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JUNE 18, 1999

L I V I N G   C Z E C H

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It's all Greek to me
Hello and welcome to Living Czech. I'm Nick Carey, and our special guest star today is our Ostrava correspondent Zuzana Šmidová. Our topic for today is an interesting one. What names do Czechs have for other nations, and slang terms featuring people from other countries, like the equivalent of "it's all Greek to me" or "going Dutch", in English.

The names of three European countries in particular in Czech are quite surprising in how different they are to not only to the English variation, but also to the names these countries in their own languages. These countries are: Germany, Italy and Austria.

Germany in Czech is Německo, and a German is a Němec. This comes from the Czech adjective "němý", which means mute. This term was originally used for all foreigners, as they could not speak Czech, and were thus essentially mute.

Italy is most often called Itálie in Czech, but there is another, more confusing name for the country that is becoming obsolete, and this is Vlašsko, and an Italian being a Vlach. This name comes from a Celtic Italian tribe, the Volcae.

The Czech for Austria is Rakousko and an Austrian is a Rakušan. This actually comes from a medieval castle on the Austro-Czech border called Radgos, which is today known as Raabs. The Czechs used the name of the castle for the whole country and called it Rakuš or Rakus, which eventually became Rakousko.

An amusing and accidental coincidence occurs in Czech with an old, now obsolete, term for a Hungarian. Hungary used to be called Uhersko, and a Hungarian was an Uher. An uher in Czech nowadays means a pimple.

The Czechs also have some very interesting slang terms for people from other countries. They often call their former countrymen, the Slovaks, halušky, which is a Slovak national dish, and is similar to the French calling the English "Les rostbifs".

The Slovaks are also called Jánošíci. This name comes from Jánošík, who was a 17th century Slovak version of Robin Hood. Jánošík was of noble birth, and became an outlaw to fight injustices against the poor.

The Italians are called makaróni, because of their love of pasta. Australians are called protinožcí. This literally means "legs placed in an opposite position". This refers to the fact that Australia is on the other side of the world, and therefore their feet are facing the Czechs'.

There are interesting phrases using other countries or nationalities. Zmizet po anglicku, literally means to disappear like an Englishman, and is a Czech equivalent of the English saying to take French leave. Opilý jako Dán, means to be as drunk as a Dane. If you have met many Danes, then you won't need to ask why.

If you say "to pro mně španělská vesnice" or literally, "it's a all a Spanish village to me", and is the same as the English saying "it's all Greek to me". If you have an "italská domácnost" or Italian household, it means you have a passionate relationship with your significant other.

Well, that's it for this week. Next time we will look at leisure time in Czech. So until then, mějte se fajn, or take care.

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