You’re shivering like an aspen

Photo: Hugo.arg, Creative Commons 3.0

Welcome to another edition of SoundCzech – Radio Prague’s Czech language series in which you can learn idioms through song lyrics. Today, we’ll be listening to a tune by Iveta Bartosova, one of the most famous Czech songstresses of recent times. The tune is called “Juanita” and the phrase to listen out for is “chvěješ se jak osika”.

Photo: Hugo.arg,  Creative Commons 3.0
“Chvěješ se jak osika” literally means “you’re shivering like an aspen”. I suppose the English equivalent would be something like “you’re shaking like a leaf”. But, it is important to note that you only “shake like an aspen” when you’re cold, and never when you are scared in Czech, whereas in English, you might “shake like a leaf” as a result of cold and fear. Here’s the phrase one more time:

There are lots of idioms which reference trees in Czech. If you are “as fit as a fiddle” in this part of the world then you are actually “as fit as a beech tree”. Czechs will say of someone who is really bursting with health that they are “zdravý jako buk”– “as healthy as a beech”. Similarly, you will often hear Czechs using the nicely assonant phrase “kluk jako buk” (which literally means “a boy like a beech”) to refer to any “strapping young lad” or “young buck” they may be talking about.

There are some really rather poetic idioms which involve trees in Czech as well. If you secretly tell someone of your troubles, or about what is weighing you down, then you “šeptá do vrby” (“whisper into the willow”). Similarly, a “confidante” in Czech is often referred to as a “vrba” or “willow tree”. So, if someone tells you “ty jsi moje vrba”, or “you are my willow tree”, then expect a big confession coming your way!

And finally, here’s a more recent botanical phrase which has found its way into the Czech language thanks to the actor Jan Werich. When you have no intention of doing something, perhaps you are even strongly opposed to doing that thing, you say in Czech that you’ll do it “až opadá listí z dubu” (“when the leaves fall from the oak”). It came as quite a shock to me that the leaves don’t actually fall off oak trees in the autumn, but there we have it – “až opadá listí z dubu” is the Czech equivalent of “when pigs start to fly”.

And that’s all we’ve got time for this week. So from this land of shaking aspens and healthy beech trees and leafy oaks, na shledanou! Good bye!