Etymology, the part of linguistics that traces and describes the origins of words, is a very interesting subject to study. Every language has a series of words that are borrowed or adopted from others and sometimes it’s not even clear which was the original language. Of course there are very many words that Czech has borrowed from English, but the Czech language has contributed to English as well!
Here are some examples:
The word “robot” was first used in 1920 in Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R., although Karel Čapek claimed that his brother Josef was the author of the word.
The word comes from the Czech word robota, which is an archaic expression for “drudgery”, “labour” or “(hard) work”. The word robota from a historical point of view meant a period of time a serf had to work for a feudal lord as a form of taxation.
As you probably know, polka is a dance. There have been many debates about the origins of the word, it could either be from Polka (a Polish woman) or půlka (a half). The latter makes more sense to me, because of the tempo or even the short steps. We might never know, but without polka, the English language wouldn’t have polka dots! There have been other words connected with polka, such as hats or socks, but only the dots have endured.
This term is closely connected to the “Theatre of the Absurd” and the first president of the Czech Republic, also a playwright, Václav Havel, who used it in one of his plays. This term then became very popular in connection with former Eastern Bloc countries. Even nowadays you might overhear the Czechs referring to the Czech Republic as Absurdistán on many occasions.
I’m quite surprised the country with the highest beer consumption in the world has contributed only one word to this area. The pale lager got its name from the city of Pilsen (Plzeň).
Author: Dagmar Wiesnerová