Recently we talked about reflexive verbs, and we saw that бояться (to be afraid) is in this category. I submit that this verb also, similar to жаловаться, is about an internal action; after all, I could assume that we know the seemingly immortal phrase, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”; not saying that I fully agree with the statement but it in someway advances my point.

As is often the case, there is a complimentary noun to this verb, боязнь, which is translated as fear, dread, alarm, etc. But there is also another word for fear, страх, and it has its own respective verb: страховать. Additionally, lo and behold, there is a reflexive counterpart as well: страховаться.

However, working backwards towards fear, страховать is not translated as, for instance, “to instill fear (in someone)” (this being, without the -ся/-сь postfix, a transitive verb), nor is страховаться translated as “to be afraid,” but they are both translated as the transitive and intransitive pair for, drumroll please, “to insure.” This, to me, is a little comical at first but when we, once again, reflect within ourselves (задумываться/задуматься) we might come to the conclusion that the concept of insurance, to make a generality, is nothing but the covering up of one’s own fears. That is, “to insure (something)” is in any case a euphemism for saying “I’m really afraid something might happen, but if I get a guarantee that I’ll get some compensation I’ll somehow feel better.”

There’s a curious idiom that fits in a little with the above mentioned: на свой страх и риск (at one’s own risk and peril, on one’s own account; for better or for worse), which leads us back to the title of this post; that is, if you take your fears and risk upon yourself, you probably don’t need an insurance policy (and you probably wouldn’t be given anyway one because you’re too much of a risk and aren’t afraid enough!).

Above, we saw that страховать turned out not to be “to instill fear” but something quite different, and, thus, you may wonder if there is any way we can instill fear in someone in Russian. In such a case, you would be in luck because there actually is a verb coming from страх—страшить—meaning “to frighten, scare, awe.” (As an aside, certain letters in Russian morph into other letters in a fairly predictable pattern; in this case, х into ш.) We also get an adjective in this connection: страшный, which means terrible, frightful, dreadful, fearful.

I should add, on the other hand, that there is a slightly more innocuous side to страховать, and that is when we add a preverb and get подстраховать. This is translated as to secure against, spot for someone, to watch out for, to cover for. For instance, when my two-year-old child may want some assurance when he is climbing up the ten-foot ladder, he would probably say, “Папа подстрахуй меня.” Nevertheless, you can see that we’re still dealing with some element of fear against which you can never, ultimately, страховать.

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