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Croatian expressions: How to avoid a favour from a bear and other important Croatian language facts

Croatian expressions or how to avoid a favour from a bear and other important Croatian language facts

prof.Mihaela Naletilić from CRO to go

by prof.Mihaela Naletilić 

Learning a foreign language with a teacher and then trying to use that same language in real life situations sometimes can seem like talking two different languages. 

Expressions like It’s not my cup of tea! or He is a tough cookie! are perfectly understandable to native English speakers, but in  Croatian – they don’t have that meaning.

Every language has it’s own phrasemes. Some seem logical, some are a  bit funny and some – hilarious.

How to get by in every day conversations and understand Croatian expressions, we asked prof.Mihaela Naletilić, a Croatian language teacher from CRO to go school. 

A while ago, when I was teaching Croatian language and literature in high school, I often ended my lectures, trying to be louder then the school bell while students were already out the door escaping to their well earned five minute break between the lessons, with the words: 

Čekajte! Zaboravila sam vam još nešto reći!  Wait! I forgot to tell you one other thing! 

As a language teacher a lot of times you have a distinct feeling that you heaven’t quite finished your daily assignment – it seemed like there is always one more linguistic fact or new word that your students can learn.

And – as any linguist and language teacher is well aware of – that is so often truthful.

We might compare Croatian language, as well as any other language in the world with a river – a vivid and live structure which is constantly flowing and changing it’s force and pace of movement.

It is influenced by external factors such as time passing by weather, human element, as well as internal factors- such as river currents. The river is connecting with other rivers, influencing them, touching them, but still – staying a form of its’s own. Vivid, active and subjected to various influences, Croatian language is nowadays mostly influenced by the English language. 

This fact is actually a very good piece of news for any Croatian language student who usually puts a big smile on his face with a sense of relief when he realises that in Croatian: 

Park – is park,  supermarket is supermarket and parkiralište / Croatian word for parking place is more known as simply – parking. 

If you spend some quality time in conversation with a Croatian teenager – you will discover quite a fond of newly Croatian verbs. 

It all started with the verb to like which very soon got it’s Croatian form  lajkati, and that fashion spread out to the other verbs.

sejvati – to save 
hejtati – to hate 
startati – to start 
forvardirati – to forward 
bukirati – to book

Should I go on? The list is quite long. 

Basically, the magic recipe for this version of Croatian is – take any English verb and simply put a Croatian ending to it! While doing that, be sure to ignore the fact that that verb already exists in it’s Croatian version in our language!

These newly Croatian verbs can easily freak out a Croatian teachers like myself, or shall I say: 

Pukne mi film kad to čujem! /  A film snaps when I hear that! 

If I might ask you, does the previous sentence Pukne mi film! have any meaning to you?

To a Croatian native speaker it does. It is one the most used Croatian expressions for a state of mind when you get extremely agitated because of something. 

Every language has it’s specific expressions or idiomatic phrasemes which will make your eyes roll and tongue break and mind puzzled.

We will try to help here a bit and give you a list of some common Croatian expressions that might have been confusing you so far! 

Expressions with body parts 

Croatians love to use words for body parts to vividly explain some social situation or  a life problem. 

Let’s see what the most common are! 

GLAVA / Head 

Zabiti glavu u pijesak  to put your head in the sand meaning to ignore some problematic situation.

Fali ti daska u glavi!  You are missing one board in your head! – or in simple English: You’re a bit crazy! 

If you enter any Croatian office on a busy working day you might hear how lot of Croatian employees are trying to find their head. 

Ne znam gdje mi je glava od posla! – I don’t know where my head is from all the work!

This a very common sentences in working hours. It’s sometime followed by the expression:

lupati glavom o zid to bang your head into the wall meaning to be stubborn or desperate in some situation which you cannot resolve

skakati po glavi – to  jump on someone’s head 

Djeca mi skaču po glavi cijelo jutro!  Kids are jumping on my head all morning!  – meaning

Children are being annoying or /and being impossible!

Mind you, any toddler’s parent who is reading this knows that this sentence might not be just a figure of speech!

NOGA  / leg 

Then there is the word noga / leg, not used only to describe Croatian’s national obbsesion and favourite hobby : nogomet / football, but also various life situations as well as locations: 

Bogu iza nogu  behind God’s legs –an expression which is used to define a location of some village or town far far away 

Ljetujemo na malom otoku, Bogu iza nogu!  We are having opur summer vacation on a little island, far far away! 

Oni žive na visokoj nozi! – They live on a high leg!  

This is sentence you could use when you see your neighbours posing in front of their new swimming pool which expresses the high class style of living of rich people.

Then, when you go visit your neighbours you realise that the photo was not taken in their backyard, but it is a wallpaper on their living room wall, you can say 

U laži su kratke noge.    In lies you have short legs.

You don’t have to have short legs to be a lier, but this one is a warning to children – Don’t lie, you will be discovered! 


And then, when you master the expressions with body parts and start feeling confident about your Croatian language skills, then they bring in  – the animals.

You might think that you are lost in Maksimir ZOO when some Croatian gets carried away in conversation. Croatians like to use animals to describe different kinds of life phenomenas – some are there with a reason, but some animals and some ended up totally unjustified in these expressions!

Vol / an ox 

When I was a little girl my grandma used to tell me: 

Prebit ću te ko vola u kupusu!  I’ll beat you up like an ox found in the cabbage field!

My grandmother was a very nice iron lady and she wouldn’t beat me but in those days grandma’s and parents and  basically all of your closes relatives  had some God-given right to make those threats. 

I remember I  that growing up I was always very concerned about poor ox and his destiny in the cabbage field! I hope he escaped, my grandma was a tough cookie! 

However, nowadays  it’s forbidden to even think about expressions like these   – so we shall move further from that one! 

Ox / or Croatian vol was inspiration for other wise sentences that you can still say to your child without risking of spending a night in prison: / at least I think so…

Ne deri se ko vol!  Don’t yell as an ox! – often heard at Croatian playgrounds. 

One other animal has been a huge inspiration to Croats during the years.

Pas   / A dog 

I have no idea what poor dogs did wrong to our nation, but apparently they are appropriate for all kinds of vivid and mostly inappropriate  comparisons.

So, if you take a glance at some typical “dog expressions” in Croatian, you would spot that Croatians might think that dogs are:

• naive

To ni pas s maslom ne bi pojeo.  A dog would not eat this even if you serve it with butter.   / Even a dog would not believe this what you are saying! 

Don’t know about you, but I myself never saw a dog eating a buttered bread.

• that dogs lie 

• even though that they cannot talk and Im pretty sure they don’t bark lies. 

Lažeš ko pas – You lie like a dog

Why would a dog lie? And what would he lie about? 

• that dogs  are somehow to blame for hot summer days .

Pasja vrućinadog heat 

and finally

• that they spend their free time barking on the Moon 

Možeš lajati na Mjesec.  You can bark on a Moon!  an expression describing doing or saying something completely pointless.   

Konj / Horse 

And then there is the horse. 

Another noble and very useful animal that did not get much better deal with Croatian language. 

Tvrdoglav si ko konj – You are as stubborn as a horse! 

Imati konjske živce to have horse nerves or to be extremely patient 

However, we do admit that horses are hardworking creatures, therefore we use the phrase 

Radim ko konj! – I’m working like a horse! 

It is  usually followed by the previously mentioned sentence  Ne znam gdje mi je glava od posla…  I don’t know where my head is from all this work…

You can also be: 

jak kao bik  – strong as a bull

hrabar kao lav – brave as a lion 

mokar ko miš   – wet as a mouse 


zaštićen kao medvjed /   socialy protected like a bear 

You can be a person who is always exaggerating  and

Od muhe raditi slona. – Making an elephant out of a fly.  

Or you can   

imati jezik ko krava rep have  a tongue as a cow’s tail – if you don’t know when and hot to stop talking and shut up! 

You can also be compared with a monkey if you are not being serious and joke to much or are involved in some unserious actions. 

majmunska poslamonkey business 

majmunirati se – acting like a money  

Oh, and be aware that somebody doesn’t do a bear’s favour for you. 

medvjeđa usluga – bear’s favour 

You don’t need to get aquatinted with a Croatian bear and ask a favour from him for this matter, you just need to know someone who will do you a favour and then realise that by doing that he did not help you out, but created a problem for you.

Well I will put my pencil down now.  There is  a dog hot weather outside and I’m working like a horse all day long.

I’m going outside and will be acting like a monkey for a little while!

I hope I did not do a  medvjeđu uslugu / bear’s favour  with this article and that it was helpful! 

Croatian expressions or how to avoid a favour from a bear and other important Croatian language facts

For more fun and useful facts about learning Croatian language, visit www.crotogo.hr 

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