Son of death


Welcome to this week’s edition of SoundCzech – Radio Prague’s Czech language programme in which you can learn interesting phrases through song lyrics. Today we will listen to a 1989 song entitled ‘Vysočany-Libeň’ written by singer and poet Jiří Dědeček but performed by an all-girl band called Panika. The phrase to listen for is ‘syn smrti’.

The song describes two of Prague’s working class areas on the right bank of the Vltava River – Vysočany and Libeň. While now these are rapidly developing neighbourhoods with similarly skyrocketing rents, in the late 1980s they were full of deteriorating factories and grim council houses. Anybody who came here after dark, the song says, was ‘syn smrti’– the son of death.

The expression ‘syn smrti’– the son of death, is a reference to someone who is doomed to die; it was first used in this meaning in the Bible. Please note that in this particular instance, the expression is “ten je synem smrti”, i.e. he is the son of death, with the word ‘syn’ in the instrumental. Another way of saying someone is doomed could be ‘má to spočítané’– literally ‘it’s counted for him/her’, or ‘his days are numbered’. You can also say ‘je odepsaný’– ‘he is written off’.

The good news is that strolling through Vysočany and Libeň today will not make you ‘syn smrti’ anymore. Most likely, that is!