Up to your neck in Czech

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From head to toe - that is how we explore the Czech language in our programme. More precisely, we concentrate on Czech idioms which refer to parts of the human body. Our focus today is on the work krk, which translates as both neck and throat. So if you say bolí mě v krku you have a sore throat, but if you say bolí mě za krkem it means you have a stiff neck.

In popular phrases the neck symbolises something that bears a burden. Such as in the idiom

But idioms containing the word krk also arise in situations related to eating. If the breadwinner in the family says musím živit pět hladových krků, it means he has five mouths to feed. The phrase už mi to leze krkem, literally, "it crawls up my throat", means I am sick and tired of it. The expression mít něčeho až po krk, to be fed up with something, probably has a similar origin. Another idiom: být v něčem až po krk, to be up to one's neck in something, usually implies unpleasant things, such as debts or troubles.

Historically, the neck also signifies something easily vulnerable, often in phrases referring to the practice of decapitating. Přijít o krk - to lose one's neck - means to die, to be killed. If someone's life is in danger, Czechs might say jde mu o krk, his life is at risk, it may cost him his head. Adventurers and brave people often risk their lives - nasazují vlastní krk, or literally put their neck at risk. A similar expression is dám na to krk, I can bet my own neck, I could swear to it. But that is only a saying, no one really means it today. As we said earlier, what Czechs refer to as krk sometimes means throat in English, such as in the idiom položit někomu nůž na krk or hold a knife to somebody's throat, threaten somebody at knife point, meaning to give them an ultimatum.

Of course, there are many more expressions containing the word krk but we are running out of time, I'm afraid. But before we sign off, we'll give you something to practice until next time. It is a popular Czech tongue twister, strč prst skrz krk - or thrust your finger through your throat. Thanks for listening and, please, don't hurt yourselves while you practice. Until next time, na shledanou.


See also Living Czech.