Russian Phrase Book

Russian Phrase Book coverRussian Phrase Book: Department of the Army Pamphlet
Headquarters, Department of the Army

Submitter: It’s a Russian phrase pamphlet that dates to 1962, a few mos before the Cuban Missile Crisis! The phrases in here are a combo of what they probably assumed was Russian peasant-speak & propaganda! PRICELESS!!!  This book was unearthed in our collection by my boss who has a natural talent for finding such items.

Holly: Love this!  Yours might have been the last owning library, though.  WorldCat doesn’t show any more 1962 edition holdings (and only two of the 1975 edition – one in Germany and one in Sweden).  Here’s to ridding the world of one more awful library book!

are they known to you

initial encounter with locals


food, sanitation, weather

bring medical aid

can we trust them

the free world

read our leaflets



  1. Regarding number 2 on pg. 91: Hyenas? Really!? How often are you going to be in Russia looking for hyenas?

  2. I have a similar booklet from WWII in French – it covers the basics “(I’m hungry”, “I’m an ally”, “Do you speak English?”, then spends several pages on “Do you like cinema?” and “What a pretty dress.”

  3. This reminds me of two things. First, it recalls an American textbook I had to buy for an introductory Russian course at the University of Nottingham in 1999. The beginning of the book had a section informing readers that: “The more you get to know Russians, the more you will see that they are like us in many ways. Like us, they love to dance and meet with friends, and they rejoice when classes are over!”

    Well-intentioned, sure, but hideously patronising both to Russians and the readers of the textbook.

    After getting my degree in Russian, I taught English in Moscow for two years. One day I noticed a pile of old Soviet English textbooks in the back of a classroom and glanced through them. They contained the kind of propaganda you’d expect about how things are much better in the Soviet Union than in Capitalist countries (like what American schoolkids got, but reversed). But I was particularly amused by a little text about Scotland (“The country where men wear skirts!”) that included a section about the Edinburgh Festival. The festival, we were informed, was established in part to combat the influence of American cultural imports, “like jazz and the twist.”

    I found that strangely charming.

  4. Oh, to have observed the misunderstandings that undoubtedly arose over someone trying to phonetically communicate something as complicated as “if we cannot trust a man, wink your right eye/place your hand on your stomach/etc until your sign is noticed.”

  5. This is what I don’t get about phrase books: If your Russian is this bad, how on Earth could you possibly understand the replies?

  6. Imagine the horrifying consequences of misunderstanding the phrase
    “Should the enemy spies or informers be liquidated?” It’s not exactly small talk.

  7. Well my first thought was a Government Depository Library should own this. There are only two full ones in the country. The Boston Public Library lost over 1 million documents in 1998 from a horrific flood. If the submitter no longer wants it, then i recommend giving it to them. There mission is to keep every document ever produced by the federal government. Yeah it may be out of date, but its important to the over all collection.

  8. “Where are the best places for our sentries?” I would take any answer to that with some salt. “The guardhouse” is probably where they’ll end up if you take their advice!

    This definitely should be kept, though perhaps in a special collection (Army War College? CIA Museum?)…

  9. Always the problem with phrasebooks – what’s the point of being able to say all these phrases when you haven’t got a hope in hell of understanding the answers? I particularly like no 9 option 5: We are here to help them in the struggle on the side of GOD. No pretentions there, eh?

  10. I agree with Robert- don’t pitch that if it’s only one of two left! Definitely find a GovDocs depository library nearby. It’s not fit to circulate in a public library, but that is an awesome find.

  11. I’m sure this is the “Roo-shun” phrase book that Slim Pickens lists as one of the items in a airman’s survival pack just before they’re about to drop the bomb on Russian territory in “Dr. Strangelove.”

    /Cue Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again.”

  12. Three people to whom I’ve forwarded this page *want* that deaccessioned book, if possible–one a military collector, one a Russian language expert, and one with Russian friends just for laughs.

  13. WANT! Want want want want…

    Why can’t I find anything this good in the secondhand book stalls?

  14. You could make $$$$s getting that reprinted; several WW2 manuals have been bestsellers as recent reprints in the UK, including the one telling GIs how to deport themselves in L’il Ol’ England (no colour bar on trains, etc, you can sit with your black buddy.)

    The English/Persian phrasebook, originally for employees of BP prospecting for oil in Iran in the ’50s, remains a classic. It includes such useful phrases as:

    ‘This man has just shot my servant.’

    ‘Go quickly. Tether the horses and pitch the tents.’


    ‘We will not employ that fellow. He has a shifty look about him.’

    The cover has a picture of a confident-looking Westerner in shades pointing and buying a few carpets at the bazaar from a man with a beard & fez, watched admiringly by the Western woman, also in pointy shades, New Look dress and big hat.

  15. Actually, it looks like there are 128 libraries in Worldcat with the 1968 edition. The accession number is 1559470.

  16. Ralph, I’m panting to read the GI manual you mention in your comment. Title/link?

  17. There was a Vietnamese phrase book like this in my local library when I was a kid. i love it. It had lines such as “Please do not shoot, I am an American.” And “Please move your water buffalo.” I wish I still had it.

  18. There’s a book about apartheid-era South Africa called PLEASE MOVE YOUR SHADOW. The title came from an Africaans phrase book for speaking to caddies (who were all black) on the golf course.

  19. WOW!!! What a great series of comments!

    David G: no, it’s not for sale, sorry. It’s just too precious to us!! %-D

    My own favorite line is the simple but hilarious: “Hide my parachute.” Is anyone else reminded of the great anti-Commie John Milius movie Red Dawn? The Soviets in that flick didn’t make any great effort to hide THEIR parachutes when they invaded!

  20. I remember discarding this when I was a student worker in my first library job ten years ago!

  21. Wow! This is a great book.
    Also remember, not only outdated phrasebooks are amusing to read.
    I recently bought a Somali phrasebook for myself (as I have some Somali friends from being voluntary help at the local Red Cross refugees’ society).
    This little, brand new book includes a long chapter on practical travel in Somalia-tips like “Is the bridge still standing?” “How many landmines are there on this road? And what type (a list of six or seven different types are available to choose from)”
    And yes, also several variants of “I am [a tourist, a journalist, an American, innocent etc.] so don’t shoot me.”

    Anyways, “Ku soo dhawaada maktabada” means welcome to the library, which is a much nicer start of any conversation 😀

  22. Besides the unfortunate reliance on “Tovarisch”, the actual russian isn’t that far from what I leared in the early 1990s.

    Actually, that was full of “Tovarish” too. But, get off the train in Tomsk and you could probably get quite a long way even today.

  23. Wow, I would love that book!
    I collect weird books.
    Russia does have a problem with hyenas, especially the striped hyena.

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