Slavic Saturday

I was not struck by inspiration this week, so today’s Slavic Saturday is going to be a bit silly. I am going to show you the various forms that one word can take in Czech within the various cases.

Our word will be the word for a dog, which in Czech is a noun of the masculine (animate) gender and in its singular form is universal to slavic languages. Btw, Czech has four genders – masculine (animate), masculine (inanimate), feminine and neutral. That means a lot of fun.

Lets start with singular grammatical cases:

pes – nominative
psa – genitive and accusative
psu/psovi – dative, locative
pse – vocative
psem – instrumental

That is not all, there is also plural:

psi/psové – nominative and vocative
psů – genitive and accusative
psům – dative, locative
psech – locative
psy – instrumental

Of course that still is not all, there is also singular diminutive:
pejsek – nominative
pejska – genitive and accusative
pejskovi/pejsku – dative, locative
pejsku – vocative
pejskem – instrumental

And plural diminutive:

pejsci/pejskové – nominative, vocative
pejsků – genitive
pejskům – dative
pejsky – accusative, instrumental

But that is not the only diminutive. There is also alternative diminutive “psík”. And “psíček”. And “pejsánek”. And “pejsáneček”. The “če” you can then add for further diminution in principle ad infinity. It would sound silly to say it more than once, but it is gramatically correct.

And there is also augmentative “psisko”.

And the adjective “psí”. Which has different forms depending on the gender of the noun it qualifies.

But I won’t torture you with all their forms, you are brave enough if you read so far. To learn this is a torture even for native speakers. No wonder foreigners have rather hard time when they try to learn this. But at least we are not the worst, there are languages with more cases even here in Europe (looking sideways at the finno-ugric family).

Friday Feathers

These are from David who notes:

If it’s a murder of Crows


It’s a Parliament of Owls,

then surely it must be …

A brothel of shags?


©David Brindley, all rights reserved


©David Brindley, all rights reserved


To me a s a German, English collective nouns are both a delight and a bane. I mean, a pride of lions and a murmuration of starlings?

In German it’s quite easy: If it flies or swims, it’s a swarm (Schwarm), with the exception of marine mammals (they have Schule, schools like in English). Carnivores that hunt together are a Rudel, a pack like wolves. Grazers? Herde (herd). Trees? Forest, unless you’re my husband who once famously couldn’t remember “forest” and kept talking about a “pack of trees”.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 16 – Languages

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

In Czech we have a saying – how many languages you know is how many times you are a human. As a grown man I do appreciate the wisdom of this saying, since language barriers are difficult to breach and in combination with other things they do lead to a lot of nasty stuff. It is for example very easy to other people whose language you do not understand and with whom you therefore cannot effectively communicate. Even with all other barriers removed, language barrier in itself can be insurmountable obstacle. And when you can and do speak with people, all other differences tend to fade away.

As a child, I did not appreciate the saying at all. My parents were trying to get me to learn German from early age, but since they are not the pushy type and I was not too receptive, it did not work out. Later at school from age 10 Russian language was compulsory. But there we hit the snag of not only another language, but another alphabet as well – for me it was difficult enough to learn writing in one alphabet and sure enough, another one was difficult even more and soon I started to write fluently but illegibly in Azbuka as well.

I do not remember whether the explanation as to why we must learn Russian was given to us as a matter of course or whether someone asked, but it was given to us nevertheless. It was argued that it is useful to know at least one widely distributed language so one can communicate with more people. And that most widely distributed languages are English, Spanish and Russian, because USSR covers one eight of inhabitable land and Russian is spoken in all other countries of the Warsaw Pact, covering most of Europe and Asia, therefore Russian is the most useful language for us of them all. Q.E.D.

You probably have spotted already the flaw in that argument, as did I – the area of inhabited land is not as important as the amount of actual people with whom you can speak using given language. But lacking further data, I have not questioned the wisdom of this and I thought that it is a valid argument at the time. So I plodded on with difficulties trying to learn Russian, torturing my teacher in turn as much as she tortured me.

However it did not take long to learn how untrue this argument is in real life. It started when I saw how difficult it was for children to get help with homework in Russian language. Nobody could read it and nobody understood it much, despite the fact that they all learned it in school. That way I learned that actual use of Russian among ordinary people was so minimal that most of them forgot most of it as soon as they left the school. Second observation was when I was at a summer camp in German Democratic Republic. We were allowed to have some pocket-money and to do some shopping. Hooray! We are in a foreign country, but people here learned Russian in school, therefore we will be able to communicate with them! And to this day I remember the totally blank expression of a quite young shopkeeper when I told her that I would like to buy that aeroplane model of – (I forgot the exact type) and I had to resort to pointing and grunting instead. Huh, so much for that argument then.

By the time my elementary school education was nearing its end, I was convinced of two things – first was that I am hopeless at learning other languages and I hate it. Second was that learning foreign languages is nearly useless.

For the second conviction I actually had some solid data at the time – the Iron Curtain was an effective barrier going anywhere west of my home, making any need to understand people living there moot. And from experience I knew that even if I manage to get to some of the other eastern countries, Russian will be of nearly zero use.

To this day my generation and those older are still the least language-savvy generations in our country. And the country as a whole has therefore still abysmal proficiency in other languages, as well as in many other former east bloc countries. The Iron Curtain persists in this form, still fostering xenophobia and bigotry. A reminder that a regime change is not enough.

American’s Fear of Hearing Foreign Languages Is Nothing New

When I was reading today morning an article on RawStory This is why right-wingers are so threatened by hearing foreign languages in the Trump era, I honestly have thought to myself “Yes? And what else is new?”.

As some of you might recall from my comments in the past, I was in USA, twice, and I worked at Sun Valley resort in Idaho for the summer season as a laundry worker.

First time I and two of my friends have arrived at New York, with J-1 work and travel visa but without any specific plan as to where to go. We traveled by greyhound first to Atlantic City and after failing to find work and lodgings there one us stayed and two of us have split and traveled to Idaho. Again via greyhound.

In the greyhound we actually did not experience anything overtly unpleasant. Whenever we talked in Czech, the most that has happened was someone asking politely “Where are you guys from?” and after polite answer “From Czech Republic.” the matter was resolved and dropped. Nobody was pestering us (apart from two kids who kicked the back of my seat and their parents did not take them to task, aaargh!).

In retrospect, most of those polite people were Latinos and black. In retrospect the two of us stood out, with our pale skin and me with my blonde hair and blue-grey eyes.

It was only after we started to meet white “patriotic” Americans when we encountered some nastiness, some first hand, some second-hand.

There was a bunch of European workers at the resort for that season, a lot of Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Russians, a few Croats (and a lot of people from France because the catering manager was French and it wa seen as posh to have actual french waiters). Almost all these people were people with university degrees, at least Bachelor or higher. But a lot of us had rather basic English and with heavy accents – after all learning English was for many of us one of the reason for the travel.

Some of the white people, guests as well as workers, took this rather badly and it was not uncommon to meet the attitude “they are so stupid, they cannot even talk English properly”, sometimes covertly, sometimes overtly expressed. AFAIK always by people of lower education and with zero knowledge of the world outside USA. The people saying this were not hostile, but they were nasty.

One evening when we were drinking beer with one of the actually really friendly (and not only pretending to be so) Americans, the discussion steered towards this and he summed it up in a joke.

“How do you call someone who knows three languages?”


“How do you call someone who knows two languages?”


“How do you call someone who knows only one language?”


We all laughed, because it was true and therefore funny. He himself did not know second language, but he tried to learn Spanish and knew therefore that it is not an easy task. I only remember meeting one white American who actually really spoke second language (Spanish) with reasonable fluency.

When the season ended, I and my friend could either go straight home, or use the J-1 visa option and travel for one month to see a bit more of USA. We have decided to use that option and it was during this travel that we encountered actual overtly expressed hostility towards us.

The incident was very short, but it stuck in my mind. It was somewhere in California, and I do not remember whether it was in San Francisco or Santa Monica (probably the latter). We were just walking along the street, casually talking about something inconsequential when a smallish thin black-bearded man passing by shouted at us “You are in America, you should speak English!” with such force and venom in his voice, that we were startled and both paused. He gave us a scathing look and went on. We looked at each other and talked a bit about WTF just happened?

The stories that I am reading now about USA remind me of this incident and make me wonder whether it would turn out differently today. Whether today that man might feel bold enough not only to shout and give scathing looks, but to actually harm us.

Americans hate of foreigners is really nothing new. The “melting pot” was always a myth.

Colours In Old Norse.

Colours in Old Norse. This was very interesting, thanks to Ice Swimmer for this, which came up in the discussion of Lurid, and it’s origin Luridus, meaning pale yellow.  I’m familiar with the association between gold and red, that seems to have been a means of classification in many different cultures. As for blue being used to describe black people, that’s not unique to Old Norse either. I remember reading this post about the awful mistakes people make when trying to translate English into Gaelic. They have a similar use of colour classification having to do with hair, and…

The funny thing here is, the Irish word gorm actually does mean “blue” in most contexts. […] People of African descent, or with similarly dark skin, are described as “blue” in Irish (most likely because dubh (“black”) and dorcha (“dark”) have negative connotations in the language and donn (“brown”) would be understood to refer to hair color).

Z Is For Zinnia.


Zinnias make for wonderful summertime garden flowers, attracting all kinds of pollinators and many birds which feed on their seeds. Snails (and slugs) also seem to like them, not only the flowers but especially the seedlings. It’s kind of a spring tradition for me, sow zinnias and hand-pick snails and slugs around them every night until they grow to a certain stage or until snails estivate. This photo was taken in November, when snails are active again, and some zinnias are still standing.

Oh, what a poignant and beautiful photo! Click for full size.

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

X Is For Xerophyte and Xerófito.

Xerophyte. Xerófito.

Xerophytes are drought-adapted plants, commonly found in environments where water is scarce.  An example is the cactus Opuntia ficus-indica. The fruits, seen here, are delicious but harvesting and peeling them can be quite tricky because of all the small spines, it is almost guaranteed that at least one will find its way into your skin no matter how careful you are (speaking from experience here). Bonus wasp!

The wasp looks so tiny! Click for full size.

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

U Is For Uranium and Urgeiriça.

Urgeiriça is a Portuguese village known for having been the center of the country’s biggest uranium mining complex. The first mine opened in 1913, the last closed in 2001, radioactive management throughout was always very poor to nonexistent. The environmental and human health impacts were huge and are still being dealt with, there are still people living in contaminated homes, former workers and their families waiting for compensations for occupational diseases (needless to say, that’s mostly cancer). Environmental rehabilitation is being done, slowly. Here is shown a phytoremediation plant at the mine of Cunha Baixa, in which buoyant plant mats are being used to clear contaminated waters. In the second photo you can see a close up of those heavy-metal-loving plants, they take up the heavy metals (including uranium) from the water and accumulate them in the leaves, clearing the water.

Click for full size!

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

T Is For Tranquility and Taralhão.

Tranquility. Taralhão.

Taralhão is one of the many Portuguese common names given to two flycatcher species that visit us every year, from late August to November: the spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striata and the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. In this photo, a pied flycatcher calmly sits on a tree collard at the end of the day, possibly contemplating all the flies it has eaten or if it is already time to leave the European continent for the year. Pied flycatchers breed in most of Northern and Eastern Europe and there are some breeding populations in Spain, but here they are only migratory, staying for only a few months before going to winter in Africa. They are one of my favourite birds, despite their winter plumage being a bit on the dull side. But they are so lively and funny that I can spend hours just watching them hunt insects.

Click for full size!

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.