Studying Czech bears fruit

21-01-2006

Welcome again to our Czech teaching programme introducing Czech idioms featuring various farm crops. Today we look at fruit.

The Czech word for fruit is ovoce. The symbolic meaning of the word is the results of a long-time endeavour, such as in the expression jeho práce přinesla ovoce - his work bore fruit - or in the Old Testament phrase "fruit of labour" - ovoce práce. Another biblical reference is the "forbidden fruit" - zakázané ovoce. Although we instantly recognise the idiom as related to the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, interestingly, the phrase "forbidden fruit" does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Although the forbidden fruit in Eden is usually depicted as an apple, most likely it was an apricot, a pomegranate or a fig.

Fruits in the language have metaphorical meanings based on their form, taste or texture. A peach-like skin - pleť jako broskev - is smooth and healthy looking - "peaches and cream" as people say in English. On the other hand, hlava jako meloun - a head like a water-melon is big and swollen.

The sour taste is generally considered unpleasant and therefore sour fruits stand for unpleasant emotions. "His face looks like he's just bitten a lemon" - tváří se, jako by kousl do citronu - no explanation is needed. "To bite a sour apple" - kousnout do kyselého jablka - means to gather your courage and face an unpleasant situation. Sour grapes - kyselé hrozny - is an internationally recognised idiom, originally coined in a fable. The fox in the fable was not tall enough to reach for the tantalisingly ripe grapes in a vineyard and so he said they were sour anyway. The expression now stands for the denial of the desirability of something after one has found out that it cannot be reached or acquired.

The plums - švestky - are a traditional fruit in these parts and "to catch someone gathering plums" - nachytat někoho na švestkách - means to catch someone in the act of committing something wrong, to catch someone red-handed, just like a little boy who has climbed over the fence to steal the plums in the neighbours' orchard.

If we expect something to be short-lived, we can say to nevydrží do švestek - literally, "it won't last until the plums", meaning it won't last till the end of the summer when the plums are ripe; it won't last too long.

Our Czech-language series will certainly outlive the plum harvest because we still have to look at forest fruit and fruit trees in our future lessons. But next week we'll take a closer look at the most common types of fruit in this region, apples and pears. Till then, na shledanou.

21-01-2006