The touch wood lesson


Hello and welcome to Radio Prague's special Czech-language series focusing on idioms about wild-growing plants. We've already done trees and their parts, and today we won't go far from that topic - we'll be looking at the words "wood" and "forest" in Czech phrases and idioms.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
The Czech word for wood or timber is dřevo. In metaphorical use it also means a clumsy person. One can also sleep like a piece of wood - spát jako dřevo. People can be stupid like wood - hloupý jako dřevo or deaf like wood - hluchý jako dřevo. Although Czechs more often say hluchý jako poleno - as deaf as a log, or hluchý jako pařez - as deaf as a tree stump. The expression sladký dřevo or sweet wood is a poetic name for a guitar.

The short Czech word les means a forest. Nosit dříví do lesa is to carry wood to the forest, or to use an English idiom, to carry coals to Newcastle.

If a child is growing up without enough supervision, if he or she is allowed to run wild, Czechs say roste jako dříví v lese - he or she is growing up like timber in the forest.

About people who can bear a lot, who let people behave badly to them and do not protest, Czechs say nechá na sobě dříví štípat - "he lets others to chop wood on him" or he lets people walk all over him.

The next expression has a similar meaning to the English phrase "you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs". It goes: když se kácí les, padají třísky, and the literal translation is "when a forest is being cut down, splinters fall", meaning there are unpleasant side-effects to important things.

Another idiom: Pro stromy nevidět les means not to see the wood for the trees. The meaning is the same in both Czech and English: to be so involved in the details and not realise the real purpose or importance of the things as a whole.

And finally one moralising phrase. Jak se do lesa volá, tak se z lesa ozývá - the way you shout at the forest, the way the sound comes back. The closest English idioms would be "you get as much as you give" or "what goes around comes around".

And with that we shall leave you today but you can tune in again next week for more Czech idioms about wild plants. Until then na shledanou.