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От холода зуб на зуб не попадает.

I think this is a hyperbolic expression, meaning "freezing cold". But how should I interpret the phrase more literally?

Not even sure if "попадает" comes from the imperfective "попада́ть" or the perfective "попа́дать". I suppose these two are different verbs with different uses.

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  • 1
    Imperfective. The teeth beat and miss the target
    – Elena
    Jul 22 '18 at 13:07
  • It can be hyperbolic, but human can really has such condition when his mouth trembles in such a way.
    – Dims
    Jul 24 '18 at 6:34
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Literally, the jaws are trembling in the horizontal plane as well, so no tooth meets (попада́ет на) its match on the opposite jaw each time the jaws close.

2

When you are freezing cold, all your muscles start shaking, trying to generate heat. Likewise the jaw muscles, like @Alex_ander says, so "teeth do not meet teeth" (and when you try to speak in that condition, you can talk only intermittently).

There are expressions conveying the same idea (but I'm not sure if this one's the native Russian expression), "звонить зубами"--"to ring with your teeth".

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    I never heard or saw the expression "звонить зубами". Googling it finds it in dictionaries, in word salads (i.e. "способствуете пошить и одурачить свои поздравления, оттуда что звонить зубами незачем дель вставая из этого дома"), and 2-3 times it means something, but the meaning are arbitrary, different each time, and it never means suffering from cold. So I can conclude that it doesn't exist in Russian today. Maybe in past there was such local expression, somebody put it into a dictionary, and since then it is copied from dictionary to dictionary.
    – user31264
    Jul 23 '18 at 9:45

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