Pack up your plums

Foto: Kristýna Maková

Welcome to another edition of SoundCzech, Radio Prague’s language series in which you can learn new phrases with the help of song lyrics. Today we are going to listen to a song by Jaromír Nohavica called Jdou po mně, jdou or “They are after me”, which is packed with interesting idioms:

The song begins with the phrase býval jsem chudý jak kostelní myš, “I used to be as poor as a church mouse”. In other words, the hero of the song used to be very poor, but one day he decided to change his life and rob the National Bank.

Subsequently he found himself on the run. Why? Because he didn’t want to end up at a prison cell in Sing-Sing, which, he says is “as dark as a sack” - je tam tma jako v pytli, meaning of course that it is pitch-dark.

Life improves for our hero when he settles down with a widow in Iowa. When he runs out of money, however, she tells him to pack his staff and go – literally, “to pack up his plums” - sbal svých pár švestek. Why plums and not some other type of fruit, that is not really clear to me, but the phrase sbal svých pár švestek suggests his belongings are rather small.

Being a common fruit in our region, plums appear in a number of other Czech phrases. To catch someone gathering plums - nachytat někoho na švestkách - means to catch someone in the act of committing something wrong, to catch someone with his trousers down. The Czechs also say to nevydrží do švestek, “it won't last until the plums”, when they expect something to be short-lived. In other words, it won't last till the plums are ripe.

And what happens to our hero? He ends up in Utah and decides to stay away from women. Being under a woman’s thumb, or as we say, pod pantoflí, which means “under the slipper”, would be even worse than ending up in Sing-Sing. And that’s all we have time for in this edition of SoundCzech. Thanks for listening and na shledanou!