Counting sheep in Czech

Photo: Kristýna Maková

It is time to take a look at another farm animal and the tracks it has left on the Czech language. Although lamb and mutton is not as popular in this country as for example in Britain, Czech is still rich on sheep idioms.

ovce
It is time to take a look at another farm animal and the tracks it has left on the Czech language. Although lamb and mutton is not as popular in this country as for example in Britain, Czech is still rich on sheep idioms.

The word ovce is both the generic term and the female sheep. An endearing term for a little sheep is oveèka, but also beránek, which literally means a small ram - while an adult ram - in other words a male sheep - is beran. All those words will appear in today's programme.

The sheep, or ovce, is a symbol of stupidity and gullibility. It is applied to people who are easily led and act as they are told, without thinking. But alas, if someone does not behave exactly like the rest of the flock, they are immediately labelled as a black sheep - èerná ovce.

When Czechs are talking about sheep as in the timid, defenceless, innocent creature which is often preyed upon, they use the word beránek, meaning lamb, or little ram. If someone is as meek as a lamb, Czechs say má beránèí povahu - he has the character of a lamb. Má beránèí povahu. The biblical symbol, the Lamb of God, was translated into Czech as beránek bo¾í or "God's lamb". The Lamb of God who takes away all the sins... that metaphor originates in the ancient practice of sacrificing live animals. A sacrificial lamb is obìtní beránek. That expression in Czech also stands for a scapegoat. Obìní beránek. An evil person who pretends to be innocent can be referred to as a wolf in sheep's clothing, vlk v rou¹e beránèím. Literally "a wolf in lamb's attire" - vlk v rou¹e beránèím.

A fluffy little lamb can grow up into a big fat ram - a symbol of obstinacy in Czech. Být tvrdohlavý jako beran - to be as stubborn as a ram, interestingly translates into English as stubborn as a mule or pig-headed. Být tvrdohlavý jako beran.

And finally, sheep as described by the term oveèky, means a group of people under the shepherd-like care of God or under the charge of a parish priest - the flock. Someone who has strayed from God's way is zbloudilá oveèka - a stray sheep.

Just out of interest, Czechs too, count sheep when they can't fall asleep. To count sheep - poèítat oveèky. I only wonder what kind of sheep priests count when they go to sleep...

Anyway, that's if for today, until next time baah-baah.