases where the word “enemy” has the meaning ‘hating something, feeling aversion to something, opponent of something:’ enemy of the bottle ‘colloquial, ironic – teetotaler;’ enemy of the soldier ‘army jargon, jokingly – vodka.’ The latter is the result of the semantic condensation of the proverb “Vodka is an enemy of the soldier, but the soldier does not fear his enemies.”
  3. The most active in the folk proverbial sphere is the demonological meaning ‘the devil, the evil spirit:’ the enemy has pulled someone’s tongue ‘colloquial pejorative – about something said rashly inadvertently;’ the enemy knows what, who ‘Siberian – nothing is known about something, somebody,’ the enemy of Christ’s cross ‘Pskov (1607) – about the Satan, the devil;’ enemy does not catch a dirty word ‘colloquial – not to jinx, not to bring misfortune;’ snot-nosed enemy ‘Permian swear word (1967) – about a dirty, untidy and hateful person,’ etc.

Only to this last demonological meaning we refer dialect phraseological units with derivatives of the word “enemy:” vorogusha ‘evil spirit,’ ‘fever’ and vrazhonok ‘demon, devil:’ vorogusha carried (brought) somebody ‘Novgorod – disapproving of undesirable arrival of somebody;’ vorogusha carries somebody ‘Novgorod – disapproving of a mischievous hooligan;’ cursed vorogusha ‘Smolensk swear word – about an unpleasant, evil person;’ If you had no ears, you would be instead of a vorogusha ‘Arkhangelsk (1877) – a proverb about an old unkind woman;’ vrazhonok confused somebody ‘Vyatsk, disapproving – someone succumbed to the temptation to do something reprehensible,’ etc.

Such dialect phraseological units with a derivative component of the word “enemy” in the full-vowel form confirm the statements of some etymologists cited above about the bookish, Old Slavonic source of the demonological meaning of the word “enemy,” “vorog.” It is no coincidence that it is very actively used in Serbian and Croatian phraseology with the component “enemy.” Most likely, this semantics comes from the ancient Proto-Slavonic etymon *vorgъ.

The image of the enemy in Russian proverbs

The image of the enemy is most clearly, numerously and dialectically represented in paremiology. The component “enemy” and its synonyms in proverbs polyphonically reflect both the connotation of this lexeme and the didactic truths describing the attitude to enemies and opportunities to fight against them.

Enemy. The characteristic of a person (correlates with the first meaning from the dictionary edited by D.N. Ushakov) fighting for interests different from those of the opponent and a malicious foe in the mirror of paremiology is multifaceted and detailed. Let us outline its general semantic components.

  1. The enemy consistently appears as a negative antipode of the friend. At the same time, however, paradoxical is the fact that positive connotation of the friend in this opposition is presented only by a limited number of proverbs: Do not spare your enemy, and you will save your friend; Instead of digging a hole for your enemy, build a house for your friend; The enemy’s enemy is always a friend.

The paremiological wisdom is dialectical here as well, for it is far from possible to always define with certainty the boundary between a true friend and an enemy: One does not know at once, who is the enemy, and who is the friend. At the same time, the majority of proverbs in this oppositional “tandem” express the same (if not more) distrust of a friend as that of an enemy (foe): The most dangerous enemy is your friend; Do not be afraid of enemies that attack you, be afraid of friends who flatter you; No enemy is as dangerous as an offended friend; An honest enemy is better than a lying friend; An enemy or a cheat – your friend is only in the ground; A smart enemy is better than a foolish friend; etc.

Cf. also a number of proverbs, where the concept “friend” is not expressed by the appropriate lexeme, but is represented implicitly: He is not your enemy who is in front of you, but he who is behind your back; A home enemy is the strongest; A secret enemy is the most dangerous; A secret enemy is scarier than a known one; An enemy is not one who talks, but one who betrays; A happy person has many enemies; One cow for a thief, two cows for do-gooder.

Nedrug ‘foe’ as a synonym of the word “enemy” is active in proverbs, although the frequency of its semantic characteristics is not the same.

Thus, the word “nedrug” ‘foe’ consistently acts as a negative antipode of friend. In contrast to the “enemy – friend” opposition, where the last member is more often represented negatively, here the positive connotation of friend is expressed by a very large number of proverbs. In such a “tandem” specific nuances of oppositions of these two concepts are characterized: It is better to drink water from a friend than honey from a foe; It was better to live with a friend, but a foe prevented it; A friend builds a tower, and a foe makes a coffin; A friend is a treasure, nobody is happy with a foe; There is no friend or foe at work; A friend teaches, a foe punishes; A friend argues, a foe agrees; A poor man knows both friends and foes; I will prohibit friend and foe, and myself will not go forward; I will forbid myself, and I will forbid friend and foe; The happy one has a foe who dies, [and] the unhappy one has a friend who dies.

The only exception in such a clear axiological opposition is probably the proverb “Heaven, give me a clever foe, and if a friend is a fool – I will weep with him!”

  1. A number of proverbs actualize the meaning of ruthlessness as a characteristic of enemies: You will not drown an enemy in tears; You will not win an enemy with care; When the enemy takes by the collar, the dog grabs by the garment bottoms.

The same meaning is reflected in proverbs with a synonym of the word “enemy” – foe: You cannot ride a field with grief, and you cannot console a foe with tears; You cannot buy good things, but you cannot console a foe with tears; What hurts me, does not disturb a foe; You cannot break a foe’s spear with your heart; A heart is freezing when seeing a foe in the forehead; A heart is freezing when seeing your foe.

  1. Some proverbs emphasize the need to fight resolutely with enemies by all means: The stronger the enemy is, the harder it is to hold his fist; If you stand up for the enemy, do not spare your fist; The anger to enemy should last to the grave; To spare the enemy means to get into trouble; You should talk with the enemy and with an ass only with the help of the whip.

The same meaning the synonym of the word “enemy” – foe has in proverbs: You defeat the foe even if it disturbs you. At least the hat is off the foe; You got tired when chasing the foe; Beware when you hear the foe’s praise.

  1. The proverb embodies the idea that enemies are insidious, cunning and deceitful; you should know them well and not trust them: The enemy has a snake-like malice – keep your eyes open; Look for the stone in the enemy’s sinuses; It is better to know your enemy’s face; You should all know how to recognize an enemy; Learn from the enemy as well; Do not expect a cake from the enemy; Forgive no enemies, envy no people; Not everybody who defamed you is your enemy, etc.

The same meaning the synonym of the word “enemy” – foe has in proverbs: A fed soldier fed and a reconciled enemy reconciled are not reliable; Knowing the enemy, there is no reason to go to the feast, etc.

  1. A number of proverbs focus on the fact that all enemies are dangerous, both strong and weak: All enemies are dangerous; A weak enemy must be also feared; A small enemy is a great trouble; Beware of the enemy, even if he is the size of an ant; Do not be afraid of an enemy who is smart, [but] be afraid of an enemy who is stupid.
  2. We must remember that enemies who are nurtured by ourselves are especially dangerous: Without watering, without feeding, you will not see the enemy; Without watering, without feeding, you will not make an enemy. There is the same proverb with the component “foe:” You will not make a foe without drinking or feeding.
  3. One of the folk wisdoms embodied in proverbs is the statement “the sure way to make enemies is to lend them money:” If you want to make an enemy, lend him money.
  4. At the same time, proverbs say that reconciliation with enemies is possible: Make peace with the enemy – it is easier to live then; Do not keep three enemies, but make peace with two of them. Such proverbs are in tune with one of the gospel principles: Do not revenge the enemy; Do not revenge the enemy: wait till the Lord helps you. Cf. similar proverbs with the component “foe:” You will become mad, when you do not know how to get along with the for; Do not make harm to the foe.
  5. At the same time we should remember that no one is an enemy to himself or his loved ones: No one is an enemy to himself; Who is an enemy to himself, who is a villain?; Being an enemy to himself is like going without money to the city, etc.
  6. Old age can also be the enemy of man: You live long enough, you will die as an enemy.

The characteristic of a person who is hostile to someone or something (correlates with the second meaning from the dictionary edited by D.N. Ushakov) receives a military and rhetorical stylistic coloring in the proverbs. The following meanings are actualized:

  • enemy must be fought with collectively, by uniting: One person will not defeat the enemy; The enemy is fierce, but our people are steadfast; If the enemy is at the gate, the whole nation is behind the gate;
  • the enemy must be fought with ruthlessly: Beat the enemy not in the eyebrow, but in the eye – this is the people’s rule; Beat the enemy with a grenade, a bullet and a spade; Do not count enemies, beat them; When you beat the enemy, do not hope for the Gods; If the enemy does not surrender, he is killed; Not to beat the enemy means not to live; Better to beat the enemy than to be beaten; Beat the enemy at every step, and so on.

Note that most of these proverbs, due to their rhetorical nature, are inspired by patriotic feelings of the Great Patriotic War. It is no coincidence that their sources are paremiological collections of the post-war period. Some of them are even labeled with the appropriate proper names, for example: Drive and beat the enemy, as Chapay did; Beat the enemy in a Soviet way, beat the enemy in a youthful way; All enemies will be defeated, like at Lake Khasan.

Close to proverbs with patriotic stylistics are proverbs with the component ‘foe:’ The army has harness to defeat the foe; The army has harness to punish the foe:

  • the enemy’s defeat is inevitable: The enemy was going to feast, but he had to flee; The enemy wanted to feast, but had to grieve; No matter how the enemy tries, he will be defeated; The Russians kick where the enemy does not wait, etc.;
  • the near insidious and hidden enemy is more dangerous than the distant enemy: The enemy is formidable beyond the mountains, but more formidable beyond your shoulders; An open enemy is a step towards victory.

The correlation with the third meaning of the word “enemy” from the dictionary edited by D.N. Ushakov is presented only in two proverbs “My tongue is my enemy” and “The best is the enemy of the good.” At the same time, the first proverb is presented in the literary language and folk speech in different versions, for example: My tongue is my enemy; My tongue is my enemy: before my mind prowls; etc.

The second proverb has been recorded only recently, and the first dictionary provides only modern contexts (B. Poplavsky “Apollon Bezobrazov” and “Rush Hour”).

The “duplicity” of proverbs with the abstract meaning of the word “enemy” is a sign of their “non-Russianness.” And indeed: a historical-etymological analysis proves that they are calques from European paremics.

The high instructive style of the first proverb demonstrates its bookish origin. At the same time, the abundance of variants indicates that it has been long used in the Russian language. This is understandable: the source of the proverb is the Holy Scripture. M.I. Michelson cites a number of biblical aphorisms, which “prompted” its emergence in the Russian language: The mouth of a fool is his near death; The fool’s tongue is death for him; Who will give me the guardian of my mouth and the seal of prudence on my mouth, so I do not fall through and my tongue will not destroy me! It is the correlation with these phrases that allows recognize its status as a biblical proverb.

The fate of the second proverb in Russian is somewhat different. As we have seen, it has appeared only recently. Interestingly, at the beginning of the last century it was recorded in the form “The best is the enemy of the good” by M.I. Michelson, but – unlike most of the dictionary entries of his two-volume book – this dictionary entry does not contain a single context, which may indicate that it was a fresh (maybe even the author’s) calque from European languages. Moreover, M.I. Michelson cites the European proverbs: German “Das Bessere ist oft des Guten Feind” (literally “The best is the enemy of the good”); English “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well” (literally “Striving for the best, often we mar (lose) the good.” W. Shakespeare “King Lear”); French “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien” (Voltaire); Italian “Il meglio è il nemico del bene” (Bocaccio). They go back to the Latin proverb “Spe meliori amittitur bonum.”

The fourth dictionary definition of the word “enemy” ‘one who hates something, feels aversion to something, is an opponent of something’ is not used in proverbs.

At the same time, the fifth meaning, connected with the semantic mythologeme “enemy” as ‘devil,’ is rather active in Russian paremiology. It is characteristic that many “hypostases” of the evil force in the mirror of proverbs organically fit into the corresponding “picture of the world” created by N.I. Tolstoy in his essays “What is the Shape of the Devil?” (Tolstoy, 1976) and “Where Do Different Devils Come From?” (Tolstoy, 1974). Thus, the devil:

  • is omnipresent and aggressive: There is much room for the enemy (cf. the proverb with the word “vorogusha” ‘enemy, thief,’ ‘devil,’ which also seems to have a ‘spatial’ meaning: Not to fall into a foreign land as a vorogusha (not a vorogushya));
  • has an immense power, brings misfortune and destruction: The strong enemy shakes the mountains [and shakes people like brooms], etc.;
  • the enemy is hunting for human souls: The enemy prowls around, looking for a loophole in the soul;
  • the enemy is a werewolf, i.e. he is capable of reincarnation and transformation of some creatures into people or animals: The enemy will show a cockroach as a giant (cf. Leave the enemy, and take the devil by the horns);
  • is afraid of being crossed, amulets, taboos can help defeat it: Do not call the enemy, or he immediately appears and make a nasty; Cross the enemy,
    and he will be defeated

The last type, perhaps, conditionally include two proverbs, where the enemy may disguise himself as a wolf: The enemy is like a wolf: he cannot be without teeth; Do not make the enemy a sheep, but make him a wolf. Cf. also: A wolf fed, a horse healed, a Jew baptized, but a foe reconciled; Do not leave a foe as a sheep, but leave him as a wolf; Do not consider a foe to be a sheep, consider him to be a wolf.

Here it is appropriate to recall the above etymological and mythological parallelism of the Proto-Slavonic *vorgъ.


As we see, the concept “enemy” and its lexemes represented constitute an active part of the phraseological and paremiological fund of the Russian language. The word “enemy” (vorog), which forms the main part of this fund, preserves the ancient semantic impulses of the Proto-Slavonic *vorgъ and is actualized in Russian set expressions, especially in folk proverbs and sayings. At the same time, the semantic characteristics of the relevant words largely determine the connotative and axiological potential of proverbs and sayings. However, quantitatively and qualitatively they are represented differently. On the one hand, such differences are observed in three different groups of Russian paremiology: as a part of stable comparisons they are relatively few, as components of phraseological units (resp. sayings) they are semantically selective, as figurative dominants of proverbs they are extremely active and multidimensional. Their imagery, reproducing both ancient and modern semantics and connotativity of this concept, allows to reconstruct a bright and multidimensional “enemy image” in the mirror of the Russian language. The prospects of future research on this problem seem to be a broad comparison of Russian paremiology with proverbs and sayings in other languages and a dive into the historical and etymological analysis of certain paremics, which is of particular linguocultural interest.


About the authors

Valery M. Mokienko

Ural Federal University named after the First President of Russia B.N. Yeltsin

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0264-0576

Doctor of Philology, leading researcher

19 Mira St, Yekaterinburg, 620002, Russian Federation


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