A hare-raising lesson

Hello and welcome to a fresh Czech language lesson, explaining Czech idioms featuring wild animals. Now, can you guess which animal this is?

Photo: Hans-Jörg Hellwig, Wikimedia Commons, License Creative Commons 3.0 UnportedPhoto: Hans-Jörg Hellwig, Wikimedia Commons, License Creative Commons 3.0 Unported Believe it or not, this was a hare. This very coy and delicate animal, otherwise considered mute, makes this sound only when feeling threatened by a predator.

Anyway, whereas hares are rather scarce these days because of widespread agricultural practices, they were plentiful in this region in the last centuries - paradoxically because agricultural methods in those times favoured their procreation. And that's why our forefathers left us a number of phrases using the word hare, or zajíc. The word is shared by Slavonic languages, but its origin remains unclear.

The chief characteristic of the hare - zajíc - is its shyness and its tendency to be easily scared and run away. To have a hare's intentions - mít zaječí úmysly - means to consider running away, or getting out of a sticky situation or difficult relationship simply by escaping. Another, related, idiom is vzít do zaječích. Word by word it doesn't really mean anything in Czech - and grammatically it's nonsense - but translated literally it is something like "to take to something belonging to the hare". Anyway, what's clear is that it means to flee, to run away. So, once again, vzít do zaječích - to escape, to flee.

Photo: Fmickan, Wikimedia Commons, License Creative Commons 3.0 UnportedPhoto: Fmickan, Wikimedia Commons, License Creative Commons 3.0 Unported Another phrase - which may have to do with the fastness of the animal and the fact that it's here one moment and gone another - is panská láska po zajících skáče. Translated word for word: "the love of the nobility jumps on hares" - meaning that the attention and interest of the privileged in the underprivileged classes is transient and fleeting and one shouldn't rely on their affection to last.

The next expression comes from the world of hunting. Mnoho psů zajícova smrt - "many hounds is the hare's death", meaning you can't resist enemies when there is too many of them.

While English speakers must be careful not to buy a pig in a poke, Czechs have to watch out for hares in sacks. Kupovat zajíce v pytli - to buy a hare in a sack, to accept something without first checking it.

And, finally, the figurative meaning of hare - zajíc - is somebody young and inexperienced, but more often a very young attractive female. If someone is described as není už žádný zajíc, it means he but more often she is no longer in the bloom of their youth. Which reminds me that there's an end to everything in life, this lesson being no exception. But we'll be back next week, so until then na shledanou.