To have something up your sleeve

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

Hello and welcome to another edition of Sound Czech, a programme in which you can learn new Czech idioms with the help of song lyrics. Today’s song is a duet by the Czech evergreens Karel Gott and Lucie Bílá from their 1997 hit album Duets. The phrase to listen out for is “co za lubem máš”.

“Co za lubem máš?”, Karel Gott asks Lucie Bílá. He is wondering what kind of mischief she’s up to, because ”mít něco za lubem” means to be up to monkey business. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something negative, it can be something naughty, cheeky or playful. The closest English equivalent would be “to have something up one’s sleeve”. The phrase is generally used when you are wondering what someone is up to, when you don’t know what it is but you suspect there is something funny going on. In our song Karel Gott believes that he can tell what Lucie Bílá is up to - “co má za lubem”.

I must admit that I never really thought about what the phrase means literally and when I sat down to write today’s Sound Czech I realized that, despite being a Czech native speaker, I had no idea what the word “lub” actually stands for. So I did a bit of research and here is what I found: “lub” is an expression used for a special wooden vessel or container that was used in the old days for milling flour. Inside the vessel there were several joints and the finest-grained flour would stick in the nooks and crannies. The miller knew very well that the fine flour was hidden “za lubem”“in the hidden crannies of the lub” and would shrewdly keep it for his own use. Therefore when you have something “za lubem” then you hide your wicked intentions from the others, so that they don’t know what you are up to and can’t wreck your plans.

It is not only “za lubem” that you can keep something. In Czech, you can also say “mít za ušima”, literally “to have it behind your ears”, meaning that you are smart in a foxy, shrewd way. Another place where you can, so to say, keep your cleverness is “under your cap”, “pod čepicí”. When someone “has it under his cap” then he is smart, clever and resourceful and knows his way around. Well, I have no idea what you are hiding under your cap –or behind your ears - but I have to go now, so thanks for listening and nashledanou!