ABC of Czech Where foxes say goodnight

26-11-2005 | Pavla Horáková

Yes, we are back with a brand new lesson about Czech wild animal idioms. And we start off with a little quiz: Can you guess which animal makes this noise?

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Any ideas? Well, that was a fox barking, a noise which may be familiar to people in countries where urban foxes are an everyday reality but for Czechs this is still the sound of the wilderness. The fox - liška - is famed as an extremely cunning animal - and not only in Czech. Liška is both the generic word and a female fox - vixen. A male fox is lišák. If someone is described as either liška or lišák he or she is definitely sly and crafty - just like a fox. Usually the full expression is liška podšitá - a wily fox. Literally it means a "lined fox", originally probably a lined fox fur coat - an expression which over time acquired a whole new meaning.

The species is called the red fox in English but in Czech we say the colour of fox fur is ginger. About people with red hair Czechs say zrzavý jako liška - ginger like a fox.

Foxes are predators and are feared by farmers, who probably coined the expression "to love someone like a fox in a henhouse" - mít někoho rád jako lišku v kurníku - meaning not to like the person at all.

Foxes in fairy tales and fables are also vain and especially proud of their long furry tails. There is a saying: Každá liška svůj ocas chválí - every fox praises its tail - meaning everyone brags about their own qualities, everyone advertises their own goods.

My favourite Czech idiom about foxes uses the image of a fox to describe a remote, deserted place, the middle of nowhere. Tam, kde dávají lišky dobrou noc, where the foxes say goodnight is a place so far away and so isolated that even the foxes have nothing to say to it but goodnight. That, of course, is not the case with urban foxes, who most likely say goodnight somewhere near the garbage cans.

Anyway, our time is up but next week you can find out about another wild animal and the tracks it has left on the Czech language. Till then na shledanou.

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