The thirteenth chamber


Welcome to another edition of Sound Czech - Radio Prague's Czech language series in which you can learn idioms through song lyrics. Today, we'll be listening to a tune by 1980s Czech rockers Katapult. The song's title is "třináctá komnata" which translates as "the thirteenth chamber". "Třináctá komnata" is also the phrase you should be listening out for:

Your "třináctá komnata" or "thirteenth chamber" is a sore-spot that you don't want to talk about. I suppose an equivalent English idiom might be "the skeleton in your closet". "Třináctá komnata" is maybe a bit like the English "room 101" in that it is a room full of bad things, or taboos - but while you would say "nechci o tom mluvit, to je moje třináctá komnata" in Czech, you would never say "I don't want to talk about it, it's my room 101", which is how the phrase literally translates.

Let's stay with numerical expressions and have a look at a few different situations in which Czechs number-crunch in their idioms. If there is nothing to choose between two people, or two products, (because they are both equally bad), then Czechs might say "jeden za osmnáct, druhý bez dvou za dvacet" - this literally means "eighteen of one, twenty minus two of the other". The correlating English expression is "six of one, and half a dozen of the other", I suppose.

German words often feature in less formal, spoken, Czech, and a really nice Czech expression is "jde to ein zwei". This translates literally as "it goes one, two" and means "it's as simple as that", or perhaps in my native Scots "nae bother"!

Here are some other interesting Czech idioms which work around numbers: While you might be a "third wheel" if you show up at someone else's date in Britain or America, you are a "fifth wheel" here in the Czech Republic. Here "the gooseberry" is "paté kolo u vozu" - or "the fifth wheel on the cart". I suppose that says something about the sophistication of Czech carts.

And every Czech was, in their youth, read fairytales which started "za devatero horami a devatero řekami", literally meaning "behind nine hills, and nine rivers". When I grew up in Britain, on the other hand, we always had the much vaguer "Once upon a time in a land far, far away" starting our stories off.

While leads me to say goodbye from this land, far, far away! Nashledanou!