There's a perfectly valid phrase in Russian: "Косил косой косой косой". It contains three completely identically-looking words at the end and the first one is a different declension of others. I am native Russian so I understand what this phrase means and my question is not about that.

Is there any problem for non-russian speaking teacher to explain to curious pupil the meaning of the above? What topics of Russian language are a must for comprehending the above? Let's say you're that teacher; how you'll approach in explaining the above?

  • The phrase has at least two different meanings.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 19:26
  • What does it mean?
    – VCH250
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 2:02
  • 1
    косой косой may mean skewed squint-eyed.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 10:47
  • 1
    It all depends on what 'meaningful' is for you. "A squint-eyed avoided to be recruited [to the army] by [wearing] a crooked plait [so that to look an idiot]" is a pretty meaningful sentence. Phrases like 'a woman clothed with the sun' or 'chariots of fire' may also seem meaningless to some, still all of the European civilization is built on them, they're from the Bible.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:03
  • 3
    @YellowSky Getting a skew pigtail on the head to avoid being recruited to the Army? You've made my day.
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:13

2 Answers 2


The original phrase can be extended/modified:

Лопоухий косой за песчаной косой пал под острой косой косой бабы с косой.

The updated phrase uses the word "косой" with 5 different meanings. Extra words in the phrase help a non-native speaker to identify the meaning of each "косой" instance. Translation:

  • лопоухий косой - lop-eared hare
  • за песчаной косой - beyond a sandbank
  • пал под острой косой - fell under a sharp scythe
  • косой бабы - of a cross-eyed woman
  • с косой - with a braid

Once that "explained" phrase is picked apart and understood by a student, then student would need to know at least two more meanings of the word:

  • косой - skewed; crooked
  • косой - cross-eyed man (as a noun)

Then a student can try to make sense of the original phrase:

Косил косой косой косой

There is a possibility of a double meaning here. The subject in this sentence could be a man, but in a context of a fairy-tale it could be a hare.

UPDATE: Another aspect of the problem, in addition to the many meanings of word "косой", is the exact meaning of each word. Russian grammar is flexible and allows words to be moved around in a sentence. A teacher may list the following three (possibly more) word-order sequences:

  • Verb / subject / adjective modifying object / object - Cut / cross-eyed man / with a crooked / scythe
  • Verb / adjective modifying object / object / subject - Cut / with a crooked / scythe / cross-eyed man
  • Verb / object / adjective modifying subject / subject - Cut / with scythe / cross-eyed / cross-eyed man

In the last example adjective and the subject restate the obvious (repeat themselves). That usage is unlikely in practice. The first two examples deliver the exact same idea in spite of individual "косой" words taking different meanings.


"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." is a grammatically correct sentence in American English, used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic constructs.

The approach will be same

  • It's a nice hint int the direction which can give an answer, but not an answer.
    – shabunc
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 23:50
  • I must say that buffalo example completely blew my mind. Never seen word "buffalo" used as a synonym for "to bully".
    – hijarian
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 7:16
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    Говорит попугай попугаю: Я тебя, попугай, попугаю! Попугаю в ответ попугай: Попугай, попугай Попугай!
    – user31264
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 9:48
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    "Математика интересует физика". There is also the similar thing in Chinese en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion-Eating_Poet_in_the_Stone_Den
    – user996142
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 14:21

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