Among the many things that blow my mind about the Russian language, the one I find most mesmerizing are words that have two contradictory meanings – or contronyms as they are called in the scientific world. Though the phenomenon isn’t distinctive and has its tricky parts (aka context dependence and connotation), I love how the word перл can mean both “something noticeably better than anything else of that kind or type” and “something absurd, funny, and senseless,” преданный is “loyal” but also “betrayed,” and бесценный can be used for something that is priceless and ironically for something that literally has no price, meaning it’s free. 


Though I can’t say I am often amazed by any particular words in Russian (I am rather a fan of masterfully put sentences or expressions), I can remember one distinct instance when I was baffled by a word in class. It was the weird adverb заподлицо, which is used to describe things that are on one level with each other. Semantically, it seems (but only seems) to be remarkably similar to подлец, a word you use to call someone who treated you badly, so I couldn’t for the life of me grasp what it was that we were supposed to be reading about. Luckily, it’s not often that you hear this adverb being used – unless you are renovating or reading a historical novel – so it doesn’t create that much confusion on the daily. 


While it’s not exclusive to the Russian language, I still find it mind-boggling how one word could contain another yet have a completely different meaning. For example, халатный has its roots in халат (robe), but nowadays has no reference to clothing and is instead used to describe an irresponsible and negligent person. Here’s another example: until recently, I thought that палисад had something to do with gardening or at least flower beds because I clearly saw сад (garden) in the word. Turns out that it is actually a stakewall, although it can also be used to fence off a house with a garden.