Czenglish

After dinner last night Jitka asked me, “Patrick, what is a ‘limp biscuit’?”

Jitka teaches English to a group of military policemen and one of them had asked her for the definition of said expression. Knowing that it’s not just the source of a name of a lame-ass rap-rawk band that has long overstayed its welcome (along with another bottom-of-the-dung-heap baby-rawk band Good Charlotte), I had to look the term up at urbandictionary.com.

When I found the definition (which, apparently, was not Fred Durst’s inspiration to call his band Limp Bizkit?? uh-huh, sure, right), I can’t say I was all that surprised. I certainly hope it doesn’t inspire her students to implement the ritual (or anything involving circle jerks – another new expression for her soldiers) while initiating new recruits.

I get a kick out of the way Czechs use English slang sometimes. A few days ago, the editor of the book I’m translating used an expression that was also new to me: ‘crash the air,’ as in “It’s kinda stuffy in here, I’m gonna crash the air,” which apparently means to open a window to air out a room. My friend Robert Juracka from Strelice U Brna improved a classic one night many years ago when, in an effort to boost my spirits, insisted that I “Fuck off it and smoke the joint!” This order alone perked me right up and I’ve adopted it myself.

Of course, in the seven-plus years that Jitka and I have been together, she has picked up a hell of a lot of choice slang from me – to the point where a British friend of mine told her that her language had gotten mighty salty (we were playing billiards and she was using the f- and c- words consecutively after missing shots; she cut down considerably on her cussing after that night). I’m sometimes tempted to correct her when she says things like “Thanks God!” but I find little mistakes like that, as well as her gradually diminishing Czech accent, adorable (it was even better when she used to say “Thanks the God!”).

Yesterday, Scott wrote an amusing piece about the way Czechs, particularly those using business-speak, have been “Czechifying” English words – e.g. apgrejdovat (upgrade) and klosovat (close a deal). I remember the first time I encountered this kind of Czenglish – it was at Cesky Telecom about six years ago, when I heard a student tell somebody, “Nemuzu, mam meeting.” (I can’t, I have a meeting), or something to that effect. While I don’t find this all that charming, it doesn’t make me cringe half as much as some of the Czenglish we foreigners use.

Having said that, there are some Czech words that are quite appropriate to use while speaking English, even with other expats. For instance potraviny and vecerka (convenience store and late-night convenience store), herna and non-stop (gambling bar and a 24-hour gambling bar), along with several foods and dishes (knedliky, svickova, vepro-knedlo-zelo, etc.), or even an exasperated Ach jo, just flow naturally, and unpretentiously, as one is speaking.

However, I have serious issues with people who scatter Czech words into their English gratuitously. Phrases like “Let’s hook up for a pivo,” or, “Day-um, check the nohy on that holka!” or “Ty vole!” (Ooooo, I fucking LOATHE the word vole! Especially when women use it. Perhaps I’ll elaborate some other time) give me a rash. It’s never a good idea to use Czech while speaking English when a perfectly good English word will do.

A final (for now) note on this: poetess and Provokator editrix Bethany Shaffer recently told me that she’s been familiarising her students with the word and concept of ‘rad’ (among other slang words), which has a pretty cool retro feel to it, and sounds a bit like an abbreviated version of parada (somewhat like ‘Excellent!’): “Jezisi, clovece, to je rad!”

Jesus, dude, this is rad! Hm… sounds, like, way better in Czech, ze jo?

Apr 6, 09:29 (Filed under: Other, Personal )

« Gipsy: the Romany Tupac? | Taking a social detour South of Narodni; chillout2newyork »

  1. great piece Patrick! enjoyed it thoroughly. i also hate this pathetic “scattering” of czech words or vise versa (Ha! what i meant to say was “conversely”) which i have been guilty of in SMS-es. “zitra” being shorter than “tomorrow.” no excuse though while speaking. I read that the word “Pivo” was often used in the U.S. during prohibition to hide the fact that they were drinking alcohol and was also used as a label for a non-alcoholic beer. Would be nice to hear some czech words enter into common english. Pivo has a nicer ring to it than Beer. more sophisticated sounding perhaps. But otherwise i totally agree with your point and maybe “Pilsner” though germanised has officially made it into the english language.

    I had a funny experience in Katmandu. This young french guy walked up to the Nepalese waiter in a restaurant (rather than an “eating house”) and asked (in english) to see the “food card.” I heard the waiter ask what he meant and the french guy repeated “food card” several times. Finally, after a full 10 seconds of this I volunteered my services and told the waiter that he wants to see the “menu.” quite strange that!
    jeff stroud    Apr 8, 16:23    #
  2. This is way too funny. It’s amazing what you learn about your own language, or take for granted when you use it every day. It took three people, and around 10 minutes to explain the word “stuff” to someone the other day. I stumbled across your blog while searching for a translation of the psi vojaci lyrics (if one exists).
    Austin    Apr 12, 12:19    #
  3. Thanks for the comments Jeff & Austin. No need to feel guilty Jeff – you know me, I’m not that much of a purist when it comes to the written word (especially in this age of “punctuated” facial expressions ;’))

    Austin, if you like I can send you my own translation of my favourite PV song, “Chce se mi spat” (I just want to Sleep). Let me know if you have any luck finding a page with translations of all their songs.
    Patrick    Apr 12, 14:42    #
  4. Oh yeah, and Jitka C (the editor), told me that the expression is actually “crush the air.”

    Personally, I prefer “crash” to “crush.” The Bush administration is doing enough of the latter as it is.
    Patrick    Apr 12, 14:44    #
  5. Hey, I haven’t been able to find a translation anywhere yet. “Chce se me spat” is a good song. If you could send me your translation that would be cool. My favorite though is Russian Mystic Pop. I live with two Czech students so I’m going to attempt to translate a few of the songs I like myself and I can get there help (since I found out about the band because they play them over and over in the flat to begin with…).
    Austin    Apr 16, 14:34    #

|