ABC May 1st edition
Welcome to our special "First of May" edition of our Czech language series, the ABC of Czech. This particular day deserves a special programme, so let's take a break from the alphabet and look at something related to today's programme. No, it's neither love as you might have thought (you'll have to wait for that until the letter "L"), nor labour.
May... how many times have you heard this word in today's programme? This particular month is unique in that it has two names in Czech. The ordinary one is kvìten, but there is also the poetic word "máj". So May Day in Czech is "První máj". Equally, the title of Karel Hynek Macha's romantic love poem is "Máj", not "kvìten". And "máj" is the word the poet uses throughout the poem when he speaks about the month of May. By now you will have noticed that Czech has a different set of names for the months of the year than most European languages.
Czech, Polish and for example Croatian did not borrow the Latin names and use their own dozen terms, which are completely unintelligible to other nations. We've started from the middle with May, so let's go back to the beginning of the year and start again with January. The first month of the year is "leden". The word "led" means ice in Czech, so "leden" means something like icy. February is "únor", and linguists say the word has something to do with blocks of ice floating on water and sinking - "noøit se" means to submerge. March is "bøezen". Its name comes from the word "bøíza", meaning birch tree, which starts sprouting new leaves in March. The word for April is "duben", because "dub" means oak in Czech and April is the time when oaks shed their last year's leaves and grow new ones. After April comes May with a particularly poetic name in Czech - "kvìten". The word "kvìt" means flower, and May is the time when everything is in bloom. June is "èerven" and July is "èervenec". Experts on word roots aren't quite sure about the history of these two names. But both words sound very much like the word for red in Czech which is "èervený". And as June and July are often red-hot, I'm quite happy with that explanation. August is "srpen" and the name is derived from "srp" meaning a sickle - August is the month of harvest in this region. September is "záøí" and October is "øíjen". Both words are related to the word "øíje" - meaning rutting season, because September and October are months when big game rut. November is called "listopad". The word "list" means leaf and "padat" means to fall. So "listopad" is literally the month of the falling leaves. December or "prosinec" closes the succession. Linguists aren't sure but they say that in the past the word suggested the month was dark and gloomy.
See also Living Czech.