FORECASTERS disagree about the day's weather.
photo: Ján Svrček
Slovakia's rural background has given its language a rich and diverse set of sayings to do with prophesying weather. Next time you want to know what the weather is going to be like, you could try visiting a farm to ask the local experts - the animals (zvieratá).
Cows (kravy) are most useful for gaining a general weather picture. If they are lying down in the pasture, then you can expect it to be warm (teplo). If it is going to be really hot (horúco) they lie in the farmyard, and if its going to be overcast they lie in the shade (v tieni).
They display rather complicated behaviour before rain (dážď). Apparently they graze greedily the evening before, in the morning they give less milk, and then during the day they drink less water and sleep more, getting jumpy and forming a group just before the rain comes. Personally, I just look at the clouds (mraky) and decide whether or not to take an umbrella (dáždnik).
If you manage to get close enough to notice that a bull's hair is standing on end, there are going to be showers (prehánky), and if they swish their tails on their backs then there will be strong winds (silné vetry).
Cows in a field raising their heads, sniffing and snuffling the air and licking their lips, does not mean an outbreak of mad cow's disease (choroba šialených kráv) but simply their way of telling the world that a storm (búrka) is on the way.
Most other farmyard animals seem to follow the cows' lead but I was surprised to find so few sayings connected with goats (kozy). Having lived next door to a field of goats for the best part of two years, I can report that they have a complex system of weather warnings, although I've not been able to decipher them.
One of them includes jumping up and down on the corrugated iron roof of their shed at 4:00 in the morning. I can tell you that this warns that their neighbour will be sleepy (ospalý) and in a foul mood (mizerná nálada) for much of the next day, although oddly enough this does not appear to have been codified into a Slovak saying.
Assuming that you have only a small flat, and therefore not enough room to keep a herd of cattle, you may prefer smaller animals for your weather forecasters.
Sheep (ovce) also provide a complex set of signals, although be warned that the neighbours (susedia) will probably not approve when the sheep start leaping over one another to warn you of an oncoming storm, or when they gambol merrily to let you know that the weather will be fine (príjemné).
Poultry (hydina) are also not recommended for those of you with sensitive neighbours, as their weather forecasts are similarly noisy.
Guinea-fowl (perličky) would screech (škriekať) to warn you of rain, and roosters (kohúty) crow (kikiríkať) to warn you of almost anything: during the day to warn of rain, in the eveňning to warn of a change in the weather, and when it is freezing to let you know that the weather will improve.
As with the goats, I can testify that this is true. They also shout out a healthy kikirikí at regular intervals during the night, whenever the goats are too tired to keep the neighbours awake.
Unfortunately there do not appear to be any such sayings for pigeons (holuby), who are constantly trying to sublet my balcony.
If you prefer less exotic pets, you can also watch cats (mačky) and dogs (psy), although the advice here seems a little vague. I think it is fair to say that when animals begin to live a more domestic life they lose their weather-prediction survival techniques.
According to sayings, if a dog sleeps a lot (veľa spí), eats a little (málo žerie), rolls on the ground (prevaľuje sa na zemi), howls at the moon (vyje na mesiac), chews grass (žuje trávu), or even just plain smells bad (smrdí) expect rain. As for cats, if they sleep on the furniture (spia na nábytku) then it will rain, and if they lick their paws (lížu si labky) it will be hot.
Hmmm... Not the best advice ever. I think I'll just stick to Slovak television and rely on international weather symbols instead. If I see a picture of a rain cloud (dažďový mrak), I'll expect rain.
Slovak Matters is a regular column devoted to helping expats and foreigners understand the beautiful but difficult Slovak language.
21. Apr 2003 at 0:00 | Conrad Toft