Czech Sayings You Should Start Using In English

These colorful Czech idioms and phrases are useful—not to mention really funny!—in English, too

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 14.04.2016 11:17:00 (updated on 08.12.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

When my daughter started nursery school she regularly complained of a strange ailment: goat’s feet.

Mom, today I had goat’s feet (Mít kozí nohy)!

It took me awhile to understand that this was what the Czech teacher told kids who put their shoes on the wrong feet.

And it sounded so cute that it stuck and now whenever shoes get turned around we have “goat’s feet” in two languages.

There are other Czech sayings that, having proved more colorful than their English equivalents, have made it into our family’s garbled bilingual lexicon—not all of them as G-rated.

I confess to occasionally having “white sex” (bílý sex), the Czech equivalent of the midnight snack (although if you’ve got a stainless steel fridge I’m not sure this applies).

The drinking ones are pretty fun, too. How many times have you been “drunk as a Dane” (opilý jako Dán)?

(Note to our Danish readers, this phrase has been in use since WWII, but its origins are still ambiguous!)

This of course is followed by the inevitable “throwing a saber” (hodit šavli) the next morning, a much more valiant endeavor than “kissing porcelain.”

Czechs also have a particular flair for describing personality flaws and physical appearance.

Why call someone as dull as dishwater, when “not fatty or salty” (nemastný neslaný) will do?

In English, plus-sized, curvy, or full-figured all lack the punch of the more sultry “blood and milk” (krev a mlíko), though watch out if someone calls you “ugly as night” (ošklivá jako noc).

Who can’t appreciate the strange poetry of “quiet as foam” (tichý jako pěna/tichá jako pěna) which, in this beer loving country, makes more sense than the English equivalent “quiet as a mouse.”

In our house we don’t necessarily “sleep on” big decisions, but acknowledge that “morning is wiser than the evening” (ráno moudřejší večera); personal failure, those epic crash-and-burn moments, are better expressed by the Czech “burning like a paper devil” (shořet jako papírový čert).

Try telling someone to get lost (pack it in, pack it up) in the Czech way (“pack your five plums”/sbalit si svých pět švestek) without cracking a smile.

Somehow in death you can’t even escape those dreaded house slippers that preface every visit to a Czech home; while we English speakers have “one foot in the grave,” Czechs “put on slippers” (natáhnout bačkory). 

Which I suppose is infinitely better than “farting in the soil,” (prdět do hlíny)!

Which Czech phrases do you find adaptable to English?

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