- Langauge family: West Slavic
- Interesting fact: has this sound. Children in the country take elocution lessons to master it, and well-known celebrities have struggled to tame it
It’s hard to know who Czech fans should be cheering for this summer.
When Czechoslovakia consciously uncoupled in the Velvet Divorce of 1993, the Slovak side got the name that sounds like a country, while the Czechs became known to the outside world by the very formal “Czech Republic”. 23 years on, they’re still waiting for the foreigns to settle on an accepted translation of their short name Cesko.
President Milos Zeman, miffed at seeing a chaotic range of names used in description of his beloved land, proposed that the UN registers the name Czechia in English, with variations in French, Spanish etc. Zeman’s suggestion is thus far unpopular within The Country Not Yet Offically Known as Czechia.
What the Czech language is like
Whatever you call its birthplace, Czech is a consonant-rich West Slavic language and is very similar to Slovak, although Slovak is held up as the sexier sounding sibling. Everyone’s beautiful to someone, though, and Czech is thought to be cute by many Poles, who say it sounds like a language full of Polish diminutives.
česká ulička: a through ball that goes in between two (or more) opponents, articulately slicing the defensive line. The Czechs claim to have ‘invented’ this magnificent instrument in the 1962 World Cup final, following a particularly capital česká ulička (Czech alley) from Tomáš Pospíchal.
A common reaction to a bad referee is to say that they are “whistling shits” (zas píská hovna), while a two-footed sliding tackle is vividly described as “taking someone on a sleigh ride” (nabrat na saně).
Meanwhile, a popular phrase for a striker that has just missed a chance is ten by nedal gól i kdyby ho rozkrájeli. This roughly means that he couldn’t score a goal even if he were cut into many pieces, which I’m not sure would help the poor chap.
Lastly, an angličan – literally meaning “Englishman” – describes any shot that bounces off the woodwork before crossing the line. We presume the roots of this one lie with Geoff Hurst, although in Czech it is used for any goal of this type, without a hint of the did it/didn’t it/it definitely didn’t controversy of 1966.
There was much disappointment when all of the Visegrád Four (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic) were put into one pot and couldn’t be drawn together for the group stages.
Of these, the Slovaks are the ones to look out for, which is not surprising given that the two countries lived so recently and so snugly as the same entity. This is a rivalry in good spirits though, and many Czechs had no problem cheering for their bratia (brothers) during the 2010 World Cup. There are a few who stoke the fire, though, referring to Slovakia as čobolové (usedtobe-ers)
Differences between Czech accents are subtle, but there are still enough distinctive features for the squad to indulge in some gentle regional ribbing.
North Easterners are called “short beaks” (Kratke zobaky) thanks to their rapid-fire delivery, while citizens of Prague (including current players Kadeřábek, Suchý, Dočkal, Krejčí) are typically accused of singing, inadvertently prolonging the endings of some words. Meanwhile, the Eastern Bohemian (players include Plašil, Skalák) habit of changing the ending -ovi to –oy is never long left unmocked.
Although less influential than during Michal Bílek’s tenure, a portion of the team‘s spine is still formed of Plzeň natives (Čech, Limberský, Darida). These guys are celebrated for making stuff, mostly beer and words, and their vocabulary is as rich as their grammar is a mess.
Czech football doesn’t have a particularly playful culture of nicknames. Like in England, it often boils down to making the surname shorter and easier to yell at the stadium (Rosický – Rosa, Kadeřábek – Kadeř, Procházka – Prochy etc).
Perhaps the most interesting case here is Petr Čech, who’s become familiarly known as Čechíno (pronounced Cschekheeno). This is a cuter version of his surname – as if he were five years old – and stresses to what extent he is the darling of the nation.
Like in Slovakia, Czech commentators are highly quotable, so we’re going to finish with this from Jaromír Bosák. On seeing the big scary face of Jaap Stam, Bosák commented that
“If I met him in the woods, I would bite the nearest tree and pretend to be a branch.”
(Já ho potkat někde v noci tak se zakousnu do stromu a dělám že jsem větev).
With thanks to Tomáš Daníček.