Troubles with svízel

Svízel, photo: www.mezistromy.cz
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Hello and welcome to Soundczech, Radio Prague’s signature series in which you can learn some interesting Czech phrases while listening to a song. Today, we’ll hear a modern cover version by the band Lucie of the 1933 song Klobouk ve křoví, or The Hat in the Bushes, originally composed for a theatre play by Jaroslav Ježek, Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich. The phrase to listen for is mít svízel.

Svízel, photo: www.mezistromy.cz
The Czech word svízel means difficulty or trouble. In this song, the phrase appears in the past form of jakou to měl svízel – what kind of trouble did he have. But this is only a secondary meaning of the word – svízel is the name of a plant known in English as cleavers or stickyweed. Its leaves have fine hairs tipped with tiny hooks, making them cling to clothes, which is why it came to mean something that sticks to you, a problem – svízel.

Klobouk ve křoví, or The Hat in the Bushes, is one of the most famous songs by the composer Jaroslav Ježek and the duo Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich. These actors, playwrights and writers formed an avant-garde theatre group in the early 1920s called Osvobozené divadlo, or Liberated Theatre. The songs appeared in their 1933 play Osel a stín, The Donkey and the Shadow, in which they warned of the dangers posed by the emerging dictatorships. ´

Photo: joxi, www.sxc.hu
The melancholic song Klobouk ve křoví is about an old hat, lost in the bushes. The authors wonder whom it belonged to, and what happened to its owner. Who disappeared in the desert, they wonder, where did he come from, and where did he go? What kind of trouble – svízel– did he have, that he was in the desert alone? Have another listen.

The phrase is typically used to express sentiments such as mám s tebou svízel– I have trouble with you, or potkala mě svízel– I got into trouble. Czechs also very often use the adjective svízelný, such as svízelná situace, or difficult situation. So wherever you are listening to Radio Prague, I hope you are facing no serious svízel. Good bye.