It’s not possible to turn on the light


Welcome to SoundCzech, our language series in which you can learn Czech expressions through song lyrics. The expression to listen out for is “nedá se svítit”, used in a song by the popular, now defunct Czech rock band, Lucie. The name of the song is Pod mědeným nebem (Under a Copper Sky).

Translated literally, nedá se svítit means “you can’t turn the light on” or perhaps more accurately “it’s not possible to turn on the light”. In reality, the expression has nothing to do with light, switches, electricity or light bulbs: what it implies, is that there’s nothing that can be done. Company managers may come that result when discussing layoffs, for example, or pay cuts, decisions that will be unpopular but nedá se svítit – it can’t be helped. You might want to wriggle out of an unpopular task at work, or try and put off an exam, or delay expensive repairs to your car or home, but eventually things come to a head, reach a breaking point. Nedá se svítit: a decision has to be made.

Another way of saying the same thing in Czech is nedá se nic dělat, there’s unfortunately no way of changing it – nedá se to změnit, bohužel. Nothing doing. You might be under no illusions about a decision - nedělám si o tom iluze– but that’s about it. Nedá se svítit.

Of course, even a difficult decision can sometimes come out okay, so many Czechs would say never give up hope and don’t see things worse than they are – nemaluj čerta na zeď– don’t draw devils on the wall. Even though, you have to make a choice or suffer a tough decision, who knows? Things could still work out. Laid off, you go on to find a better job you never dared to dream of; at the mechanic’s, the long-put off repair to your car could turn out to be less serious than you previously thought (or you could get an unexpected discount); or, finally, you could ace that school exam and even get a recommendation from your professor. Even when things are apparently decided and you have to make a move, things can still – sometimes - turn out well in the end.