Social changes influencing teenage slang but some words perennial

According to a report recently published by the Institute of the Czech Language, today's Czech teenagers and pre-teens have developed their own slang and swear words, using many terms that would be simply incomprehensible to their grandparents. That said, a lot of Czech slang spans the generations, while today's teens have also revived words which went out of fashion decades ago.

I discussed teenage slang with these pupils at a Prague secondary school.

Girl: "I'm young and it's a part of my life, but I think my grandmother must be surprised when she hears young people. I think she couldn't understand."

Other girl: "My brother is 10 and I don't understand him. Nothing. His favourite world is 'prdoch', everything is 'prdoch'. It means somebody who smells bad, but a meal is 'prdoch', TV is 'prdouch', me and my mother are 'prdoch'."

Some words uncovered in the survey are simply "Czechified" versions of English words such as good, action and loser. Dr Karel Oliva from the Institute of the Czech Language.

"They are under the strong influence of English, the strong influence also of information technology, computers. Their slang reflects this kind of...movement in the society as a whole."

How much of this slang comes from English? I was reading for instance about the word "hornik" which means miner. But I think it's been corrupted from the English word horny, and now it means part of the male anatomy. Are there a lot of such "Anglicisms" in Czech slang today?

"Yes, definitely, there are a great many 'Anglicisms'. The idea of horny and 'hornik' is a nice one, and I will think about it, it's a completely new idea and I like it very much! Because I have to say the idea that someone is called 'hornik' as a bad word is really surprising, one of the greatest surprises of the whole study."

Also I've been reading that some old words have been revived, for instance "stramanda" for pretty girl, it's from the 1930s and now it's back, apparently. Are there many such examples?

"I think in the sense of revival of something that is very old - I would say that it's even older than the 1930s, I would guess it's from even before World War I, because 'stramanda' is from the German 'stram' - I would say this revival is quite unique.

"On the other hand there are some other words that are used continuously for decades. So there is also some kind of stability. It's not that everything is completely new - there is a stable level and there is a level which changes."

Among the Czech slang words which could be described as stable are two of the most popular, 'krava' meaning cow, or 'ty kravo' when addressed to somebody, and 'vul', or ox - 'ty vole', you ox. Young men in particular use 'ty vole', or just vole, extremely often; in some ways it could be compared to the f-word in English, though it isn't as strong.

Back at the Prague secondary school, I ask the students how they view the word.

Girl: "I hate 'ty vole'. I hate it but I use it."

About 'ty vole', do you think it's a strong term, or now is it so normal that you don't even think about it?

Other girl: "It's like em, em..."

It's just a pause in a sentence?

Other girl: "Yes. It's normal for us, we use it often. But if somebody who doesn't use it often says it it sounds stupid."

Karel Oliva says 'vole' is no longer offensive.

"I would even dare to say that it's no swear word at all, nowadays; it has simply become part and parcel of everyday conversation - it's just like 'you man' or whatever. This word has completely lost all its negative meaning."

Photo: David Vaughan
What about the difference in the use of bad language between boys and girls? I noticed when I first came here that Czech men used bad language much, much more than women. But now I notice a lot of teenage girls using bad language - is that changing and is there much of a difference in the use of swear words between boys and girls?

"There probably is still some difference in the level of vulgarisms used by boys and girls, but as in all other kinds of social division between the genders it is being levelled currently. This is the general tendency - for instance more girls than boys smoke today, and girls are simply trying to speed up and get on the same level with boys. Because language is a social phenomenon - it happens everywhere, so it also happens in language."

Before I said goodbye to Dr Karel Oliva, he was keen to reiterate that slang and bad language are not fixed, that words change their meanings. For instance, "sranda" today means fun. But two or three generations ago it meant something else entirely.

"This was a taboo word, this was not a word you could use in society. If you think about that word it's related to a certain Czech verb, which is not very polite..."

Which means, I guess, to defecate.

"Which means to defecate. But by usage the meaning of the word drifted from its original meaning to the meaning fun, which we have nowadays. So 'sranda' in the '30s was kind of the...product of defecation, but now it's just fun. And no-one who uses Czech nowadays would even think of the origin of the word. So for today it's just fun, and this is the same with 'vole' and many other words."