Monthly Archives: August 2011

Pozor! Some words commonly misused by Czechs when speaking English

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I’m taking a break from renovating our new flat to unleash my inner pedant on you all.  Again.  I intend to do so in less grumpy and more helpful fashion than last time.

The front page of Mlada Fronta Dnes (a Czech national newspaper) is the inspiration for this post.

Yesterday’s lead article focused on proposed changes to the Czech language, such as whether it is ever ok to say “abysme” instead of the more formal “abychom” (note to self – must look at that chapter on ‘aby’ clauses again) and which words borrowed from English should be officially included into Czech.  Unfortunately for those of you who are keen to master my native tongue, many of the words which have been borrowed actually mean something quite different when used in English.

Unfair, isn’t it?  Worry not: Girl in Czechland is here to sort out some of the confusion.

1. Reconstruct

Here’s a bit of Czechlish to start us off.

“Unlike almost every other Czech citizen, I’m not going to the cottage this August weekend because I have to reconstruct my flat.”

Gasp! What misfortune could have befallen this unfortunate Czech speaker of English? Has their flat been reduced to a pile of rubble by a bolt of lightning in the recent storms?

Nope. They’re simply mistranslating “rekonstruovat” which in English actually means “to renovate” or “to do up” if you want to show off and use a phrasal verb. So for example, “Czechman and I are having a simply delightful time dedicating every minute of our spare time to doing up our new home together.”

Which we are. But more of that another time.

2. They wanted her to go to rehab 

Another dull afternoon stuck in a poorly ventilated office somewhere in Prague.  It could be worse: I could be a Hooters Girl. Or a management consultant.*

As part of the general chit chat which passes for fluency practice, I politely enquire how Bozena’s teenage daughter is getting along. Last week she had to be brought home from summer camp early after spraining her ankle.

“Monika is fine but she needs to go to rehab.”

Surely a week at summer camp somewhere in Bohemia hasn’t transformed Bozena’s thirteen year old daughter into Czechland’s answer to Amy Winehouse?

Thankfully not. Bozena simply mistranslated ‘rehabilitace.’  Today young Monika needs physio but as for the future – who knows?

3. Tunnelling your way to a quick profit

This is a common error so please do pay attention.

If you want to discuss the financial dodgy dealings which are apparently rather common here in Czechland, and you find yourself using the word “tunnel”, be prepared to be met with bemused looks on the faces of your native speaker audience.

You probably mean asset stripping.So for example, rather than saying “The Russian mafia bought the bank and then tunnelled it” which makes it sound vaguely like they were locked in the vault during a failed robbery and then tried desperately to escape before the police arrived, you should say, “Those damn Russians bought the bank and then stripped its assets.”  Simple, eh?

If you’re the lead character in The Shawshank Redemption, you can tunnel your way out of a high security prison with a lot of patience and a tea spoon. Moles do a lot of tunnelling too but I’ve never heard of one being prosecuted for fraud.

Sorry, that last bit was supposed to be funny. I think I’ll stick to the bad puns.

Greetings from Czechland!

*Apologies to any Hooters girls or management consultants reading this.


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Life in Czechland? A grape experience…*

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Has the identity of long suffering Czechman been uncovered at last?

Take a look at this picture. Now tell me what you can see. Pretend it’s some kind of exercise to hone your powers of observation. Or, if English is not your native tongue, a test of your fluency skills. 

There’s a man sitting at a table.  He seems to be – how can I put this politely? The wrong side of chubby. Corpulent. Beyond big boned.

He’s eating a calorific but no doubt tasty combination of chicken (or duck?) and dumplings. He’s also swigging what we can only presume is beer from a large tankard.  However, he’s not in a pub.  Or a restaurant.  He can’t be: what Czech pub do you know that has complimentary grapes on the table?

This gentlemen isn’t relaxing in the comfort of his own home either. And in case you were wondering, it isn’t Czechman or even Czechman’s father, grandfather or uncle.

This image is part of an advertisement. 

For what? I hear you cry.  Artery furring cuisine? Cures for baldness? Pine furniture of questionable taste?

Well done: the final option is correct. This man is trying to tempt you to purchase česky dřevený nábytek or Czech Wooden Furniture as the company seems to have imaginatively called itself. 

There is one thing that puzzles me however. If Czech Wooden Furniture really want to see their charming pine dressers flying out of the shop, why don’t they just have a naked girl representing their products instead?  The preferred Central European marketing strategy of most firms trying to flog unsexy products seems to be  “make a calendar with a naked blonde hottie in it posing near our products and give it to our clients.” You would think so anyway, given the number of the things I see brightening up offices all over Prague on my English teacher travels  – or should I say travails.

We’ll be buying our furniture from Ikea.  Just in case you were wondering.

* Yes, I did decide to start this post with a truly appalling pun, based on the very slight similarity between “grape” and “great”. Sorry.


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