Thursday, September 9, 2010

Beer, Guns and Money

If it weren’t for the Czech Republic, you couldn’t enjoy a Budweiser beer, dance the polka, or shoot a pistol.

Well, you probably could – but they might not be called the same thing. Our language has many words from other cultures, and more than you’d think come from this particular region of the world.

The Czechs, known for their beer, gave us the words Budweiser and pilsner. Budweiser is named for the beer-making city of Budějovice, which is called Budweis in German. Pilsner also comes from the name of the city of Pilsen, which derives from plz, the old Czech word for “damp.” (Just what you want to think of when you think of beer, right?)

Having spent a great deal of the region’s history being occupied by conquering nations, it’s almost surprising that the Czech language brought us pistol and howitzer. The term pistol came from píšťala, which originates from the Czech word “to squeak.” A howitzer (haufný) was a 15th century catapult.

Did you know that our very own dollar comes from Czech (in a somewhat roundabout way)? The Czech word tolar comes from Joachimsthaler, the German name for the place where silver coins were minted in the 16th century.

The polka, often thought to be a Polish dance, actually originated in Bohemia. The name is generally agreed to come from the Czech word půlka—literally, little half—a reference to the short half-steps featuring in the dance.

Robots were named by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R, after roboti, or “drudgery.”

The word nebbish, though it comes to American English via Yiddish, is thought to come from the Czech nebohý, or “poor."

Interestingly, there are a number of words in Czech that are spelled the same as English words – but mean something completely different. The Czech word pasta means “toothpaste,” lump means “villain,” police means “shelf,” and confusingly for American travelers, host means “guest.”

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

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