Fishing for idioms

Foto: Archivo de CRo7

Welcome again to Radio Prague's Czech language series exploring wildlife idioms. Today's animal is the fish, which, as everybody knows, is mute. Mlcet jako ryba - to keep silent like a fish, to be mute as a fish.

Interestingly, fish in the Czech language are also said to be healthy - zdravý jako ryba - healthy as a fish. Water is the fish's natural environment and about people who are in their element, feeling good, Czechs say je jako ryba ve vodě - he or she is like a fish in water. On the contrary, when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation and ill at ease, you can describe it by the idiom ryba na suchu - literally a fish out in the dry, or a fish out of water.

The Czech language too, knows the concept of big fish and little fish, meaning important or unimportant people and things. Modest as they are, Czechs coined an expression to describe small gains or achievements malý ryby taky ryby or little fish but still fish, so even small successes are of some value.

If something or somebody is neither one thing nor another, their identity is vague, English speakers say the person or the thing is neither fish nor fowl. The Czech expression is ani ryba ani rak - neither fish nor crawfish.

Cold and unemotional people, in English known as cold fish, are described as dead fish in Czech - leklá ryba.

Staying with dead fish, the Czech language has a saying: ryba smrdí od hlavy, a fish starts smelling from the head, which, metaphorically speaking, means, for example, that in an unsuccessful company one should take a good look at the boss.

And finally, still on the topic of stinking fish, there is one rather impolite saying, which might make you think that Czechs are not exactly the kindest of hosts. The expression goes ryba i host třetí den smrdí, meaning both a fish and a guest start stinking on the third day.

And we'd better not linger for too long lest something like that should happen to us, so until next week na shledanou.