If you’re afraid, don’t go into the forest


Welcome to SoundCzech – our Czech language series in which you can learn Czech phrases and idioms through song lyrics. In today’s edition, we’ll hear a song by the popular Czech rock group, Lucie. The phrase to look out for is Kdo se bojí, nesmí do lesa, which translates literally as, if you’re afraid, don’t go into the forest.

Kdo se bojí, nesmí do lesa.

Actually, Lucie took a little artistic liberty with the phrase and modified it a bit: they sing kdo čůrá strachy, nesmí do lesa. If you pee in fear, don’t go into the forest! The name of the song is Dobrá kočka která nemlsá.

The English equivalent of Kdo se bojí, nesmí do lesa– or Lucie’s variation - is “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”, meaning if you don’t have the stomach for a risky venture, or the courage to move ahead with a brave new project, better give it up or not even start. Otherwise you might not have what it takes to see things through.

But in such an event, also don’t expect to see great results. As the saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” or the archaic “Fear never won the heart of a lady”. Too bad. If fear freezes you in your tracks or leaves you trembling in your boots – better not go into the forest.

Regarding fear, another saying in Czech is Kdo se bojí, umíra dvakrát which translates literally as he who fears, dies twice. The equivalent in English is “Fear is worse than death itself”. Geek fans of the acclaimed sci fi novel Dune, by Frank Herbert, know all about this, often quoting the sci fi litany “Fear is the mindkiller.” – that’s a pretty good one. But that especially makes sense if you’ve read the book, where the protagonist has to overcome enormous odds in order to succeed. If you think you’ll fail, or as the Czech band Lucie suggests, if you’re likely to pee in your pants, better stay home and hide behind mum’s skirts.

The Czechs have a great moniker for you: strašpytel. Strašit means to scare, strach fear, and pytel, well, a bag. So literally, a scaredybag. In English, you might say Don’t be such a chicken, scaredy pants!

As for those, who show courage in the face of fear, in Czech you would say they were statečný– brave. Nebojí se ničeho– they are afraid of nothing – and forge ahead, despite the odds, examples for those of us who are less stout, to follow, whether in politics, the arts, business or a thousand other endeavours. Strašpytel, watch out: fear is the mindkiller and there’s nothing ahead but forest.