Пожалуй, стоило бы намылить ему шею за то, что из-за него я так долго был лишен вашего общества.

I wonder if this expression means "give him a (verbal) dressing-down"? Does "намылить" have anything to do with "soap"? In French, there is a similar colloquial expression "passer un savon{soap} à someone" to mean exactly that.

I don't know in which register it is used, but are there synonymous expressions for "намылить ему шею"?

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    It does mean that - to give a dressing down, and not necessarily verbally. It can be interpreted as a threat to kick someone's ass, although the expression is pretty lighthearted. It sounds a bit childish, really. Not sure where it came from, but probably from the soap and the rope for the hanging. Although I think it's actually the rope that's been soaped normally rather than the neck. – AR. Aug 27 at 6:36
  • I read that намылить голову and головомойка are both independently derived from German den Kopf waschen - взбучка. Probably the expression намылить голову was later transformed to намылить шею. It might be contaminated with взмыленная шея which means sweaty neck of a horse after fast run (взмыленная лошадь is also used, and sometimes a human is metaphorically called взмыленный if he is forced to work hard, and his work is not sedentary). – user31264 Aug 27 at 9:14
  • It means clobber. He "wants" to beat him. But this is more a mocking expression than a serious one. – Mogekoff Aug 29 at 18:42
  • For synonymous expressions please see (in Russian) - kartaslov.ru/… – HEKTO Aug 29 at 20:16
  • I don't think i ever heard "намылить голову" but i guess i heard "намылить холку". May it imply forced shaving? – Arioch Oct 14 at 20:56

In short, 'намылить шею' is an idiom, meaning 'to kill/to beat up'.

There are different idioms in Russian: 'быть между молотом и наковальней'='to be between the sledge-hammer and the anvil'=>'to have hard problems surrounding you', 'излить душу'='to pour out one’s soul'=>'to open yourself for someone', etc. (source of other examples in exact translations). As for the violence, you can easily understand the idioms 'пересчитать ему рёбра'='to count his ribs' or 'поцеловать пулю'='to kiss a bullet'. 'Намылить шею' came from gallows, when the neck was covered with soap to be more sliding for the rope (the true application of ethics in death penalty!).

What I can add: it seems strange, but in Russian 'мыло' can also sometimes mean... sweat, especially for horses: 'Лошади после долгой дороги были все в мыле (=>were tired), поэтому перед продолжением пути их пришлось поменять в придорожной таверне.'

it's also phraseology meaning "to do somethink rude with him". To scold or punish.

One theory says that this phrase comes from epoch when criminals were executed by hanging. Rope for them was soaped for better slipping.

  • welcome to Russian SE! Please keep in mind that each new answer provided should contain something new compared to the answers already given. – shabunc Sep 8 at 11:21

Some say "намылить" is to "put some frothy soap on", "to lather" and actually this phrase has pretty grim etymology - for execution via hanging the know was usually lubricated by soap (or wax) to ensure it smoothness. Sometimes neck of one who's executed was lathered as well.

So "намылить шею" (according to this version) initially had more dark connotations that not just non-existent - it's quite soft actually.

This is at least the most popular version.

However personally me never found this version convincing enough - it's just that there's not enough evidence that support this version.

Actually намылить meant to stand for: "намыливая в воде, растирать, натирать":

enter image description here

If you've ever seen how laundry looks like before the invention of washing machines you've most likely seen something like this:

enter image description here

This device is called washboard (or стиральная доска in Russian) and Wikipedia got it right:

Clothes are soaked in hot soapy water in a washtub or sink, then squeezed and rubbed against the ridged surface of the washboard to force the cleansing fluid through the cloth to carry away dirt.

So, it's rubbing forcibly against some ridged hard surface. One can imagine that it's quite uncomfortable if we'll make the same with the neck. So may be etymology is not that grim after all.

  • Намылить means to put soap not, not to rub it against a washboard – Michael Freimann Aug 27 at 16:22
  • @MichaelFreimann than you've missed the screenshot with an excerpt from a dictionary - it actually also had a meaning "to rub with soap". – shabunc Aug 27 at 16:27
  • Yes, to rub with soap, not against a washboard – Michael Freimann Aug 27 at 16:28
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    Yes, she put soap on it. I am sorry, are you russian? – Michael Freimann Aug 27 at 17:07
  • 2
    So what I am trying to say, is that намылить just means put soap on, not necessarily rubbing anything. Basically, because there are no other words that mean “put soap on”. – Michael Freimann Aug 27 at 17:29

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