A train can't be driven across it


Welcome to another edition of SoundCzech - Radio Prague's Czech language series in which you can learn idioms through song lyrics. Today, we'll be listening to a tune by one of the most popular Czech bands of the decade - Chinaski. The song's title is "Chátra", which means "the rabble" or "riff-raff" in Czech. And the phrase to listen out for is "přes to nejede vlak".

"Přes to nejede vlak" translates literally into English as "a train can't be driven across it", and is what you say about someone when they are determined to do something, or stubbornly set in their opinion. I can't think of any suitably transport-y equivalents in English, but I think that when a Czech says "to je její názor, a přes to nejede vlak", an English-speaker might say "that's her opinion, which is set in stone" or, "that's what she thinks, and that's that". Let's have a listen to the phrase one more time:

Trains (or "vlaky") come up in other Czech idioms too. Czechs don't "miss the boat" if they want to get involved in something, but it's too late - they "miss the train". A Czech might reproach you because "nechal sis ujet vlak" ("you let the train pass you by"), while an English speaker would probably say "you missed the boat on that one". But this is not surprising, really, when you think that the Czech Republic is about the most un-seafaring country in Europe.

Czechs really do like their trains, at least as far as idioms are concerned. They "naskočí v poslední chvíli do vlaku", or "jump on the train at the last minute", while English-speakers, somewhat more vaguely, "jump on board at the last minute".

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
And a last piece of railway trivia - if you are a scientist, say, and your research is leading you in the wrong direction, or indeed taking you nowhere, then you are "na slepé koleji". The English equivalent is similar; you are "on the wrong track". But it is not identical, because while English-speakers are "on the wrong track", Czech speakers are "na slepé koleji", literally, "on the blind track".

And that's all we've got time for this week. I hope you enjoyed your whistle-stop tour of all things train-like. But for now, na sheldanou! Goodbye!