Фразеологический словарь русского литературного языка says, that "стоять над душой" means "мешать, надоедать своим долгим присутствием". I'm not quite sure what "над душой" (above one's soul?) means literally, or what historical meaning it could have had before becoming an idiom. How did this phrase come to be?

  • I don't know if there is some kind of a secret meaning behind this, we Russians don't have any idea. basically equivalent in English is..."breathe down someone's neck"
    – Slava
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 9:20
  • I don't believe that's correct. See the accepted answer below for the appropriate, though not idiomatic, translation. Breathe down someone's neck ближе к "идти по пятам", но также или с оттенком угрозы, или в духе идиомы "ноздря в ноздрю", то есть соревновательно, но в этом случае едва-едва позади. Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 10:49
  • it is correct, I am Russian I know what it means :-) no need to overcomplicate trivial simple things ;-)
    – Slava
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 10:54
  • 1
    You just don't know what "breathe down someone's neck" means. No offense. Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 16:27

4 Answers 4


I think it derived from "Не стой надо мной, какъ чортъ надъ душой", meaning that someone sticks around a person with a persistence that can be compared to a devil longing for a human soul.


In Russian there are quite a few idioms mentioning "soul". E.g. "Души не чаять", "Душа в пятки ушла" etc. So it doesn't seem strange to mention it one more time ;-)

The origin is probably due to the following more complete form: "Не стой надо мной, как чёрт над душой" (Don't stand above me like the devil about the soul).

Another (old) meaning of the word "душа" is "serf" like in Gogol's novel "Dead Souls" (which also means "Dead Serfs"). But it doesn't seem to have any connection with idiom you are asking about.


In fact, "soul" is not the only meaning of the word "душа". In classical Russian literature you can often encounter other meanings like:

  • Human (a man, a woman or a child) - "2 души мужеского полу" (and in official documents it is used to describe population of the area), "на улице ни души".
  • Someone's emotional state - "Ах! сударь, вы душу мне возвращаете!"

(For more meanings you can check this article).

So, I think that "стоять над душой" may mean something like "to make a pressure on someones emotional state".


No one yet mentioned that душа is also a slang/colloquial name of some body part/place on the stomach (not sure exactly).


  • It's actually the upper part of the torso, the area about an inch above heart, but centered. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:14
  • ...that has to do with the common body localization of the feeling "душа болит". Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 1:13
  • Есть выражение "всю душу видно" (о глубоком декольте)
    – Artemix
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 9:52
  • Ещё есть такое - плюнуть в душу :))
    – Slava
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 15:47
  • Does "плюнуть в душу" have any literal meaning? I know the idiomatic one. Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 10:52

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