I just heard someone talking about Putin propaganda techniques on BBC Radio 4 this morning...

And he mentioned an expression in a situation where "both sides know they are lying"... but they persist with the thing anyway, and neither side smiles or laughs... presumably this dates from Soviet times.

He applied it specifically to the MH17 tragedy: saying that Putin, RT and all the rest know full well that this plane was shot down by Eastern Ukrainian rebels, but persist with the fiction that this explanation has "not been proven".

It was something, possibly, to do with "cow shit" (maybe?)

  • "both sides know they are lying": do you mean that both sides tell a lie, or one side tells a lie (and knows it) and second side also knows that it is a lie (but does not tells a lie in return)? – Artemix Feb 3 '17 at 10:21
  • It's unclear what exactly are you asking. Could you please provide a usage example, say, an English sentence where you could have put this expression? Thanks. – Quassnoi Feb 3 '17 at 10:55

The Russian expression used when both sides _know_ they are lying, and neither side smiling nor laughing is

делать хорошую мину при плохой игре

derived from card games.

  • Thanks. This sounds great. Is it commonly used in connection with politics, either now or in the past during or before the Soviet era? – mike rodent Feb 4 '17 at 11:18
  • @mikerodent Being theatrical enough, you shouldn't expect to see it in conversation between relatives and buddies. Nor at a card-table, I'm sure. – Avtokod Feb 5 '17 at 14:17
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    @mikerodent: the phrase is a calque from French faire bonne mine à mauvais jeu, literally "to make good appearance during a bad game". It means "to put a brave face on". This is not necessarily lies, this is more like bluffing, keeping your facade pretty during hard times, and of course it does not imply the other side knows about this, quite the opposite. This phrase and its likes in other languages are of course used widely when discussing politics since about Neolithic age, because that's what politicians do. – Quassnoi Feb 6 '17 at 7:18
  • The question clearly stipulates that there are two parties to the conversation, the fact the renders the accepted answer as not appropriate. In fact I don't believe there is an idiom for such situation – Alex Feb 10 '17 at 21:59
  • this is a valid answer that would be nice to have as an additional one, but not the accepted one. – shabunc Dec 8 '17 at 14:36

The BBC did this a while ago, after which it can officially be considered the Russian language's mythmaker-in-chief. They took a colourless and generic Russian term for camouflage, маскировка, and simply made up some clandestine cultural significance around it. Failing to even translate the word correctly in the process (it does not mean "a little masquerade", just "masking").

I certainly can't think of any expression that would match the description. "Cow shit" being a gender flip away from an English, and very specifically English, expression for lying, are you even sure Russian was the language in question? But then again, I won't be surprised if the Beeb have let their linguistic imagination run wild again. Now I'm curious to know the details myself, but nothing turns up on the BBC4 website.

I realise "never heard of it, don't trust the BBC" isn't much of an answer, but I'm fairly confident I'm not missing any Russian idiomatics here, and if you provide more details I might at least be able to clear up what they got wrong this time.

EDIT: Tsumiman's вешать лапшу на уши is a good candidate, and the phonetic similarity to "cow shit" is an interesting theory I didn't think of. Perhaps I should've given the BBC greater benefit of the doubt despite their prior record. That said, the expression (literally "hanging noodles on one's ears") does not necessarily imply a situation where "both sides know they are lying". The speaker does know, but they don't have to be the person being lied to.

  • Ah, it wasn't BBC4 (TV)... it was BBC Radio 4... but you should be able to get it on the BBC website (I don't know how this works outside the UK... can anyone get it?) try bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08cbp1z. It may well be the item in the "running order" at 7.50 am this morning. I have to point sthg out, however: the BBC does not endorse every opinion voiced by those on its programmes. Unlike in Russia the UK government actually has very little control over the media. – mike rodent Feb 3 '17 at 17:42
  • It's at 1 h 09 minutes into the programme... the person interviewed is someone called Edward Lucas, an ex-editor of The Economist. The expression he used sounded something like "Vranyo"... which he translated as "bovine excrement"... the concept being, as I say, that you have a discussion where both sides know they are talking nonsense but carry on anyway... Mind you, according to Google Translate this merely translates as "lies"... a bit boring! – mike rodent Feb 3 '17 at 18:20
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    @mikerodent Google Translate is completely right. Враньё is just that, "lies". No special tinge of meaning here. Boring? Yes, and there's no reason to expect it to be anything else. Russia and its language are not, contrary to (pesky, at times infuriating) stereotypes, your go-to source of cultural colourfulness. "Bovine excrement" is just Lucas making "bullshit" radio-friendly; frankly I'm surprised it didn't occur to you at once. Lucas is wrong (as he always is, but let's keep this non-political) about vranyo being untranslatable. And he even brought up the maskirovka rubbish again! – Nikolay Ershov Feb 3 '17 at 22:38
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    @mikerodent P.S. "Unlike in Russia the UK government actually has very little control over the media." — Lax professional standards aren't a function of government control or lack thereof. They don't even require having an agenda. The Western tendency to sensationalise, exotify, or just randomly reinvent Russia is older than our current political tensions; in fact, it's much older than the USSR. There were never any "Potemkin villages"; there was never any "Russian roulette". What the BBC has shown here is simply more of that anything-goes attitude. – Nikolay Ershov Feb 3 '17 at 23:16
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    @mikerodent: it's not an uncommon trope to reason about other nations' traits giving them names borrowed from the nation's language, which makes them sound as somehow unique. Your average Joe Sixpack may be insolent or ill-fated, but an Etai of Haifa would have "chutzpah" or be a "schlimazel", supposedly implying some kind of new level of arrogance and misfortune specific to Jews or Israel. Well, they are not, and neither are Russian враньё and маскировка warp and woof of the Russian culture any more than English "lies" and "camouflage" are those of the British one. – Quassnoi Feb 4 '17 at 9:23

In the mentioned radio segment, BBC 4 beginning at 1:09. The following words are mentioned:

  • компромат (kompromat) - a short form for discrediting materials
  • маскировка (maskirovka) - a fairly innocuous word as mentioned by Nikolay, which means masking
  • враньё (vranyo) - which means lies, contrary to what Edward Lucas says the word has no connection to either "bovine", or to "excrement." Also contrary to Edward Lucas, the word враньё does not imply that "both sides" either know about it, or both lie to each other. It simply means "lies", nothing more, nothing less.

I'll avoid commenting on the rest of Mr. Lucas' speech about how "враньё/lies" is a lubricant of life in Soviet Union and Russia.


This situation might be described with idiom "вешать лапшу на уши". It's used to talk about outright and blatant lie or deliberately confusing statements. Also, "на уши" might sound somewhat similar to "cow shit".

There is also slang word "брехня", which might be translated as "bullshit".

  • Thanks... not being a Russian speaker I'd feel silly to award this as the "right answer"... but assuming this keeps the highest votes I shall... – mike rodent Feb 4 '17 at 11:23

Both sides lying to each other, knowing it, yet keep lying with straight faces? The word for that is "дипломатия" (diplomacy).

There's also an idiomatic expression "врёт и не краснеет" ("to tell a lie without blushing").


Actually there are plenty idioms meaning "to tell a lie". I suggest:

(Говорить) на голубом глазу

Which means "To tell a lie with innocent look".

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