Throwing peas against the wall


Welcome to SoundCzech. Two decades ago, the current minister for human rights and minorities Michael Kocáb was a musician. In 1988 his band Výběr was allowed to release their self-titled album after being banned by the authorities for several years. Today we are going to play a song from that album, called “Snaživec” or “Eager Beaver”. Just a year before the fall of the communist regime, audiences understood its lyrics as a very fitting description of a communist official trying to jump on the perestroika bandwagon.

I knew this guy who wasn’t all that bright – "moudrosti moc nepobral"– literally who didn’t collect much wisdom. And the lyrics go on: "studu ani kapka"– “not a drop of modesty”. This idiom is to say that the person was shameless. Let’s hear what else Mr. Kocáb has to say about this character:

He didn’t even mean evil – "nemyslel to zle", Michael Kocáb says. But alas, wherever he reached, grass didn’t grow for a hundred years – "tam sto let tráva nerostla". Let’s have a look at the first idiom. The verb myslet means “to think” but also “to mean” as in: What do you mean? "Jak to myslíš?""On to myslí dobře."– He means well. But even despite good intentions one can cause harm. If someone causes damage with long term consequences, we can say “tam sto let tráva nerostla”– grass – "tráva"– wouldn’t grow there for a hundred years.

Michael Kocáb goes on about the unlikeable character: The more he tried to help, the more harm he did. And when someone made a hint at it – "tak hrách jen na zeď hodil"– literally they threw green peas against the wall. That phrase describes a futile attempt to talk to someone – the peas won’t stick to the wall, they will fall down again just like your words won’t stick with the person. "Házet hrách na zeď" can be loosely translated as “talking to a brick wall”.

Let’s have one more look at the unpleasant character from the song. He wasn’t bright – "moudrosti moc nepobral" and he was shameless – “studu ani kapka”. Although he didn’t mean any harm “nemyslel to zle”– he caused long term damage wherever he set foot – “tam sto let tráva nerostla”. But he would not take any criticism – it would fall on deaf ears. Whenever someone tried talking to him, “hrách na zeď hodil”– they only “threw green peas against a wall”.

That concludes today’s rather special lesson of Czech idioms which were taught to you by the musician turned government minister Michael Kocáb. Na shledanou.