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SLOVAK MATTERS

Jump without a parachute

IN ORDER to speak a foreign language, one needs to perform, and a good actor knows how to make an exit.
Leaving (odchod, odchá-dzanie) is something that happens quickly and requires an immediate response, forcing slow speakers into laborious goodbyes or silent departures. Meanwhile, ending a conversation with a talkative native speaker can be even harder than starting one.
A good way to get out of such an exchange is to say, "I can't talk, I'm totally jammed" ("nemôžem rozprávať, som úplne zaseknutý") as if, perhaps, your path were blocked by logs that had to be cleared.

IN ORDER to speak a foreign language, one needs to perform, and a good actor knows how to make an exit.

Leaving (odchod, odchá-dzanie) is something that happens quickly and requires an immediate response, forcing slow speakers into laborious goodbyes or silent departures. Meanwhile, ending a conversation with a talkative native speaker can be even harder than starting one.

A good way to get out of such an exchange is to say, "I can't talk, I'm totally jammed" ("nemôžem rozprávať, som úplne zaseknutý") as if, perhaps, your path were blocked by logs that had to be cleared. Bearing horticulture in mind, I'm tempted to compare the phrase to the waiter's expression "in the weeds", meaning hopelessly behind. But I always imagined this to mean that the speaker had not been cutting grass fast enough and was stuck amid standing weeds, not that so many had been cut and were piling up that it was impossible to escape.

When you feel yourself rising to meet the pressure of those piling tasks on an adrenaline rush, or perhaps caffeine high, you will not want to stop your momentum for idle chat. Then you can tell others you do not have time, as you are whistling (fičím), a verb that normally refers to the wind but in spoken Slovak means to zip or move quickly.

If you feel anxious while talking to someone, or if it is just time to go and you want to say "I'm out of here", try "ok, I'm falling now" ("tak ja teda padám"). Other combinations are "I must fall out" (musím vypadnúť), or just "I'm falling" (padám).

On the other hand, what do you say if someone is zooming around and needs to cut it out and calm down? Try "don't extinguish yourself" (nehas sa), which is a bit like saying "hold your horses". I have tried to invent a logical explanation for this one to help you remember. After all, "hold your horses" is understandable - as long as you hold them, your carriage will stand still. But in what situation would putting out your own fire show that you were too excited? Feel free to offer a suggestion.

A phrase from the same family is "čo sa hasíš?", which literally sounds like "what are you extinguishing yourself for?" but comes across as "why are you so nervous?" In my opinion, this is a particularly useful phrase for one maddening situation - the crowded bus or tram. If you will grant me just three sentences to vent my frustration, why do people insist on pushing to the front of public transport before the doors open? Their efforts are useless and cause great discomfort. Once the stop is reached, it is inevitable that those in the front will get off and move out of the way, but these poor, shoving souls are too impatient to trust the other riders.

A lovely question to ask these burrowing fools is "kam sa ryješ?" ("where are you digging?"). This can be used to respond to any useless and bothersome activity, but remember, you have only a moment to get it in, so practice at home. Ryť can also be replaced with hrabať (to rake) - "kam sa hrabeš?" Please do not try this one on the old ladies, or they might beat you.

Now that I am annoyed, I will turn our initial situation around. What if you want someone to go away?

To let someone know they are bothering you, say "trhni si nohou" ("twitch your leg"), meaning "give me a break" or "stop bothering me", and definitely more malicious than the English expression "shake a leg".

A brief digression here about Slovak legs; they are an important linguistic resource. When something is very easy, think about your leg, or really your left hind paw (ľavá zadná). By saying you managed to do something with it (zvládnuť to ľavou zadnou), you imply that the matter at hand is a piece of cake. Meanwhile, when you are full of drink but feel the need to have another, toast to your second leg (do druhej nohy), as this round will likely make it walk as funny as the other already does.

To end on a more extreme level of dismissal, if you have some kind of power over personnel decisions at work, you can really get someone out of the way by saying "you have a parachute" ("máš padáka"), as in, "you're fired". Strange that when Slovaks are sacked they get a parachute, but when they leave under their own power they just fall away.

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