In a booklet of elementary readings for foreigners I came across the expression Ёлки-палки.
This seems to translate as "damn" but the relation of that meaning to the literal meaning of the words baffles me.
My questions:
1) what is the etymology of the expression ?
2) Is it current nowadays and are there nuances relative to its usage ?

1 Answer 1


There is a certain amount of euphemisms formed like this: the speaker starts to say some profanity, then, after the first sound, realizes it would be very inappropriate, and changes the rest to something more decent, even if it makes no sense. Ёлки-палки seems to fall into this category. It's not very common nowadays — I've heard ё-моё (formed in the same manner) more often. Other examples are ёперный театр and епонский городовой (in both cases first word is incorrect, it should rather be оперный and японский). There is also ёлки зелёные, also not something you hear often today.

  • Thanks for the explanation but what is the profanity in question common to all those examples ? Dec 13, 2014 at 17:22
  • 5
    @Georgeselencwajg: it's ёб твою мать, literally "I fucked your mother", probably the most versatile Russian profane expression.
    – Quassnoi
    Dec 14, 2014 at 0:28
  • @Quassnoi: ah, thanks a lot. Now I understand MigMit's answer better. +1 to both of you. Dec 14, 2014 at 10:44
  • 2
    My mother tongue is Russian, so, no surprise here. My knowledge of English mainly comes from a few month spent in Bielefeld University (in Germany — and no, I don't know German) and from my fascination of US TV series.
    – MigMit
    Dec 14, 2014 at 10:52
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    @Georges-Elencwajg: The phenomenon exists in English as well. Think ssshhh-ugar! or ssshhh-oot! or freaking or flipping.
    – Avi Gordon
    Dec 15, 2014 at 12:34

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