Don't touch my voz: Car language is universal

NORTH Americans aren't made for Slovak cars. Just look at them - the half-pint Fiats, the matchbox Trabants (and the obese Ohian, the adipose Alabaman). Even if you're lucky enough to get the front seat, you still find your knees buckling the glove box, your back deeply indented with seat springs.
The tiny car - auto, or rather autíčko - you're wedged in is known in these parts as a bugatka or a prdítko ('little farter'). That doesn't have to mean it's a lemon (haraburda) or a wreck (kraksňa, rachotina), but it's unlikely to be a hotrod (tátoš, meaning 'wild horse', or fáro, from the German fahren, to drive).


THE AUTHOR'S prdítko, Quebec, 1994.
photo: Tom Nicholson

NORTH Americans aren't made for Slovak cars. Just look at them - the half-pint Fiats, the matchbox Trabants (and the obese Ohian, the adipose Alabaman). Even if you're lucky enough to get the front seat, you still find your knees buckling the glove box, your back deeply indented with seat springs.

The tiny car - auto, or rather autíčko - you're wedged in is known in these parts as a bugatka or a prdítko ('little farter'). That doesn't have to mean it's a lemon (haraburda) or a wreck (kraksňa, rachotina), but it's unlikely to be a hotrod (tátoš, meaning 'wild horse', or fáro, from the German fahren, to drive).

Beware of insulting someone's voz, however (to je moj voz is equivalent 'these are my wheels', or 'this is my ride'). Even if it's not an Audina (Audi) or Méďo (Mercedes), even if it's just a plain Škodovka (Škoda) banger, it's someone's pride and joy (pýcha a potešením).

Before we get into the technical stuff, it's worth noting the odd voids in Slovak car slang. There's no equivalent for the North American 'boat', the 1971 Lincoln that you could pitch a tent in (then again, there is no corporeal Slovak equivalent to the mountainous Montanan, the waddling Wyoman). The closest we get is '613', or 'šeststotrínastka', the model number of the Tatra, the only larger vehicle the country knew under communism.

There's also no cool way to say 'souped up', as in an Austin Mini with 'mag' wheels, turbo engine, hood spoiler, black lights and purple pimp stripes. YOU know. In Slovak there's only the Dryasdust vylepšil si auto, 'he improved his car'.

In other driving matters, however, Slovak is every bit as rich as English. Let's say you're sitting at an intersection and the car in front of you seems to be ignoring the green light. As you give them a horn blast (zatrúbiš), you might say 'brzda, spojka, plyn a ideš' ('brake, clutch, gas and off you go'). You might ask 'čo, čakaš na inu farbu?' ('what, are you waiting for another colour?'). You might observe 'jasné, žena za volantom' ('must be a woman driver'). 'Dupni na to!' - 'Step on it!'

Actually, the Slovak staff at The Slovak Spectator say they have never heard anyone using these expressions, but the dictionary seems convinced, and I guess it's still theoretically possible they might still be in currency.

While not many people may in fact use such phrases, if you do hear someone saying 'dupni na to' you can be sure you're driving with a 'pirát ciest', or 'king of the road'. "Jazdiš ako blazon!" you might tell him: "You drive like an idiot!"

But whether he drives like a blazon or a slimak (a snail), just remember: Don't dis the voz, man ('človeče, nezhadzuj moj voz').

Car vocabulary

Slovak - English

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