What does "ёшкин-кот" mean? And when do I use it?

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    С детства мечтаю увидеть знаменитых животных: сидорову козу; ешкиного кота; бляху — муху; ядреную вошь; рака, умеющего свистеть в горах. Увидеть бы КУДЫКИНУ гору и корову, что стелится годами. Посмотреть бы на КУЗЬКИНУ мать и на неописанной красоты девицу. То ли красок не хватило на нее, то ли чернил. Пообщаться бы с ЯПОНСКИМ ГОРОДОВЫМ и ЕКАРНЫМ БАБАЕМ!!! Научиться бы ходить неслышно, как слон, предварительно заткнув уши…
    – user2485
    Feb 1 '14 at 11:35

It is an expletive that somebody says when something negative happens. It is not a vulgar phrase, and is somewhat of a euphemism.

This phrase can be literally translated as "A cat from Yoshkar-Ola" (in fact there is a monument to this cat in that city), but of course it is never used in this sense..

Most likely it is used as a euphemism, because a person already starts saying "Ё", which is a beginning of "ёб твою мать", but then is able to change what is being said. Thus it is akin to other similar phrases like "ё моё"(Yo of mine) or "ёлки палки"(spruce and sticks)/"ёлки зелёные"(green spruce).

Another similar word of this kind is "блин" that is used due to the first two sounds being soft Б and soft Л.

To use any of these you would need to find yourself in a negative situation... and you would say something like:

Ёшкин кот! Куда я засунул свои ключи?

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    Actually, it can not be translated as "А cat from Йошка-Ола" - the fact that there's is a monument proves nothing actually. "Ёшкин" does not associate with Йошкар-Ола as, for example Ёбург does with Екатеринбург.
    – shabunc
    Jan 7 '14 at 11:49
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    @shabunc Off-topic for this, sorry... While Ёбург is for Екатеринбург, English Joburg is actually for Johannesburg.
    – Aleks G
    Jan 7 '14 at 11:53
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    @Volodya "literally" means "буквально" and, once again, this is not true on any level.
    – shabunc
    Jan 7 '14 at 16:55
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    Ёперный театр! (and +1, though I don't think Йошкар-Ола is relevant here).
    – TT_
    Jan 7 '14 at 18:16
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    @Volodya I always thought of it as "баба-ёшкин", derivative from "Баба Яга" Jan 9 '14 at 8:10

Volodya provided you an accurate translation, and TT_ gave some additional background.

However, it's worth noting that "ёшкин-кот" (as well as "ёлки-палки", "ёлки-зелёные", "ёлки-моталки" etc.) is much different from euphemisms like "блин", "твою ж налево", "бляха-муха", and I would like to point out when you should not use "ёшкин-кот", and when you can hear it from native-speakers, as an answer to the "when do I use it?" part of your question.

  1. As most other euphemisms, do not use "ёшкин-кот" in any formal context. It is a casual phrase, and could be considered as an evidence of your immaturity and unprofessionalism when used inappropriately.
  2. "Ёшкин-кот", is used predominantly in a humorous context, where the joke is often the fact that you used this phrase. It is inherently humorous, whereas "блин" (euphemism of "блять"), "твою ж налево" (euphemism of "твою мать") or "бляха-муха" (same as "блин") are commonly used without humorous intentions. "Ёшкин-кот" is not likely to be heard as a strong emotional exclamation in a serious conversation. Especially it would be uncommon to hear it being stressed. To put it into context, if a person in a hospital receives news of a serious illness and exclaims loudly: "Ёшкин-кот!", people around might get confused, some might be even tempted to giggle, even when it would be inappropriate.
  • I can imagine a person that always uses this phrase. In this case the humorous context may no longer exist.
    – Artemix
    Jan 12 '14 at 13:22
  • @Artemix, This person can be using it inappropriately, right? Just the fact that someone can use it all the time doesn't mean that's what the majority does. You won't hear "ёшкин-кот" on TV often, not even in comedy shows. Nevertheless, the phrase definitely sounds humorous and casual to me, and I would rather pick another euphemism to convey negative emotions. Compare it to "блин" and other euphemisms I cited. I removed the word strictly in strictly humorous context from my answer, but I still think that it's humorous most of the time.
    – Th334
    Jan 12 '14 at 20:37
  • @Artemix, however, if in your experience "ёшкин-кот" is not different from "блин" and commonly used without humorous context in "proper" Russian, I will happily edit or delete my answer. There might be a lot of regional variation too after all.
    – Th334
    Jan 12 '14 at 20:45
  • Don't worry - your answer is fine. I was just against the word strictly.
    – Artemix
    Jan 12 '14 at 22:56
  • I would think that ёшкин кот is significantly more "formal" than бляха-муха. The latter will almost certainly be understood as vulgar and only partially euphemistic.
    – v010dya
    Nov 24 '15 at 11:30

As @Askar Kalykov mentioned in a comment, it could be related to "Баба Яга". The following link seems to confirm this version:
I think, it should be rather "ежкин кот" (Ezhkin-kot) if it is a derivative from "Баба Яга". But "zh" of course could become "sh" at some point.
(Sorry I put it as an answer instead of a comment: 1. I can't comment due to lack of reputation; and 2. When I first saw this question, the first thing which came to my mind was "it must be ezhkin", and now after Askar Kalykov comment it looks plausible).

  • I would rather relate it to "ё-моё!", especially because "кот" can be replaced by a few other words here ("дрын" is what I would use myself), but your conjecture about etymology seems as good as any.
    – fedja
    Jan 10 '14 at 21:13
  • @fedja What you said does not contradict to my answer: "ё-моё!" is the meaning, "Баба Яга" is the etymology. So we probably can consider “ёшкин-кот!” an archaic "ё-моё!". I personally in love with "Гребаный Экибастуз!".
    – TT_
    Jan 11 '14 at 19:27

Most of the answers go beyond the scope of the question. The OP wanted to know what it meant and when to use it.

I'll start with part 2. You should probably never use it. It's a silly, archaic, and mostly regional expression and will not add to your proficiency in the language.

As to the meaning, the ё definitely puts the expression in the "almost profane" category, since it's using the first letter of a profane root. As to whether the origins are in Йошка-Ола or Баба-ёжка, no one will probably ever tell with confidence.

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