Another rotten day!

Photo: Archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague

Welcome to another edition of SoundCzech – Radio Prague’s language course in which you can pick up useful phrases with the help of song lyrics. Today’s song is called Další blbej den (the Czech version of Nick Cave’s Death is Not the End ) and is sung by the duo Aleš Brychta and Pavla Kapitanová. The phrase to listen out for is actually hard to miss because it is simply everywhere : blbej den.

Photo: Archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
Blbej den is something we all have from time to time: a rotten day. Blbej den literally translates as “stupid day” and it is the most frequently used phrase in Czech to describe a day when everything seems to go wrong. People will often switch the phrase round to Den Blbec or Day Stupid.

The lyrics are a vivid description of what a typical Blbej den looks like : your one-night stand tells you she is pregnant and your wife finds out you’ve been cheating on her, your boss gives you hell and you lose all your money in a game of cards. Don’t be disheartened –the singers say - tell yourself “it’s just another rotten day”.

When Czechs are having a rotten day and you happen to ask them how they are doing you are likely to be told exactly how bad things are, no hiding behind polite lies and phrases. And the Czech language provides a wealth of phrases that come handy on such occasion. Many people start with “ani se neptejte” meaning “don’t even ask” before launching into a detailed list of their grievances. Don’t even ask is certainly not a rebuke for being nosy and should merely be viewed as a launching pad for the real answer. It is something in the way of “you are not going to believe this”.

The most vulgar phrase Czechs use to describe a rotten day is “stojí to za ….” adding the Czech word for feces or fart. The same expression, derived from German, is “je to na draka”, though most Czechs have no idea drak is actually derived from the German dreck.

A far more polite way of saying you are having a bad day is to use irony and say “stojí to za všechny peníze” which translates as something like the best money can buy or “den jako vyšitý” a day as wonderful as if someone had embroidered it. Other popular phrases are “stojí to za houby” it is worth mushrooms and “stojí to za starou belu”. Both refer to something of little value – mushrooms abound in the forest and therefore no one in their right mind would pay for them (at least not in the days when the phrase originated).

Bela, on the other hand, is said to be a foreign expression for squirrel skin harking back to the days when squirrel skins served as a form of payment. A stará bela or old squirrel skin would be something of little value. One should add that most Czechs today use these expressions with no idea of their origin. But they serve very well to describe a rotten time or rotten day.

You have been listening to SoundCzech on Radio Prague. This is Daniela Lazarová saying thanks for joining me and may your rotten days be few and far between.