A bird's eye view of Czech idioms

Slavik, photo: Marek Szczepanek / Creative Commons 3.0 Unported

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague's Czech-teaching programme. For today's lesson we'll have to look up to the sky.

Vrabec,  photo: Barbora Kmentová
Birds. There are so many idioms with different types of birds in Czech that we won't have time to list them all. The Czech word for bird is pták. A small bird is ptáček.

Many of the fixed phrases are similar in Czech and English, but while English uses the generic word bird, Czech offers a particular species. Such as in "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" - Lepší vrabec v hrsti nežli holub na střeše. "Better a sparrow in the hand than a pigeon on the roof". A similar case is with the idiom "Birds of a feather flock together". In Czech it is crows that flock together:

Vrána k vráně sedá, rovný rovného si hledá. "Crows perch next to each other, equals search for each other."

Birds are known to be early risers, whether we like it or not in the summer when birdsong wakes us up earlier than we'd appreciate. However, everybody knows that the early bird catches the worm. Czech early birds, on the contrary, will "hop further". Ranní ptáče dál doskáče. ("Ptáče" is another word for a little bird.)

Birds are said to be rather unintelligent, their brains being so little. A bird brain translates as ptačí mozeček, a bird's little brain, and means the same thing as in English. Birds are also said to eat very little. Jíst jako ptáček or jíst jako vrabeček is to eat like a bird or a sparrow, that is eat very little. The truth is that some birds actually gulp down twice as much as their own weight in one day.

A rather cruel-sounding idiom is to kill two birds with one stone. Czech is only slightly more humane. The saying goes: zabít dvě mouchy jednou ranou - "to kill two flies with one blow".

Slavík,  photo: Marek Szczepanek / Creative Commons 3.0 Unported
Some bird species are connected with certain human characteristics in Czech. Nightingales, for example, sing beautifully - zpívat jako slavík - to sing like a nightingale. Starlings are said to swear - nadávat jako špaček - to swear like a starling. And magpies are notorious thieves - krást jako straka, to steal like a magpie. And there are many, many more, for which we, unfortunately don't have time. Next week, though, we will be back with another lesson from the animal kingdom. Until then na shledanou.