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Bugs and happiness in the Slovak language

Updated: May 9

If you are a foreigner in Slovakia, you have one superpower: through your eyes, Slovaks will be able to see themselves and, since they have a huge curiosity, their excitement will be great. That’s what happened when I described some Slovak proverbs (or “príslovia”) in a previous article: my appreciative Slovak friends were amused and some of them realized for the first time how funny and crazy their sayings sound. Furthermore, some fellow foreigners thanked me for making them discover the little-known beauty of this language!

So, I want to add a few more brilliant expressions which, in my opinion, demonstrate the connection of Slovak culture with nature, the unpredictable imagination of Slovaks, and their hilarious ability to observe and envision reality like no one else. Because only a Slovak can say you are “arrogant like a bedbug” (“drzý ako ploštica”), when you are really annoying them.

What a clever comparison! If you never experienced bedbugs, you must know that they are not so hazardous to the health (probably less than mosquitos), they are not particularly painful nor dirty. But they are indeed one of the nastiest living beings. They are resistant and have a long lifespan, making it very difficult to get rid of them. They are basically invisible during the day, as they only come out at night, when they crawl on your skin to suck your blood, destroying your sleep and peace of mind, and literally causing you nightmares. Recent studies proved their long-term negative psychological effects. Now think of the most unpleasant people or moments in your life, and you will understand why, way before any scientific research, Slovak language had already proclaimed bedbugs as the gold standard for unlikability. You have to agree with me, there is genius in Slovak phraseology.

Funny how another blood-sucking critter has a much better reputation in Slovakia! If they see you smiling and visibly happy, your Slovak friends will probably tell you that you are “happy like a flea” (“šťastný ako blcha”). Wait a second, if bedbugs are arrogant and nasty, why do Slovaks think fleas are happy instead? Because they jump, I guess! What better image of a leap of happiness? If you picture a carefree little flea, merrily flying from one animal to another, with a full belly, excited for the new opportunities and food that they will find in their new destination, doesn’t it put a smile on your face too?

No? Then consider that, in many languages, the state of intense happiness is associated with abstract figures of speech and imaginary settings: in English you are “on cloud nine”, or “in seventh heaven”. In the languages I know, a place of prosperity is usually fictional, like “a land of milk and honey”, a non-existent location that we cannot even visualize, as it is just an empty idiom to us. In Slovakia, on the other hand, happiness is as concrete as a flea, as pragmatic as a jump, and it can be as close as your own cat or your neighbor’s dog: it makes happiness reachable and close at hand, which is a good omen.

But if I didn’t convince you, just now, about the beauty of “šťastný ako blcha”, you shouldn’t read this next paragraph. Because there is another bizarre expression that Slovaks use when they see joy. When you are cheerful, delighted with something, or in a contagiously jolly mood, you will hear you are “smiling like a little moon in the manure” (“usmievať sa ako mesiačik na hnoji”). Let’s break it down: we have a little moon (or a little sun in the less frequent variation “škeriť sa ako slniečko na hnoji”), and this astronomical object apparently shines so bright that it reflects on earth, and not just on the ocean or on the snowy mountains, but on the most unexpected and frankly undesirable object: poop.

And let me say, poop is not one of the first things that come to mind when you are thinking of reflective materials, or happiness, or astronomy. But I don’t think it’s random, not at all, in fact I see a philosophical lesson in this expression: only in fairy tales they live happily ever after, without exceptions, free of cost and doubts. In real life happiness is a fight and a complicated process, and we build it with the small things, like smiles and moonlights. And we protect those moments of happiness from all the negativity in life, because, pardon my language, life can be shitty, and we know that shit happens. Nevertheless, the challenge is to keep on smiling, shining like a moon in a starry sky, even if we are surrounded by poop.

Author: Luca Trifiletti

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