To have milk on your chin

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Hello and welcome to another edition of SoundCzech - Radio Prague’s Czech language series which helps you learn idioms through song lyrics. Today, we’ll be listening to a song by Wabi Daněk, which Czechs often sing themselves around a roaring campfire. It’s called ‘Hudsonský šífy’ meaning something like ‘Hudson boats’, though the word ‘šíf’ is a very unusual way of saying boat in Czech, and has more than a hint of the exotic to it. But anyway, the phrase to listen out for is ‘ten, kdo na bradě má mlíko’, which comes at the beginning of the fourth verse.

‘Ten, kdo na bradě má mlíko’ means literally ‘he who has milk on his chin’. ‘Mít mlíko na bradě’ or ‘to have milk on your chin’ means to be still very young, naïve or inexperienced. I suppose the idiomatic equivalent in English is ‘to be a greenhorn’, or perhaps an expression parallel to having ‘milk on your chin’ is being ‘wet behind the ears’. The singer really rams the message home in this song, because not only does he sing about someone who ‘has milk on his chin’, but, he continues, ‘[on] se rumem neopil’– ‘he has never been drunk on rum’ - he’s obviously too busy drinking milk.

It sounds like this poor individual is being upbraided by the singer for being a coward. If you want to tell someone in Czech to stop being a wuss, then you can say to them ‘nebud’ máslo!’– ‘don’t be butter’. After much rumination, the nearest equivalent to ‘don’t be butter’ I could find in English was ‘don’t be a cowardy custard’. I suppose the idea is that while an English person wobbles like custard when they are scared, a Czech person melts like butter.

And a final dairy-related idiom to leave you with. If someone does something rather dubious, and you criticize them for it, then a Czech person may well tell you to be quiet because ‘ty sám máš máslo na hlavě’ or ‘you too have butter on your head’. ‘Mít máslo na hlavě’ or ‘to have butter on your head’ isn’t quite as strong as ‘the pot calling the kettle black’, because you yourself may not have done the thing you are criticizing someone else for. So, if you have butter on your head, it doesn’t mean that you are a hypocrite, but it means more that you are ‘no saint yourself’, or maybe, at a push, it corresponds with the English idiom ‘those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’.

And that’s it for this week, so from this lactose-loving land, ‘na shledanou’, goodbye!