From bad to worse


You're listening to SoundCzech - Radio Prague's Czech language series in which you can learn Czech idioms through song lyrics. Today we'll be listening to a song called "Chlupatý kaktus" or "Hairy Cactus". It was written in 1932 by Emil František Burian and we'll be listening to a 1980s version sung by Jiří Korn. The phrase we will be paying special attention to is "od desíti k pěti".

The phrase "od desíti k pěti" literally means from ten to five. But we are not talking about working hours. If something goes "od desíti k pěti", from ten to five, it means it's going downhill, it is doing badly, it's shrinking, withering away. It's hard to say what the author meant when he said the cactus grows "od desíti k pěti", "from ten to five". Probably that it grows very slowly.

"My hairy cactus is growing"... "od desíti k pěti". It is a phrase you can apply to various situations: for example when a business is doing badly. "Jde to od desíti k pěti", it is going from bad to worse. In the same situation you can also say "jde to z kopce" - literally, it's going downhill. Here is the phrase once again.

Today we have learnt the phrase "od desíti k pěti". You know that Czech is an inflected language and words change their form according to their function in a sentence. That's why if you look up "ten" and "five" in an English-Czech dictionary, you will find the Czech words "deset" and "pět". The forms "desíti" and "pěti" are those of the genitive case which is used after the preposition "k" meaning "towards". Now it should all be clear and I hope our lessons increase your knowledge of Czech rather than make it go "od desíti k pěti".

Thanks for listening today and as always, you can find all our previous lessons on Radio Prague's website Finally, a few more bars of "Chlupatý kaktus".