Mysteries of Czech Language: Diminutive Fever

Though I’ve left the Czech Republic for Germany, I feel obliged to keep up America’s favorite ongoing blog series, The Mysteries of Czech Language.

Czech language has a built-in structure where you can form diminutives from just about anything. A waitress at our favorite Prague restaurant seemed to have a nervous disorder that compelled her to use them constantly and ask me things like if I want ‘another little beer-y-poo.’ But the system of forming diminutives is applied most exhaustingly to children’s names: Zuzanna becomes Zuzka becomes Zuzinka and so on.

One couple we know had a daughter and named her Justina (like Justine, but the Ju sounds like ‘You’). Via the diminutive system, she’s most frequently called Justinka, like ‘you-STINK-a’. It’s almost impossible for me not to laugh every time I hear this. I try to keep a broad mind and remember that it sounds perfectly acceptable (a touch exotic, even) in Czech. But it just sounds like a corny set-up for one of those old ethnic humor shows, like Life With Luigi:

Hey-a. I come to America and everyone says, ‘Hey… you stink-a! And I say, ‘No, it’s-a not me. It’s my baby.’ And everyone says, ‘Oh, what a poor baby. She’s such a pretty girl. What’s her name-a?’ And I says-a-to-them ‘Justinka’. And they get angry and a-punch me in the¬†cucalabanga! Hey-a!

While we’re here: my friend recently posted photos from his vacation to a small town in the Czech Republic, Lazy. He reports that there is also Horni Lazy nearby (Horni = high).

And: there is a phrase in Czech that sounds exactly like this: ‘FUCK YO?!’ It means, ‘Oh, really?’ and Czechs say it all the time. Just so you’re forewarned.

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