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I was trying to translate a song called "город устал" by "плохо", and one of the lines of the song says:

По рассказам всё было, но ты опоздал

I tried to get a word by word translation since there were a couple new ones, and "рассказам" is the dative of рассказ, which means story. The preposition "по" means "along" or "on the subject of". Context reverse translates "По рассказам" as "By all accounts", "According to the stories" and the music translation itself writes it as "Stories tell".

"Всё было" means "everything + was" and "но ты опоздал" means "But you were late". So the translation of that phrase to "Stories tell how it all used to be, but you are late" makes sense.

Thing is, even knowing the meaning of "рассказ" and "по", translating "по рассказам" to "Stories tell" didn't really come to mind. It kind of makes sense after knowing it, but I couldn't get to it by just knowing the words. So I got curious whether this is an idiomatic expression, or if I just didn't think the way a russian would think reading it.

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    "По рассказам" mean "someone (many) talked me about something (this)". "they said". "По ИХ рассказам". This is a common simple expression. It depends what you calls here as 'idiomatic", it's not a proverb or smth like an idiom... It's not like as "in a Blue Moon"... "knowing the meaning of "рассказ"" - mb not all of the connotations... You could see "сказ, сказка..", etc... a story, tale... "по" also mean "in accordance". Jun 24 at 8:07
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    “всё было, но ты опоздал” means “there used to be everything, but you're late [to be born]”, the whole line being “the lore has it that once everything was abundant, but you were born too late for that.”
    – Yellow Sky
    Jun 24 at 18:50
  • @Пилум I call idiomatic sentences whose meaning comes from regular usage, opposed to a logical sentence built as "Subject + Verb + Object" (i.e.: "She hugs me" / "Она меня обнимает"). On the latter you can infer the meaning of the sentence without being Russian or knowing about its usage, but just from the meaning of Она, Меня and Обнимает. It seemed to me that "По рассказам" got that meaning from regular usage, but that you can't logically infer the meaning just from the words alone.
    – IanC
    Jul 1 at 19:12
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    IanC, as i said - here was skipped the Subject - "их", "their"; also, the Russian isn't so strongly analytic language, we don't need so strongly the grammar order and a verb ... :> Jul 6 at 18:57
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    IanC, in general, it's a "passive voice" (or smth like this semantically), and at all as the whole thing - this could sound like this: "по их рассказам следует такая вещь:" or "из их рассказов вытекает следущее: всё было, но ты опоздал" Jul 8 at 10:29
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Yet, it is.

It means "the rumor has it" or "they say".

The word рассказ is used here in a slightly outdated meaning of "report", and literally, the phrase means "according to reports".

Пруд, на котором когда-то, по рассказам, плавали лебеди, был тоже заброшен. // [Ю. О. Домбровский. Обезьяна приходит за своим черепом, часть 1 (1943-1958)]

По рассказам, раньше в лагере «Зарница» проводилась обычно для галочки.

О великанах слышал он из уст булгарского царя; один из них, по рассказам, жил при дворе, Ибн Фадлан видел его кости. // [Василий Голованов. Остров, или оправдание бессмысленных путешествий (2002)]

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