Little upstart


Hello and welcome to a fresh edition of SoundCzech – our language series in which you can learn Czech words and expressions through song lyrics. Today’s word is usmrkanec – an expression Czechs have for a little upstart, or little snotnose or sniveler. The phrase to look out for is Co si to malý usmrkanec myslí? – what’s the little upstart thinking?! (or who does he think he is) featured in the song O Ferdovi a Mravenci by the pop band Divokej Bill.

Co si to usmrkanec myslí

ne, na mě dojem neudělá

What does this little upstart think?

No, he won’t make an impression on me.

The words are sung by Beruška (Lady Bug) a character in a famous Czech children’s series to Ferda Mravenec – Ferda the ant. Beruška, in her view, is far too good for him, and she rejects the little guy. He’s not good enough. A little upstart might be someone who’s not man enough or who is still wet behind the ears or a greenhorn. The Czechs say zelenáč which has multiple translations: greening, tenderfoot, newbie, neophyte or jackaroo. Ještě mu teče mlíko po bradě– his chin is still dripping with milk – that’s how inexperienced he is.

But sometimes even little snivelers can surprise with unexpected courage: often they can’t be put off but usually their ventures are ill-fated because they simply are not yet ready. An usmrkanec might be a gangly or wimpy teenager trying to slip unnoticed into a pub and brashly think he’ll be served. Or a kid who foolishly asks an older girl at the prom for the last dance. Or a runt of a boy in a fairytale who thinks he deserves a knighthood while he’s still playing with sticks. One day, maybe, long from now, but certainly not yet.

But sometimes an usmrkanec can – through trial and tribulation – eventually grow into a hero – hrdina, at least in children’s tales. By comparison, in real life, an usmrkanec might be a boy who thinks he can make it onto the best local football team, or join the local wrestling club. Once they grow up a bit and eventually prove that they deserve a spot, that they have potential, that they are worthy of attention, there’s a nicer expression a benjamínek which means rookie, if you’re talking about the newest member of a sports team. Benjamínek is someone young with something to prove but already wiser to the ways of the world: who knows how to be patient and wait for his time to come. There is a world of difference there between him and a silly boy who daydreams of fame but who doesn’t know how to even properly blow his nose and still needs his mummy to fix him lunch - a sniveler, a little upstart, an usmrkanec.