In this video interview (at 48:43) about Russian cartoons, specifically about censorship of these cartoons abroad, the man interviewed uses the phrase "на пальцах раскладывать" referring to certain themes which occur in the cartoon. "как смешарики - там поднималась множество тем как бы, если их на пальцах вот так этот раскладывают...". As I understand it, this phrase is used in the context of a hypothetical statement and maybe means something along the lines of 'to make explicit' or 'to make obvious'. My Russian partner says she has not encountered this phrase before, so my question is:

  1. What is the meaning of this phrase?
  2. Is it commonly used?
  3. If not, is there another more commonly used equivalent phrase?
  • Yes it is common and the meaning is obvious. Is our Russian partner a native speaker?
    – Anixx
    Jan 24, 2022 at 12:48
  • Another (more recent and less common) meaning is related to "распальцовка"
    – Alexander
    Jan 24, 2022 at 19:08

1 Answer 1


This phrase means "to explain something like one's five, to give a simple, intuitive explanation", literally "compartmentalize using one's fingers".

На пальцах is a metaphor for a simple, intuitive explanation, something you would do to teach a kid how to count:

  • На первых порах всё было довольно просто, как в школе ― диалоги на бытовые темы, сцены в магазине, в полиции, знакомство, рассказ о себе, и всё это в пределах определённого словарного запаса, очень ясно, удобно, почти на пальцах.

  • Трудно объяснить на пальцах, но еще труднее быть предметом чужой мысли.

  • Нам с тобой на пальцах объяснили, что вероятность этого близка к нулю.

Раскладывать, literally, means the same thing as English "compartmentalize". In the Russian metaphorical sense, though, it's more about explaining something to others than it is about your own way of thinking. It's usually used in fixed phrases разложить по полочкам, разложить по пунктам etc., but it can also be used in isolation.

Is it commonly used?

These are two separate metaphors, each one very common. But they're used in combination quite often as well.

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