There are many people from the whole world who use the names of animals in an idiomatic way to describe people's traits of character, behavior and some typical situations. This article is going to help you learn various expressions and phrases that exist in Serbian that we use to compare people to animal, birds, fishes and reptiles.
Making complicated sentences is easy but has no efficacy, especially if the person who receive the information isn’t able to understand anything and that’s not the point. That’s why, let’s put some easy-to-use structure, so all Serbian learners can learn it easily:
Adjective + kao (as) + an animal
Firstly, there is an animal name and then the collocation it is used in. Most of those below are very close to their English equivalents, but what about your language?
- Lisica (fox)
- “Lukav(lukava) kao lisica.” (“As sly as a fox”). A fox is often one of the main heroes in traditional fairy tales. Sometimes, we use diminutive “lija” to call fax.
Lukav – m. sily person, lukava – f.sily person
You can enjoy this nice TV show for children, “Laku noć deco” which features a sly fox. Here you are the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UK1__aXRac
“Biti uporan (uporna) kao mazga.” (“As stubborn as a mule”). To be bullheaded.
- For example: Petar stalno ponavlja iste greške, on baš uporan kao mazga (Peter repeats the same mistakes constantly. He is indeed stubborn as a mule.)
- We can use it in two ways:
- “Plašljiv (plašljiva) kao zec.” (“As timid as a rabbit ⟨mouse⟩”; “as cowardly as a chicken”). Plašljiv – used for men, plašljiva – used for women
- “Biti brz kao zec” (“to be as fast as a rabbit”)
Here you are another useful episode of "Laku noć deco": [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYkAK1l1dcQ)
- For example:
- Marija ne sme da ide u šumu, svega se boji. Ona je plašljiva kao zec. (Maria cannot go to the forest, she is afraid of everything. She is as timid as a rabbit) .
- Baš je brzo došla kući, brza je kao zec.
- “Biti hrabar kao lav.” (“To be as brave as a lion”). We consider “lion” as a king of all animals, so that’s why, we think it’s the bravest animal on this world.
- “Biti jak kao medved.” (“To be as strong as a bear”). Use it if somebody is physically strong or to express your wishes (so your dear people become so strong)
- “Biti gladan kao vuk.” (“To be as hungry as a wolf”) - Use it only if you are sooo hungry and you cannot resist, not to eat anything.
“lenj/lenja kao buba” (as lazy as a bug) - There are two ways to say that somebody is so crazy:
- “Biti lenj kao buba” – To be as lazy as a bug OR
- Bubo lenja (we say the same for both genders)
In the second case we didn’t do any cooperation, but we used the vocative case, so we “called” that bug directly.
In this song for kids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5k0gE9hnBg , you can hear how we use that phrase.
- Svinja (hog)
- “Biti prljav kao svinja.” (“As dirty as a hog (pig)”)
- “Biti debeo kao svinja” (as fat as a hog) – we say it for men. For women we would say: “Biti debela kao krmača” – krmača is a f.hog).
- If you want to be a little bit polite and not to insult somebody too much, instead of “svinja” or “krmača” you can call him/her “prase jedno” or say simply “debeo/debela si kao prase” (prase is the hog’s calf”)
- Even pigs can become a hero in this cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CisQ2NQe9MQ .
- “Biti vredan (vredna) kao pčela.” (“To be as hardworking as a bee”).
- You can see Maja, a hardworking bee, right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuoxaBCmnmA&list=PLQP-IRPLsWE9v8sfaZSPQXWXPJxam40wa&index=5
- “Biti spor (spora) kao puž.” (“To be as slow as a snail”). A sloth might actually be a bit slower. An interesting thing to know is that in Serbian, the word for a sloth is lenjivac (lenjivica), which is derived from the word lenjost (laziness).
- Zmija (snake)
- Ok, we can use “zmija” in two cases:
- The positive sense: “Biti mudar kao zmija.” (“To be as wisely as a “snake”). – Use it when you want to tell that somebody knows exactly how to solve all problems without any negative consequences.
- Negative sense:
Zmijo jedna (in this case I used the vocative case because I called somebody directly. That’s why I changed A to O). – Use it when you want to express all your negative feelings about that person (somebody is: bad, evil, selfish, etc)
Now let's try something different. The following similes will include Serbian verbs. The structure is:
Verb + kao + an animal
- Konj (horse) and raditi (to work)
- “Raditi kao konj.” ((to work) very hard: (be) a (real) workhorse; (work) like a horse.
- “Radim kao konj, od jutra do mraka, a jako malo zarađujem!” (“I work very hard from morning till night but I don’t make much money!”)
Slavuj (nightingale) and pevati (to sing)
- “Pevati kao slavuj.” (to sing beautifully, to sing like a nightingale)
- “Željko Joksimović ima jako lep glas, on peva kao slavuj!” (“Željko Joksimović has a very beautiful voice, he sings like a nightingale”).
Vrana (crow) and Bela (white)
- “Bela vrana.” (a person who is vastly different from those around him, unlike all the rest)
- “U školi, Novak je bio bela vrana. Svi dečaci su voleli da igraju fudbal, a on je voleo da igra tenis.” (“Novak was the white crow at school, everybody liked to play soccer and Novak liked to play tennis.”)
Muva (a fly) and bez glave (without it’s head)
- “Kao muva bez glave.” (languidly, unhurriedly: like a “fly without it’s head” – like a sleepy fly)
- “Ako ujutru ne popijem kafu, onda idem okolo kao muva bez glave.” (“If I don't drink coffee in the morning, I wander like a sleepy fly.”)
Mačka (cat), Pas (dog) and Živeti (to live)
- “Živeti kao pas i mačka.” ((Two parties are) constantly quarreling, in constant conflict with each other: (fight) like cats and dogs.)
- “Petar i Marija se ne podnose. Oni žive kao pas i mačka.” (“Peter and Maria can’t stand each other anymore, they fight like cats and dogs.”)
Muva (a fly), slon (elephant) and praviti (to make)
- “Praviti od muve slona.” (to make something unimportant seem important, exaggerate; to make a mountain out of a molehill).
- “Marina uvek pravi od muve slona; prosto sam zaboravio kad je godišnjica naše veze, a ona je odmah rekla da je više ne volim.” (“Marina always makes a mountain out of a molehill; I only forgot the date of our relationship anniversary and she immediately said that I don't love her anymore.”)
Komarac (a mosquito), magarac (donkey) and praviti (to make)
- “Od komarca praviti magarca” (it has the same meaning meaning like “praviti od muve slona”, just, it is more used)
Vrabac (titmouse), golub (crane), u ruci (in hand) and na grani (on the branch)
- “Bolje vrabac u ruci nego golub na grani.” (A less-than-ideal object, opportunity, etc. that a person already possesses or has available to him is preferable to a better object, opportunity, etc. that he may never (be able to) get: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.)
- “Lidija neće da promeni svoj posao, kaže bolje vrabac u ruci nego golub na grani.” ("Lidija doesn't want to change her job. She says that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”)
And now I have a great exercise for all intermediate and advanced students. Listen to this song and try to figure out what animal idiom can you hear in this song (as a hint: it’s a negative imperative form)
- Twins - magarac: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUUmX2id-B8
- Milan Stanković - luda ženo: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP9Yeo4j7fI)
Before I finish, I should let you know that some animal words are rude swear words and might sound offensive. For example, Koza (goat) and ovca (female sheep) are used when you want to tell women that they're jerks/assholes; magarac (donkey), som (catfish) might mean "stupid, idiot". Is vice versa used by women talking about men. Now you know what animals to avoid!
Of course there are many more idioms with animal words that you might study with your Serbian teacher or yourself. You will definitely discover the whole new world to enjoy! But if you feel like using these idioms right away, keep in mind that language idioms might sound very folk and sometimes weird in everyday speech, so you really need to feel the right time and context to use them.
- Ona je zgodna ko avion – She is hot like an airplane
- ona je vredna zlata kamion – she's worth like a golden truck
- ona je plodna ona je ona - she's fruitful,she is she
- ona je jezik a ti bombona - she's tongue and you're candy
- E moj druže priče kruže - Oh,my friend,there are the stories circling around
- nema kome nije dala - there's no person who didn’t have sex with her
- e moj druže priče kruže - - Oh,my friend,there are the stories circling around
- da si ludak i budala - that you're crazy and a fool
Nemoj da si magarac - Don't be a donkey
to je takva vrsta - this is that type(type of people)
ne daj da te mota - don't let her to spin you
oko malog prsta - around the smallest finger
Ona je lepa ko Vavilon - She's pretty like a Vavilon(ancient city)
ona je pravi Don Perinjon - she is real Don Perinjon (champagne)
ona ti tepa ko da si dete - she talks to you like you're a child
ona je skola za kadete - she is school for cadets.
E moj druže priče kruže - Oh,my friend,there are the stories circling around
nema kome nije dala - there's no person who didn’t have sex with her
e moj druže priče kruže - - Oh,my friend,there are the stories circling around
da si ludak i budala - that you're crazy and a fool
Ti, ti uvek nesto izmisliš - You always come up with something
od muve slona napraviš - And blow up things out of proportion
pa mrtva hladna spremiš se - Then, as if nothing has happened, you dress up
Ti za sobom vrata zalupiš – And you slam the door behind you
i opet noćas parfem tvoj - Tonight, your perfume will again
po celom gradu širi se - Spread around the city
Za tom mojom kratkom, crvenom - My lipstick-red dress
haljinom za muvanje - Made for fun
idu tvoje cipele, cipele za praćenje - Go well with your shoes when you walk with me)
ma ne lupaj, smanji doživljaj - Hey, cut it out and cool down
Lomiš, a ja skupljam razbijeno - The things you break I tidy up
i na moje oči rušiš stolove - You mess up tables as I watch
piješ, a ja plaćam popijeno - You drink and I pay the bills
ma dokle to, luda ženo - When is that gonna stop, crazy woman
Jesi lepa, jesi mlada - You sure are beautiful and young
najluđa si mi do sada - But you are still the craziest
Ti opet po gradu praviš lom - You cause havoc in the city
i gde god da se pojaviš - and wherever you might be
za sobom haos ostaviš - You leave the mess behind
- Lomim, a ti skupljaš razbijeno - The things I break you tidy up
- i na tvoje oči rušim stolove - I mess up tables as you watch
- piješ, a ja plaćam popijeno - You drink and I pay the bills
- ma dokle to, luda ženo - When is that gonna stop, crazy woman
Please, don’t hesitate to write down your comments. Your feedback means a lot. Also, feel free to share if there are some ideas that are identical like in your native language or if there’s something that surprise you. That’s a great way to get to know the unique and different ways we perceive the word.
Have a nice day and good luck with your Serbian!