The Translation Of The Untranslatable
Every language is unique in its own right. It is more than just a set rules and exemptions, grammar, spelling and pronunciation. Language is a living, breathing thing, and speaks volumes about the people speaking it. It says a lot about their culture, relationships and values. The ''spirit'' of a nation is often reflected in the way they communicate. It’s no coincidence Ikea instructions in French read like a poem.
Croatian language is full of metaphors and hidden meanings. Every village, hell, every street has its own slang. If you were to learn about Croats from their phrases and proverbs, you will find we are direct, funny, emotional and sometimes downright ridiculous.
Here are some of the basic Croatian phrases! (Yes they are used on a daily basis.)
PREBIT ĆU TE 'KO VOLA U KUPUSU
Literal translation: I will beat you like an ox in a cabbage field.
Meaning: This one is not used to express a sincere intention to physically harm someone, but rather as an expression of anger and frustration. There is no reason for an ox to be in a cabbage field and that he should subsequently be punished. Someone has done something stupid, careless or explicitly forbidden, but not really that important. The punishment is in the phrase itself. The person at fault is compared to an ox, caught red handed, surrounded with cabbage (presumably the most random vegetable ever) with a dumb look on its face. No-one will seriously get their ass kicked after they've been painted this picture. But they may feel like an ox.
Use: A mother to a teenage son: "I told you not to eat cookies before dinner, I will beat you like an ox in a cabbage field."
GLEDAŠ 'KO TELE U ŠARENA VRATA
Literal Translation: Staring like a calf at a painted door.
Meaning: Another cattle-related phrase is here to poke fun at someone’s state of confusion and indecisiveness. It’s widely presumed in Croatia that, for whatever reason, a calf would be extremely confused and distraught with the sight of a painted door. The origin of this belief is unknown, especially since all cattle is colorblind and wouldn’t know the difference, but at least we’re not waving a red cape in front of its face thinking it will make it angry. If someone is starring at something like a calf at a painted door, they are confused and/or having a ‘’brain cramp’’ in a situation that shouldn't be that difficult.
Use: When someone is completely distraught with the space technology of a self-service register in the supermarket.
TKO POD DRUGIM JAMU KOPA SAM U NJU I UPADA
Literal Translation: The one who digs a hole under another will fall in it himself.
Meaning: This one has sort of a fortune-cookie-ish vibe and although it sounds like something Yoda would say, the meaning of this phrase is pretty clear. To dig a hole under someone is to plot against them, and this phrase is meant to warn that plots can easily backfire. If you grew up in Croatia and had the unfortunate tendency to act shady, you’ve most likely heard this from your grandmother.
Use: When your plot backfires.
UPALA MI JE SJEKIRA U MED
Literal Translation: My axe fell into honey.
Meaning: Something unexpectedly good has happened to you. Although an accident involving an axe doesn’t necessarily evoke happy connotations, this one is extremely positive. Supposedly when this phrase was coined honey was a rare treat and if your axe fell into honey you would be glad to have to lick it of or something. Licking honey off of work tools is not ideal but it’s still sweet, so shut up. Maybe if your axe fell into honey, you wouldn’t have to work anymore. Whatever the reason may be, if your axe fell into honey, you should be happy and not ask unnecessary questions.
Use: When your plot doesn’t backfire.
TIHA VODA BREGE DERE
Literal Translation: Silent water cuts through hills.
Meaning: This one is about persistence and hard work. It refers to a person who is working hard at something, not whining and complaining, is focused and achieving their goals. The unfortunate thing is that if you hear it, you are most probably not that person. This phrase is most often used as an advice in form of a statement. You may hear this from someone who cares for you if you are acting like a complaining little loudmouth.
Use: When your job is the most difficult job in the world, when your sacrifices are the hardest to make, when you are the best at it and everybody has to know it. Meanwhile the quiet person next to you has better results.
KAO MUHA BEZ GLAVE
Literal translation: Like a fly without a head.
Meaning: Flies are not exactly considered to be the rocket scientists of the animal kingdom. The phrase ‘’running around like a fly without a head’’ is meant to describe someone going about something in a stupid frenzy without a plan or an exact idea about what they are trying to achieve. Kind of like a fly buzzing aimlessly and crashing into something every two seconds.
Use: Someone crossing the busy intersection on a red light, escaping getting hit by a car by inches, causing breaking, honking and road rage.
TRESLA SE BRDA RODIO SE MIŠ
Literal translation: The hills shook, a mouse was born
Meaning: Something important is about to happen. You are expecting something big, worrying, anticipating and fearing. You have big plans and hopes. And then a mouse is born. Nothing of substance really happens. This phrase is meant to gently poke fun at someone who is making a big deal out of nothing.
Use: When someone is losing sleep over an exam, whines about how they are going to fail, contemplates quitting school and moving to Nepal to become a Buddhist monk, shaves their head the night before and then the exam is cancelled.
Photo Credit: (1) beneketaro, Flickr, (2) Emilian Tiberiu Toba, Flickr, (3) Craig Sunter, Flickr, (4) Chris Isherwood,Flickr, (5) Umberto Salvagnin, Flickr (6) Kev Chapman, Flickr (7) Nicholas A. Toneli, Flickr, (8) Bill Higham, Flickr
What is the funniest saying you have ever heard, Croatian or otherwise?