13

As I understand it, it describes a person who doesn't let others enjoy a resource / service while he himself doesn't utilize it either:

Собака на сене — ни себе, ни людям. Смысл поговорки становится понятен после знакомства с её происхождением. Считается, что мысль о «собаке и сене» впервые высказал древнегреческий баснописец Эзоп в басне «Собака в яслях». Собака лежит на сене и своим агрессивным поведение не дает подойти в сену лошадям (в других вариантах ослу, быкам). Разлеглась однажды Собака в хлеву на сене. Лежит, рычит и лошадей к еде не подпускает. — Ну и бессовестное ты животное! — сказал ей наконец один конь. — И сама ты сена не ешь, и нас к еде не подпускаешь!

Source: http://chtooznachaet.ru/chto-oznachaet-vyrazhenie-sobaka-na-sene.html

As I understand it from some Russian colleagues, the expression can also be used to describe a person on a power trip.

Can I use this expression in modern Russian or perhaps there are better alternatives?

28

In my opinion, it is still usable.
One of the reasons is a pretty old movie with exactly the same title.

There is also an alternative, that seems to be used a bit wider:

Ни себе, ни людям

22

Actually it was never widespread. Russian society for centuries was split to political elite and the rest of population. The phrase "собака на сене" comes from an Aesop's fable with the same name. The famous Spanish theater play actually is called "El perro del hortelano", the garderner's dog, and this term historically belongs to the same family of pan-European idioms (according to wikipedia, it can be traced in at least Dutch, Danish, English, German, French, Portuguese and Italian as well).

I'm not saying here, of course, that it's not Russian because it's de-facto a part of Russian cultural context, but it's important to understand that it always been quite bookish and remains such.

  • Then what alternative, less bookish expression would you use for such behaviour? – lolly Nov 4 at 16:32
  • 5
    @lolly just didn't want to steal Dmitry's answer (which I up-voted), "ни себе, ни людям" or "ни себе, ни другим" are pretty much similar in meaning. – shabunc Nov 4 at 16:52
  • I suppose by "bookish" you mean "literary" (which, I guess, may itself be a somewhat "bookish" term). – Andriy M Nov 7 at 12:47
  • @AndriyM by bookish I mean that it used more in literature rather than in an everyday life – shabunc Nov 7 at 12:48
1

Also I heard this one:

И сам не гам, и другому не дам.

  • 5
    Although valid, this one is even less common. – svgrafov Nov 6 at 9:59
1

I never heard anyone used it in a conversation nor I would use it myself. I also don't think it is expected to be used by a language learner who is still uncertain of some language aspects (elsewise be ready to explain its meaning to some people).

1

It's used by aged folks who watched in their twenties the movie Dmitriy specified. I wouldn't use it with teens, you would sound like an old fogy.

I've heard it a lot from older people, but never from young ones.

0

Я не знал что эта поговорка означает пока не прочитал здесь. Очень редко ее произносят где либо. Разве что в газетах, книгах. Не помню чтобы ее употребляли в повседневном разговоре.

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