How does

Ругаются на нее другие, а ей что по спине, что по стене [...]


The others cursed them, but it was water off a duck's back [...]

when Google Translate is saying

Others swear at her, but her back and the wall.

Is а ей что по спине an idiom?

(From One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Here's a PDF of it in Russian. Page 24.)

  • 3
    I've never heard this on the life, but the meaning is transparent. Just a metaphor (and in the rhyme). About the beating. Nov 19, 2020 at 7:49
  • Thanks. What raised my eyebrow was the fact that "back" came up in both the English and Russian translations. I wasn't sure if the translator was being extra clever by finding an idiom that also uses the word "back" to express the same meaning, or there was some translation error. Seems it's the former. Nov 27, 2020 at 10:05

2 Answers 2


«а ей что по спине, что по стене» can be approximately translated as "hitting her on the back is like hitting a wall". A similar English idiom is indeed "it was water off a duck's back".

Yes, it is an idiom, meaning she doesn't care, and it's a good translation, meaning just the same.

Google can't help with idioms.


The expression "что по спине, что по стене" is an idiom, and a very nice and sumptuous one. The main salt of this idiom is that words "спина-стена" are pronounced sort of alike, but for the sounds "p" and "t". The meaning can be rendered as following: "The others cursed her, but it was like a change from Tweedledum to Tweedledee".

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