More than a pig's whisper

Thanks for joining us again in exploring Czech idioms featuring farm animals. Today we look at the pig. Although reportedly one of the cleverest animals, in language pigs are stuck with such unpopular qualities as obesity, disorderliness, dirt and smuttiness - in every sense of the word. Both the word prase - pig, and svinì - a swine, or an obsolete word for a female pig - are terms of offence in Czech. While the former refers mainly to poor hygiene habits and lack of decency, the latter implies dishonourable, disloyal behaviour.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
Not so, though, in the biblical proverb "to cast pearls before swine" - házet perly sviním - where the swine stand simply for somebody not worthy of something they cannot appreciate anyway. Pigs are also thought to be clumsy, as in the expression dr¾í to jako prase kost - he is holding something like a pig would hold a bone - meaning he is not very skilful with instruments. Pigs like to wallow in muck, and dirt itches when it dries up on the body. That's why pigs enjoy scratching. When Czechs say potøebuje to jako prase drbání - he needs it as a pig needs scratching - they are suggesting that the person is in dire need of something.

While virtual English pigs feel good in clover, Czech pigs thrive in rye. Má se jako prase v ¾itì - he's living well like a pig in rye. Happy pigs grow nice and fat, and that's why we say je tlustý jako prase - he is as fat as a pig. Whether we like it or not, pigs are bred to be eaten, and fat pigs are eventually slaughtered. While English uses the expression "to bleed like a stuck pig", Czechs say to je krve jako na zabijaèce - there is so much blood like at a pig-slaughtering. Stuck pigs also squeal in English. In Czech it is sucking pigs that are known to squeal - stuck or not - kvièí jako podsvinèe.

Being so fat, pigs have very small eyes, mají praseèí oèièka - they are pig-eyed, something that happens to humans, too, when they've been drinking too much, for example. When you decide to break open your piggy bank - prasátko, make sure you spend your money well, that you don't buy a pig in a poke or a rabbit in a bag in Czech - kupovat zajíce v pytli. By the way, pig's ears are donkey ears in Czech - oslí u¹i. But we've wandered off a bit from Czech pig idioms so we'd better end today's episode here. But before we do, there is a tongue twister for you to practice until next time: Kmotøe Petøe, nepøepepøi toho vepøe - Godfather Peter, don't put too much pepper on the hog. Happy tongue-twisting and join us again, same time, same place. Na shledanou.

See also Living Czech.