Promising mountains and valleys

Mount Everest, foto: Carsten.nebel, Creative Commons 3.0

Welcome to another edition of SoundCzech, Radio Prague’s language series where you can learn Czech phrases through song lyrics. In today’s episode: slibovat hory doly – an expression singer Daniel Landa uses in the song Verbíři. The phrase means to promise a lot – indeed more than one can deliver.

Mount Everest
In English, the saying is to promise the world, or the moon or the earth: slibovat hory doly, translated literally, means to promise mountains (hory) and valleys (doly)– and maybe even everything in them! Basically, a big promise. In an election year, it is typical for Czech politicians to slibovat hory doly– whatever it takes to get elected, the more cynical might say. A suitor trying to earn a girl’s heart might, too, promise more than he can fulfill.

The moon. The earth. Mountains. Valleys. But delivering, well, that’s no simple task – a veritable Grand Canyon or Mount Everest.

That’s one reason, why the Czechs also say sliby jsou chyby– promises are mistakes, Promise nothing and you have nothing to fear – but make a promise you can’t keep, well you’ll soon find yourself in trouble. Read my lips, no new taxes. Remember those famous words? By comparison, here in the Czech Republic, politicians by turns have promised for years to introduce direct presidential elections. We still haven’t gotten them.

Sliby jsou chyby.

Incidentally, the song Verbíři is about being recruited into what sounds like an 18th century army: the wine flows, girls sit nearby, and the verbíři (recruiters) promise young recruits mountains and valleys. Hory doly. And everything in between. Only in this case, well most cases, it is nothing but a trick: young men dream of honor and glory. But all they really find in service is fear in battle face down in the dirt. So much for mountains, so much for valleys.