Don't throw your rifle in the rye!

14-01-2006

A new tune has announced a brand new Czech-language course which for the next eight weeks will discuss Czech idioms about everything that grows on a farm: fruit, vegetables, nuts and flowers. Today we start with grain crops.

A new tune has announced a brand new Czech-language course which for the next eight weeks will discuss Czech idioms about everything that grows on a farm: fruit, vegetables, nuts and flowers. Today we start with grain crops.

The Czech word for all types of grain crops is obilí . In some other Slavonic languages the word means "plenty" - it only signifies the importance of cereal crops for humans.

"Living like a pig in rye" - žít si jako prase v žitě - that's how Czechs describe a life of plenty and pleasure. Staying with rye: to "throw one's rifle in the rye" - hodit flintu do žita - means to give up, to throw in the towel. And finally, to be beaten like rye - bitý jako žito - means to get a good beating - the way the harvest is threshed to produce grains.

Staying with the image: mlátit prázdnou slámu - "to thresh empty straw" - means to beat the air, to flog a dead horse.

Straw is an important by-product of grain growing. If Czechs refer to someone's hair as straw - vlasy jako sláma - they usually mean both the colour and texture. An interesting expression is slaměná vdova or slaměný vdovec - a "straw widow or widower". That is a woman or a man whose spouse is temporarily away, say on business. For this English has a similar phrase: a grass widow/er.

Not only pigs but geese as well, are fond of grains, according to Czech idioms, and they can't wait for them to be ripe and reaped. Impatient people, especially children, are often told dočkej času jako husa klasu, word by word: "bide your time just like a goose waits for ears of corn".

Today, combine harvesters do all the work, but in the past, after the ears of grain were threshed with a flail, people still had to winnow the grains, to separate the wheat from the chaff or oddělit zrno od plev - an expression which in Czech, too, has a metaphoric meaning - to separate the good from the bad.

Now we've obtained clean grains - zrno. The first meaning of the collocation ječné zrno is, of course, a grain of barley. But the expression has a medical meaning as well: a stye, that is inflammation of a sebaceous gland of an eyelid.

And finally, if you say about someone that he is člověk hrubého zrna - a "man of a coarse grain", you want to say that the person is vulgar and rude.

And that is all for today's lesson but please join us next time if you can. Until then na shledanou.

14-01-2006