I was just wondering what would be the origin of the verb обчёлся? Does it have something to do with закончил считать? I don't think we use other forms of this verb, but in this idiom. How old is this expression?


Обчёлся is past tense of Обчесться which is just the same as Обсчитаться i.e. to miscount.

Yet the verb Обчесться is almost never used nowadays except this idiom.

How old is this expression?

Well, I can only say that it's really old.

  • Interesting, never heard of this form. – UVV Jun 1 '16 at 12:58

I think the meaning is "not many, hardly any". I.e., if you count to two, you've counted them all (but not literally exactly two).

I've seen this written with a hyphen раз-два и обчёлся which subtly alters the "literal" interpretation to "one or two and that's about it". A hyphen between two successive numbers is used for estimates: e.g., "три-четыре" = "(about) three or four". And, naturally, the monosyllabic раз is often used in counting in place of один.

I'm not sure what you can say about the origin. Russian is very prolific with adding prepositions as prefixes to verbs to form new verbs, just like English is very prolific with using prepositions or adverbs after verbs ("give up", "look out", "get away with") to form phrasal verbs with new meanings. In both cases the new meaning is not always predictable.


This expression denotes a small quantity of anything.обчелся = обсчитался = быстро закончился счет = мало насчитал Современным городам много света дарят уличные кафе, которых у нас почти нет. Да и обычных кафе раз-два и обчелся. (Ю. Нагибин.) Folksy expression. The start time of use is unknown

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