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SLOVAK MATTERS

Putting down roots in Slovakia

LIKE most of Europe, Slovakia has a strong woodland tradition, and even today much of the land in Slovakia is covered by trees.
There are a wide variety of trees (stromy) here and a rich phraseology to go with them. Without further ado, let us get to the root of the matter (prísť veci na koreň).
On the subject of roots (korene), if you want to put your roots down (zapustiť korene) then it is probably a good idea to show that máte tuhý koreň (you have solid roots), i.e. that you are healthy in the true Slovak sense - a good drinking partner. However, being called a starý koreň is far from a compliment, it means worn out.


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photo: Ján Svrček

LIKE most of Europe, Slovakia has a strong woodland tradition, and even today much of the land in Slovakia is covered by trees.

There are a wide variety of trees (stromy) here and a rich phraseology to go with them. Without further ado, let us get to the root of the matter (prísť veci na koreň).

On the subject of roots (korene), if you want to put your roots down (zapustiť korene) then it is probably a good idea to show that máte tuhý koreň (you have solid roots), i.e. that you are healthy in the true Slovak sense - a good drinking partner. However, being called a starý koreň is far from a compliment, it means worn out.

You may prefer to show yourself to simply be a bútľavá vŕba (hollow willow), someone you can talk to and who knows how to keep a secret. A smutná vŕba (weeping willow) on the other hand, is someone who is always sad and therefore worth avoiding. As should be any bus that the locals tell you stojí pri každej vŕbe (lit. stopping at each willow), because it will be a slow one that stops in every village.

While in English, the oak (dub) is a symbol of health and strength, in Slovak its place is taken by the beech (buk). Thus Slovaks consider people to be mocní/zdraví ako buk (as strong/healthy as a beech).

Comparisons with trees can also be physical - you can be as tall as a fir (vysoký ako jedľa), or as thin as a twig (štíhly ako prútik) or as a poplar (štíhly ako topoľ).

Other trees that you are likely to come across in Slovakia are the sycamore/maple (javor), pine (borovica), juniper (borievka) - also found neatly bottled as borovička, larch (smrek), ash (jaseň) and aspen (osika).

Of course knowing the types of trees is not enough, if you do not see the wood for the trees (pre stromy nevidíš les). You may think mám v hlave piliny (I have a head full of sawdust) and to je ale haluz (lit. it is but a twig, it is nonsense) but I have never quite managed to grasp the difference between a wood and a forest, and I have equal problems distinguishing les and hora. A lumberjack (drevorubač) or forester (lesník/horár) might be more helpful.

My personal favourite regarding woods/forests is the phrase nosiť drevo do lesa (to carry wood to the forest), which means to do something useless, and you might well hear it when someone suggests taking their partners to a disco full of other people. Of course, if you say that within hearing of your partner then you may well find that ako sa do hory volá, tak sa z hory ozýva (lit. if it called to the forest, then it returns from the forest - you get what you ask for).

I cannot leave the subject of woods without adding that I have a slight fear of going into them in Slovakia, and as they say kto sa bojí, nech nejde do lesa (Those who are afraid should not go into the wood). My reason is kliešte (ticks). These unpleasant little creatures always seem to manage to find me, perhaps because I am a drevo (clumsy oaf), and often brush against leaves (listy) to give them a free ride.

Klopem na drevo (Knock on wood) that you don't, but if you do find one of these dark little kliešť hitch-hikers, do not just pull them off, drown them in oil, or burn them as some suggest. They have a nasty habit of throwing up or losing their heads (inside you) when that happens.

They can be twisted off with tweezers, but can carry encephalitis, so it's worth contacting a doctor if you find one.

For those of you who prefer avoiding doctors, here is a wood-related old grandmother's cure for the common cold (nádcha): The woman lived in a village near the mountains and whenever her son complained of a cold, she sent him into the woods to bring back an otiepka (bundle) of logs, big enough so that people would think it was an otiepka walking by itself by the time he reached home, with the cold miraculously cured.

I guess this is the equivalent of sweating out a cold by lying in bed with all the sheets on, although it sounds far too energetic and would fill the grate more effectively. Canny people these Slovak grandmothers, nemajú v hlave piliny.

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