100 Czech Words that Are Lost in Translation

These Czech words, some funny, some poetic, prove that Czech can be far more precise than English

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott
Published on 04.03.2014 09:33 (updated on 04.03.2014)

With its verb prefixes, perfective forms, diminutives and rules for forming nouns, the Czech language can often express an idea or action much more precisely than English. Or to put it another way, there are Czech words which don’t have a single- word translation in English. One famous example: Milan Kundera has contended that the Czech word litost, defined in his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting as ‘a state of torment caused by a sudden insight into one’s own miserable self’, has no English, or any other language, equivalent. Here are 100 others:

People

čecháček: a narrow-minded Czech person
fiflena: a woman obsessed with clothes
chatař: an owner of a recreational cottage and participant in the lifestyle
kverulant: a chronic complainer, a litigious person
našinec: fellow countryman, one of ours
ohyzda: an ugly person
otužilec: someone who does not feel the cold, a hardy person
smolař: a person dogged by bad luck
tajnůstkář: a secretive person

Places

lhota: a village established in the 13th and early 14th century. Land was granted in return for a period (6 to 8 years) of labor for the original owners. The name comes from lhóta (today lhůta) meaning a set period of time.
nároží: the space around the corner of a building
plácek: a small open space
podhradí/podzámčí: a settlement around a castle/chateau
světnice: the sitting room in a cottage which has a lot of light

Nature and weather

červánky: red evening clouds
huňáč: a shaggy bear
chlum: a wooded hill
jezernatý: having many lakes
letnění: drying out of ponds in summer
náledí: ice-covered ground
moknout: to be out in the rain
rozpršet se: to begin to rain hard
sopečnatý: having many volcanoes

Time of day, week or year

navečer/podvečer: the time between afternoon and evening, towards evening
podletí: late summer
pozítřek/pozítří: the day after tomorrow
předvčerejšek/předevčírek: the day before yesterday

Food-related

knedlikový: rather partial to dumplings
mlsat: to eat sweets, to have a sweet tooth
překousnout: to bite in two/half
skýva: a slice of bread (poetic) 

Movement

nadejít (někomu): to take a short cut to catch up (to somebody)
pootočit: turn a bit, to turn a half-circle
rozběhnout se: to take a run up, to start running
rozhýbat: to put in motion
vybafnout: to jump out and say boo
vyskladnit: to take out of storage

Communicating

prozvonit: to call a mobile phone only to have it ring once so that the other person would call back, allowing the caller not to spend money on minutes.
přeřeknout se: to make a slip of the tongue
ráčkovat: pronounce one’s Rs incorrectly
tykat (někomu): to be on first name terms with (someone) (literally to use the informal ‘you’)
vyčíslit: to express in numbers/digits
vykat (někomu): to be on formal terms with (someone) (literally to use the formal ‘you’)

Crime and harmful acts

podmazat: to grease a person’s palm
postřelit: to shoot and wound
přiotrávit: to almost poison
rozstřílet: to shoot into pieces, to riddle with bullets
šmelina: black market goods
vykeťasit: to earn money on the black market

Education, school and children

hračička: a child fond of playing (also a DIY enthusiast)
koulovat: to have a snow ball fight, to throw snow balls
náslech: sitting in on classes
neposlucha: a disobedient child
odkoukat: to learn by watching
otrnout: to be naughty again after a telling off
poškolák: child kept after school
předtančit: to demonstrate a dance
přesezený: stiff from sitting in the same position too long
vykňourat (něco): to get (something) through whining
vykvílet (něco): to get (something) through wailing

Illness and unpleasantries

přeležet se: to develop bedsores
uchlastat se/upít se: to drink one’s self to death
ukýchat se: to sneeze one’s self to death
umrlčina: the smell of a dead body/dead bodies
vyhnisat: to be expelled by pus
vyprahlo: a dry feeling in the throat
zadýchat se: to lose one’s breath
zahlenit: to block with phlegm

Life and aging

fotrovatět: to develop a middle aged spread, to get out of shape
natrápit se: to have suffered a great deal, to have had a hard life
sešvagřit se: to become brothers-in-law

Money and shopping

koupěchtivý: willing, eager, keen to buy
koupěschopný: having purchasing power
podražit: to go up a little in price
prostavět: to spend/lose money on building/construction
přiobjednat: to put in an extra order

Miscellaneous verbs

poopravit: to correct or adjust a bit
prokreslit: to make a detailed drawing
přivstat si: to get up really (or unusually) early
rozemnout: to rub into powder between the fingers
sezpívat se: to get used to singing together
sezvánět: to call together with bells
smířit se: to come to terms
šilhat: to have a squint, to be cross-eyed. to look askance at something, to have eyes for someone
švejkovat: to play the fool, to win through clowning
umilovat se: to wear one’s self out making love 

Things

cingrlátko: tinkling ornaments
pomlázka: Easter whips made from willow branches
kroj: folk costume
skoba: a hooked or bent nail
snář: a dream dictionary
šlendrián: a poorly made product
ucháč: a pot with big handles which resemble ears (also the name of a type of fungus)

Prepositions and adverbs

nevhod: at the wrong time, at an inconvenient moment
nikterak: by no means, not in any way
ob: every other, every second
odedávna: since a long time ago, from way back
odevšad: from all sides
potmě: in the dark
prozatím: for the time being 

Thanks to Melvyn Clarke, moderator of the Czechlist Facebook group for translators, for his original thread, which listed many of these words. Others were found in Velký Česko-Anglický Slovník by Ivan Poldauf and Velký Česko-Anglický Slovník by Josef Fronek.

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Have you found any interesting or untranslatable Czech words?