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How formal is the phrase "ни фига себе"? I know it is used to express shock but is it formal at all or something used just among friends?

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It is highly unformal, it's colloquial but there are a lot of cases when it won't be accepted even in casual usage - say, at job one can imagine this saying to a coworker but there's a lot of workplaces that can be treated as democratic but this won't be accepted while talking with boss.

Among friends or close relatives though it's quite normal and almost never sounds rude.

If you look for more polite way to say the same, ничего себе or ну и ничего [ж] себе can be a decent substitute (for a wider list please refer the excellent V.V's answer).

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It is very informal. Here are similar expressions, with similar meanings:

  • Ничего себе - colloquial, but not obscene at all
  • Ни фигá себе - just a bit vulgar or rude.
  • Ни хренá себе - slightly more rude. For example, a boy at school would not use it when he talks with a teacher.
  • Ни хуя себе - (the stress is on я) outright obscene.

Here, хрен (lit. horseradish) is used as a common euphemism for хуй, because horseradish root resembles a penis. In ни фига себе, фиг means a fig sign (generally it is called фúга or кýкиш in Russian, but in expressions like ни фигá or фиг тебе/фиг вам, it becomes male gender and reduced to фиг). The fig sign itself is pretty rude, but the word фиг is not.

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  • Are you sure about a stress in your last option? We, russians, say Ни хуя́ себе. – Lapshin Dmitry Apr 19 '17 at 8:16
  • @LapshinDmitry On my computer, the stress is on the letter я. In your comment, it is between я and c. – user31264 Apr 19 '17 at 9:45
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    @LapshinDmitry - fixed this to avoid any stress displaying bugs. – user31264 Apr 19 '17 at 10:57
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Ни фига себе is a colloquial expression, people consider it vulgar, it is used to describe different feelings, mainly surprise and admiration. It is informal and used between friends. There are several synonyms of this phrase, such as:

  • чудеса да и только;
  • ничего себе;
  • подумать только;
  • мать честная;
  • вот тебе на;
  • смотри пожалуйста;
  • ну и ну;
  • вот так так;
  • ну что ты скажешь;
  • вот так штука;
  • вот тебе и раз;
  • вот тебе и на;
  • да что ты;
  • удивительно;
  • интересное кино!
  • вот тебе раз;
  • надо же;
  • да что вы;
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