Advice in Czenglish as to where not to subside

Advice in Czenglish as to where not to subside © Ricky Yates

On Monday 21st March, Sybille & I visited the re-built Bethlehem Chapel in central Prague where the leader of the Bohemian Reformation Jan Hus, used to preach to a congregation of up to three-thousand people. I’m planning to write an extensive blogpost about Hus very shortly. But in the meantime, here is my latest example of Czenglish which I came across inside the Bethlehem Chapel.






14 comments to Advice in Czenglish as to where not to subside

  • Sean

    As is often the case, the webdictionary at was used without any semantic knowledge. What is worse is subside is actually the reflexive ‘sedat se’ which was missed by seznam itself:-(
    Dr. Kollmannova (who’ll be 90 in June) has pointed out for many years the lack of a comparative semantic study of the two languages. Duskova’s comparative grammar is good, but most Czechs still rely on what they ‘picked up’ in school and a dictionary with some pretty dodgy options:
    sedat – subside
    – sink
    – deposit
    – settle
    – give way
    – squeeze

    sedativní – sedative

    sedativum – calmative
    – sedative
    – tranquilizer
    – sedation
    – pacifier

    sedátko – seat
    – bench
    – stool
    – bank
    – seating-board
    – pouffe
    – pouf

    Slovní spojení:
    sedat s n?kým za jedním stolem – take in each other’s washing
    sedat se – sink; curdle
    sedat se (o p?d?) – subside
    sedat se (pod tíhou) – sag

  • Ricky

    Hi Sean,
    Many thanks for this clear explanation of the origin of so much Czenglish. Unfortunately, your web browser can’t cope with the diacritics in the Czech at the end of your comment & has rendered them as question marks!

  • This tickled me Ricky (metaphorically speaking of course although I suppose it might have done so literally had I inadvertently sat on the sign!). It’s all’s been a bit quiet on the blog front recently for Girl in Czechland recently but I should be back fairly soon…

  • Ricky

    Hi GIC,
    I’m glad it did tickle you metaphorically! You do just have to laugh that even a simple request such as this hasn’t been put into correct English.

    Please do get blogging again – I always enjoy getting an email in my Inbox saying that there is a new post to read on Girl in Czechland.

  • ha

    Please also pay attention to the German translation– 🙂 was it correct?

    • Ricky

      Hi Katarina,
      Yes – the German is no better than the English. ‘Sitzen verboten’ would be clearer!

  • Karin Shepherd

    While the translation might not be totally accurate…the meaning is not hard to figure out. Having lived in foreign countries (Ireland and Greece) and travelled from Mexico to Turkey, my husband and I have come across many signs that fall into the “amusing” category. Does it really matter that their efforts “miss the mark”? What brings this to home for me is that the other day I gave clear and concise instructions to a Greek lady on how to find our house. We both spoke in English. However, upon arrival her first comment was that my instructions were hard to follow, and that our two cultures “see things differently”! The instructions to her were different than how she would have given them.

  • Subside creates a nice visual, doesn’t it? Especially, that first definition. Maybe they’ve had experience with people “subsiding” in their chairs in the past.

  • Alena

    This is hilarious. And unbelievable. Thanks to Sean for tracking down where the “translation” came from. Because I was stunned: not only is “sit (down)” a verb that anyone who has taken even just a few lessons of English in Cz (or elsewhere I’d assume) would know — not sure if it’s still the case, but when I was a kid/young (HS) and was learning English at school, we had to stand up to greet the teacher as s/he entered the classroom, and afterward, obviously: sit down. And so, the “stand up-sit down” pair was certainly one of the first verbs (and phrasal ones at that!) we learned. “Sit (down)” is also the option that is listed first as equivalent for “sedat” in mainstream Cz-E dictionaries.

    So, my conclusion is — building up on Sean, and extending his assertions further 🙂 — that this was not put together by someone without any semantic knowledge, but rather by someone who who has never learned English at all.

    But there is a silver lining to this mistranslation (as to most things). And Karen picked up on it a bit already: the linguistically slightly off (yes, I know, quite a bit off in this case) translations quite often end up sounding oddly poetic. And “subsiding into her chair, quietly”.. well, I can certainly fathom a poem with that line in it, can’t you? 🙂

  • Alena

    ..and, it has just hit me (though it’s probably quite obvious), that the practice of greeting, expressing deference, through standing up as the teacher enters, is equivalent to church rituals. The courts as well. I would be interested in some sociological-historical study of how the practice emerged. With kings, aristocracy, you not so much stood up as bowed down, so my hunch would be that the church might be the original source of it. Which makes the observance of the practice throughout the entire state-socialist era interesting — though, certainly, the hidden historical trajectory would have been lost on most (as it was on me until just now! 🙂 )

  • bibax

    You are on the wrong track. The author, although without any knowledge of English, probably speaks good Latin. The English verb “to sit down” is SUBSIDERE or ASSIDERE in Latin.

    Some of possible Latin translations:

    Nolite subsidere super sedilia!
    Ne assidas super sellam!

    In a scholarly Latinized English it would be:

    Don’t subside on the sedilia!
    Don’t asside on the chair!

    In a church I would also expect the Latin noun “sedile” instead of “chair” (in plural sedilia = one of a set of seats, usually three, provided in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches for the use of the presiding clergy).

    • Ricky

      Hi Bibax,
      I’m not sure as to who you think is ‘on the wrong track’. However, your suggestion as to the origin of this wonderful example of Czenglish is certainly another possibility.

  • bibax


    I meant that Sean and Alena (Alena’s 1st post: “Thanks to Sean for tracking down where the “translation” came from.”) might be on the wrong track. Sean suggested that the on-line dictionaries are often used without ANY semantic knowledge which may not be true. They can be used with the semantic knowledge of Latin. For example, if I need to translate the Czech verb “zlobit” the Seznam-Slovnik offers the following synomyms: to irk, to spite, to fash, to badger, to nettle, to vex, to irritate, etc. From this list I should never use a verb of Germanic origin as I am not familiar with them. I should certainly select between to vex and to irritate as they came directly from Latin: vexare and irritare. We even use Latin irritare in common Czech (m?j šéf m? irrituje = my chief irritates me), so I expect that 90% Czechs would choose “to irritate” although it can be inappropriate.

    As for subsidere:

    Its primary meaning in Latin is ‘to sit down’ (about persons) or ‘to squat, to crouch, to hunker’ = in genua subsidere (genua = knees).

    However the ancient authors often used this verb in many figurative ways:

    undae subsidunt (Verg.) = the (sea) waves are sitting down (= are falling away, are calming down);

    Aquarius subsidit (Ovid.) = Aquarius is sitting down (= is going down, is sinking);

    English obviously borrowed the Latin subsidere only with the figurative meanings.

    Interestingly English didn’t borrow the Latin verb assidere (related to French asseoir) in the present-stem form “to asside”, but in the supine-stem form “to assess” which has completely different meaning. Only the noun ‘assessor’ has something in common with sitting (judge assessor).

    Also there is no English verb ‘to subsess’ only an adjective ‘subsessile’.

    The English word-forming is really weird. 🙂

  • Alena

    Bibax, thanks, this is fascinating. (And I wish I had your erudition!)