Straw sticking out of my boots

Ilustrační foto: archiv Českého rozhlasu - Radia Praha

Welcome to SoundCzech, Radio Prague’s popular series in which you can learn things about the Czech language you will not learn elsewhere, and enjoy music while doing it. In today’s edition, we’ll hear the song “Sprostý chlap”, or Vulgar Guy, by the popular Eben brothers. The phrase to listen out for is “sláma mně čouhá z bot” or straw sticking out of my boots.

The phrase “sláma mně čouhá z bot” translates as straw is sticking out of my boots. It’s quite an old expression that refers to people from the country, villagers and farmers. It comes from the times when people there still worked with straw, rather than commuting to cities for work. The song comes from a theatre play, which is probably the reason why the character says, ‘straw is sticking out of MY boots’. More usually, the phrase would be used about someone else, as in sláma mu čouhá z bot– straw is sticking out of HIS boots.

The Czech language has many expressions to belittle village people, many of which come from the languages of Czechs’ neighbours. You can dismiss someone from the country as buran– a redneck. The word comes from the old German bur, meaning farmer, which has also found its way into English in the form of the words “boor” or “boorish”. Interestingly, a similar Czech word – burák, or peanut – has the same origin. In Czech, peanuts were first called burské oříšky, boor nuts.

Another slur for country bumpkins is balík which literally means a parcel or a package. That might lead to the conclusion that the expression only appeared after straw in the fields was machine-packed into neat parcels, but the expression apparently comes from the Hungarian “balek”, meaning a simpleton.

When you feel like expressing your metropolitan superiority over people from the village you can also use the word křupan. That sounds like it is somehow connected to the verb křupat, to crack. But linguists believe it comes from the old Slavic word “krup” which once meant course or crude. Some more modern expressions include vidlák– someone who works with the pitchfork – and drn, a tuft of grass.