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SLOVAK MATTERS

Go with God: Departures and drinking

Last month we left our departing Slovak speakers mumbling dobrú noc as they stumbled štikútajúc (from štikútky, 'hiccups') home from a night on the town. In truth, after a heavy night you'd be lucky to negotiate even these three syllables, so we thought we'd provide some less challenging ways of announcing your departures in this country.
There's zbohom, for starters, which may be formally rendered as '(go) with God' (as the English 'goodbye' is a contraction of 'God be with you'), but whose usage is rather more casual (equivalent to 'see ya'). Zbohom is still said in all seriousness by priests, but is used irreverently by the laic population; a younger brother, on hearing that his elder sibling has just crashed Dad's car, might say "no, zbohom", equivalent to "you're screwed".

Last month we left our departing Slovak speakers mumbling dobrú noc as they stumbled štikútajúc (from štikútky, 'hiccups') home from a night on the town. In truth, after a heavy night you'd be lucky to negotiate even these three syllables, so we thought we'd provide some less challenging ways of announcing your departures in this country.

There's zbohom, for starters, which may be formally rendered as '(go) with God' (as the English 'goodbye' is a contraction of 'God be with you'), but whose usage is rather more casual (equivalent to 'see ya'). Zbohom is still said in all seriousness by priests, but is used irreverently by the laic population; a younger brother, on hearing that his elder sibling has just crashed Dad's car, might say "no, zbohom", equivalent to "you're screwed".

That little no in front of the last zbohom is worth a small digression. A short form of the Slovak áno or 'yes', it causes understandable confusion among people used to a world in which no means no. In Slovakia, no not only means 'yes', it is also used as an exclamation to express hesitation, especially when pausing to consider one's next words (as with 'uh' or 'well' in English), or is used to give emphasis to what follows (no áno is thus similar to 'absolutely', or the German sicher).

But let's return to our sheep (retournons á nos moutons), as the French say when they have strayed too far from their topic. Departures can also be announced with the workaday maj sa (the imperative form of the verb mať, 'to have', in the reflexive singular 'have yourself'). Again, this expression is most accurately translated as the rather stiff 'farewell', but in everyday usage it does the same job as 'take care'. Many Slovaks translate it as 'have a good time', which they shouldn't, as their own tongue has the perfectly useful uži si to (informal) and príjemnú zábavu (formal) with which to express the wish that someone enjoy a party or football match. Drž sa ('hold yourself') is another farewell expression, similar to the British 'bash on' (informal, meaning 'to continue despite difficulties').

If you're in such a state you can't manage to utter two separate words at the end of the evening, Slovak generously permits you to use all of the simple expressions you learned as greetings (čau, ahoj, servus, nazdar) in departure as well. These can be used without inflexion if you are saying goodbye to one person, but with two or more, čau and ahoj have to be modified to čaute and ahojte (pron. 'chowtyeh' and 'ahoytyeh'), or people will think you are deliberately snubbing them.

Perhaps, though, you might be better off learning how to survive nights out without losing half of your painfully-acquired Slovak vocabulary. What generally does the most damage to a tosspot (habitual drinker - ožran, opilec, pijan) in this country is the overall volume of booze (chlast) he or she has guzzled (slopať) at a sitting. But if that can't be regulated or helped, tosspots should at all costs avoid the last round, which is often a cavernous 'shot' glass brimming with hard alcohol.

This last round has different names around the country. In the east we have the kapurková (from the Hungarian kapu, meaning 'gate'), which is virtually identical to the English 'stirrup cup', the final glass which tipsy horsemen used to take with one foot already in the stirrup. These days, of course, we say 'one for the road' in English, or 'one for the ditch' if the drinker intends to drive. But Slovak meets us there as well, with the expression šoférsky (from šoférovať, to drive, and meaning a small final quantity of alcohol which it's OK to drink before driving because the police won't be able to detect it). Which reminds me, wishful thinking in Slovak is zbožné želanie.

Then we have western Slovakia's zagambák or gambáčik, a way of describing 'that which goes between your lips' (gamby, as well as pery, meaning 'lips'). Central Slovakia contributes zanáprstok, literally 'a thimble full' (náprstok is a thimble, formed from combining the prefix na - 'on' 'in' 'at' - and prst, 'finger', one of those intimidating Slovak words without vowels).

If you can avoid all of the above, then you stand a fair chance or remembering how to bid your hosts dovidenia, perhaps the most common and most cosmopolitan of Slovak farewell expressions. It means 'until seeing (you again)', and really has no English equivalent save the ignoble 'see ya'; it does, however, find companionship in au revoir and auf wiedersehen in more civilised tongues. English speakers, accustomed to brief departures, may do better with the shorthand dovi.

The same doesn't really apply to telephone conversations, where you normally sign off with dopočutia, or 'until hearing (you again)'. Some people shorten this farewell to dopo, but I've been told on several occasions that this is rather nerdy. Better stay with the full version of silly dopo, or go with tak zatiaľ ('that's it for now') if you're talking to a friend.

Incidentally, if anyone knows how to translate 'nerd' into Slovak, and not lose any of its lexical freight, we'd love to hear about it. Words such as kockatá hlava ('square'), bifľoš ('geek') and magor ('straight-laced') don't quite fit the bill.


Slovak Matters is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping ex-pats and foreigners understand the beautiful but difficult Slovak language. Next column (Vol. 7, No. 15, on stands April 16): 10 coolest Slovak words

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