Where the wind is, there’s his cape

Hello and welcome to another edition of SoundCzech, Radio Prague’s Czech language course in which you can learn idioms through song lyrics. Today, we’ll be listening to a tune by Lucie Vondráčková – the niece of one of this country’s biggest pop stars, Helena Vondráčková. The song is called ‘Vítr’ (meaning ‘The Wind’) and you might recognise it as a Czech reworking of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For A Hero’. The phrase to listen out for is ‘Kam vítr, tam plášt’’.

‘Kam vítr, tam plášt’’ literally translates as ‘where the wind is, there’s his cape’. If someone is ‘Kam vítr, tam plášt’’, then it means they have a knack for landing on their feet, or backing the winning side, more unflatteringly perhaps, they are spineless. I suppose the corresponding English idiom is ‘they know which way their bread is buttered’. There might be a slight difference in the two, however, because ‘Kam vítr, tam plášt’’ does not always suggest a certain amount of admiration, whereas ‘to know which side your bread is buttered’ perhaps does at least a bit. Listen to the phrase again:

‘Kam vítr, tam plášt’’ is a phrase that politicians seem to like slinging at each other. In my research for this SoundCzech, I came across a lot of instances of senator A saying that senator B ‘je kam vítr, tam plášt’’ (I suppose in this case meaning ‘is without principles’ or ‘will jump on any bandwagon’). Now, any good politician should be equipped with a number of ways to say the same thing, and a synonym for taking your cape where the wind blows is ‘otáčí se jako korouhvička’.

‘Otáčí se jako korouhvička’ translates as ‘he turns like a weathervane’, and again means that someone does not hold all that fast to any set of principles, and will gravitate towards where the going is good.

From what I can see, English maybe has a few more idioms which contain reference to the wind than Czech does – but I suppose that given the blustery-ness of the British Isles that is not such a big surprise. Still, there are a couple other Czech phrases which hinge upon ‘vítr’ - the wind. If someone breathes new life into something in the Czech Republic, then they ‘přináší čerstvý vítr do něčeho’– they ‘blow a fresh wind’ into it.

And, just as in English, you can, on a wander, end up wherever the wind blows. ‘On šel tam, kam ho vítr zavál’ means ‘he went where the wind blew him’. Fate, or ‘osud’ in Czech, can blow you somewhere too. But anyway, the wind is blowing me out of this studio now, and back to the newsdesk, and so until the next time, na shledanou, goodbye!