For a language with only 12 million native speakers, Czech is incredibly expressive – boasting a variety of terms that have no real equivalent in English. From the helpful to the humorous, here are our top ten…
The Spanish call it ‘Dar un toque’ (to give a touch), the Germans call it ‘Anklingeln’ (ring the bell) and the Japanese call it ‘Wangiri’ (one-off)… but the English have no name for it. Prozvonit simply means ‘to call a mobile phone, let it ring just once and hang up so the other person will call back – saving your credit!’
The renowned Czech author Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) once remarked that he had “looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” Probably the closest translation is ‘regret’, but it relates more to the consequences of regret: ‘a state of torment following the realization of one’s own misery.’
3. ‘Přizabít se’
This extremely useful verb means ‘to nearly kill yourself’… but it only applies in particular scenarios. In essence, Přizabít se means to be in a situation where you could easily die, but you emerge unscathed (for example, if you swerve at the last minute to avoid a fatal car accident). Therefore, unlike the English translation, it is clearly distinguished from a person who is literally close to death prior to resuscitation.
It’s hard to pick up a Czech newspaper without coming across the word Ptydepe. A widely-used term to describe incomprehensible bureaucratic jargon (designed to disguise or dampen the true meaning of an announcement), perhaps the closest equivalent in English is the ‘newspeak’ from George Orwell’s 1984.
It’s something we’ve all experienced: Přelezený means ‘to be stiff from sitting in a single position for too long’. And the closely-related ‘Přeležená ruka’ means ‘an arm that has become numb due to lying on it.’
A single word to describe a very singular type of person: Nedovtipa means ‘one who finds it difficult to take a hint’. It shares a root with ‘Neposeda’, which is someone who is incapable of sitting still (a fidget).
If you’re trying to scare somebody in English, you would say ‘boo!’… but if you’re trying to do it in Czech, you’d say ‘baf!’ Therefore, Vybafnout is composite word that literally means ‘to jump out and say baf!’
Compressing a clumsy English expression into one single word, Ujec means ‘uncle-on-my-mother’s-side’.
A very specific one… a woman who hangs on to the pole at the front of the bus, chatting up the driver.
We’re unsure why any language needs a word for this, but Czech has it. Tratoliště means ‘pool of blood’.