How to understand Serbian phrases

>>To understand Serbian (Croatian and other ex-Yu languages), knowing the grammar, orthography and words just isn't enough. There are many phrases which come from cult movies, comic books or, most often, jokes. There are maybe a dozen such cult movies, a few comics (actually, one: Alan Ford) and a thousand jokes. I'll try to make a vocabulary of such phrases, along with the oldest version I can dig out of the joke where it originates. For the comics and movies, I'm not sure how much of YouTube links I can find. Any help is welcome - send them to drfairday chr(64) geemail period com.

last refreshed 04/09/2015 11:18:17 AM

(enough of this, get me back)

Phrase Meaning and notes Source Translation
ajd' odatle, bre get away from there, bro Duet Pešić-Krančić, neke davne godine, kod Minimaksa u "Od glave do pete".
These two elders and the old folk song of half-mocking nature have this final lyric in each stanza, which took a life of its own and became something to say to anyone who's talking rubbish.
ako kaniš pobijediti, ne smiješ izgubiti if you mean to win, you must not lose

[You can use this one whenever you discuss someone's strategy. I've seen it quoted in a serious magazine, in a piece about next elections.]
  Another memorable translation of Alan Ford, by Nenad Brixy
ako me se sete, sete if they remember me, they remembered me
Said about anyone who engages in something, hoping to be noticed and perhaps awarded (a position or a prize). In the movie "Balkanski špijun", the quote begins with "and on the Security Day, ...".
ako smo dobri, puste nam i vodu if we behave, we also get water [in it] Ludaci iz Kovina i Vršca se na svom godišnjem simpozijumu hvale kod koga je bolje.
Vrščani: svaki dan dobijemo kuvano, kreveti lepi mekani, a kad smo dobri puste nas u bazen.
Kovinčani: isto i kod nas, samo nas svaki dan puštaju u bazen, a kad smo dobri puste nam i vodu.
Asylum inmates from Vršac and Kovin brag at their annual convention.

Guys from Vršac: we get cooked food every day, the beds are nice and soft, and if we behave they let us into the swimming pool.

Guys from Kovin: same here, but we get to use the pool every day, and if we behave we also get water in it.
bolje živjeti sto godina kao milijunaš, nego sedam dana u bijedi it's better to live a hundred years as a millionaire, than seven days in poverty! This is from the Alan Ford comic. The character saying this, Bob Rock, is always full of big plans and does take steps to make them real, and fails, of course.
bubreg radi kidney works (say it while pointing to your head)

(this used to be popular in 60s-70s, along with all the other asylum jokes)
Na ispitu za puštanje iz ludnice, jedan tačno odgovori na sva pitanja.
- Svaka čast, sve je tačno. Kako ste to uspeli?
Ispitanik se kucne po slepoočnici i kaže
- E, bubreg radi
At the exam to leave the lunatic asylum, one patient answers all the questions correctly.
- Congratulations, everything is correct. How did you achieve that?
The examinee taps his temple with a finger and says
- Heh, the kidney works.
ćuti i plivaj shut up and swim

said when someone complains, specially about outside factors
- Ali, tata, Australija je jako daleko...

- Ćuti i plivaj!
- But, dad, Australia is so far away...

- Shut up and swim!
čini ti se, zbog frizure it only looks so to you, because of the haircut mušterija mesaru: imate li svinjsku glavu?
mesar: čini vam se samo, zbog frizure
customer to butcher: do you have a boar's head?
butcher: it only looks so to you, because of the haircut
dobro je što ne laje it's [a] good [thing] that it's not barking

said to anyone who's curious about the origins of something weird
- mama, kako to da si ti bela a ja crn?

- bolje ne pitaj... kakva je to žurka bila, dobro je što ne laješ
- mom, how come you're white and I'm black?

- don't ask... what a party it was, it's a good thing you aren't barking
dok objasniš... until you explain... Beži zec iz Bosne, i samo požuruje skeledžiju.
- evo, idemo, čemu tolika žurba?
- u Bosni štroje medvede.
- pa ti si zec!
- e, dok objasniš da nisi medved, odoše jaja.
A rabbit is running away from Bosnia, and keeps rushing the ferryman.
- ok, we're going, what's the rush?
- they are castrating bears in Bosnia.
- but you're a rabbit!
- eh, until you explain that you are not a bear, balls are gone.
drži se za četku he's holding to the brush

this borderline surrealistic proverb is rarely used, but if you get into the spirit of things, you'll find the right moment to use it
Ludaci u dvorištu ludnice gledaju molera na merdevinama kako farba prozor. Jedan predloži da mu izmaknu lotru pa će on da padne. Drugi to odbije, ovaj neće pasti, "jer se drži za četku". Lunatics in the asylum yard watch a guy on a ladder painting a window. One suggests to yank the ladder so he'd fall. Another dismisses it, the guy won't fall, because "he is holding to the brush".
dugo ti i trajo long it lasted [in your hands, eh]

said when something breaks/vanishes too soon
Tražila deca od Muje da im kupi neku igračku, a on umesto toga obeća da će dobiti brata. Porodi se Fata, rodi klinca, mali štogod poraste i braća krenu da se igraju s njim. Jednog dana, pita Mujo decu

- Gde vam je mali?

- Upao u bunar!

- E, dugo vam je i trajo!
Kids asked Mujo to buy some toys. He promised, instead, that they'll have a brother to play with. Fata gave birth, the kid grew up a little and the brothers now played with him. One morning, Mujo asks the kids:

- Where's the little one?

- Fell into the well!

- Eh, long it lasted to you!
evo mene opet here I come again

said when you haven't been to the place for a number of years
Imo Lala šešir i nosio ga dobrih petnaest godina. Šešir se sav ofucao, te reši Lala da kupi nov. Ode u isti dućan, i s vrata kaže "Evo mene opet". Lala* had a hat, and wore it for fifteen long years. The hat got all worn out, so Lala decided to buy a new one. He went to the same shop, and said at the door "Here I come again"

* Lala (literally: tulip) lives in Banat - between Hungary, Romania, Danube and Tisa; generally fat, speaks slowly and with long accents, his wife Sosa is generally willing (with the neighbor) while he isn't really eager; always clears his debts.
gledaoci sa jeftinijim ulaznicama spectators with cheaper tickets

i.e. the uninformed, those not in on the secret, those who didn't follow the narrative from the beginning
iz Alana Forda, gde Bob Rok spominje ovu frazu kad god ga stave u 122. red pa ne vidi ništa From Alan Ford, where Bob Rock mentions this phrase whenever he gets tickets for 122. row and can't see a thing.
hrani svinje i ne diraj ništa feed the pigs and don't touch anything

(actually, the joke is already at Feed the pigs as a programming joke.

This is usually said to anyone who's messing with machinery and shouldn't, or to describe the machinery as maintenance-free.
Lansirali Muju u orbitu sa tri svinje. Nakon nekoliko krugova oko Zemlje, zvoni neko zvonce, svinje otvaraju fijoku, vade koverat, otvaraju, nalaze unutra uputstva, i krenu da postupaju kako piše. Preprogramiraju računar, koriguju orbitu, proveravaju instrumente.

Nekoliko krugova kasnije, opet isto - otvaraju fijoku, vade naredni koverat, čitaju uputstva, rade kako piše: preprogramiraju računar, koriguju orbitu, proveravaju instrumente itd.

Pita se Mujo, ko je bre ovde šef? Ko je viši oblik života?

Na sledeće zvono, skoči on prvi do fijoke, otvara koverat, a uputstvo kaže:

"Mujo, hrani svinje i ne diraj ništa".
Once they launched Mujo into orbit with three pigs. After a few orbits around the Earth, a certain bell rings. The pigs open up a compartment, take out an envelope, unwrap it, find instructions inside, and start doing as they read: reprogram the ship's computer, adjust the orbit, check the scientific instruments etc.

Few orbits later, the same happens - they open up a compartment, take out another envelope, read the instructions, do as it says: reprogram the computer, adjust the orbit, check the instruments etc.

The guy starts wondering - like, who's the boss around here? Who's the more advanced life form?

Next time the bell rang, he jumps to the compartment, opens the envelope, and the instructions read:

"This is for you, Mujo: feed the pigs and don't touch anything"
i tata bi, sine so would daddy, son

A good reply to anyone who engages in wishful thinking.
The fun begins around 2:45... as the passengers from the bus get to attend a local funeral along the way, the newlyweds sneak out to have a quickie in the forest, and then they all come to watch them. The imbecile son of the bus owner says "daddy, I'd like to do this too".
jelda ona naša lepša? ain't it that ours is prettier?

you can say this whenever you spot something nice, one of which you already have
Krenuli Lala i Sosa u šetnju, nedelja pre podne, lep dan, mnogo sveta... nailazi jedna seksi riba u miniću i mazno dobaci "Ćao, Lalo!".
Sosa: ko ti je ova?
Lala: to mi je švalerka.
Opa! Ovom se nije nadala, ne zna šta da kaže, ćuti i misli dal' se ovaj zeza ili... kad nailazi druga, isto tako seksi i utegnuta, pa će isto "Ćao, Lalo!".
Sosa: a ko ti je ova?
Lala: to je kumova švalerka.
...
Sosa: jelda da je ona naša lepša?
Lala and Sosa took a walk on a sunday morning, nice day, lots of people... and there goes one sexy chick in a tight mini and calls "Ciao, Lala!".
Sosa: who was this one?
Lala: that's my mistress.
Wow! Sosa didn't expect him to be so open, maybe he's kidding, so she says nothing... but there goes yet another, just as sexy and tightened up, and goes the same "Ciao, Lala".
Sosa: and who's this one?
Lala: that's my kum's mistress.
...
Sosa: ain't it that ours is prettier?
još od prvog vagona as early as from the first car

said to one who discovers he's being mocked, just to let him know when it really started
Došao Lala na železničku stanicu i pita otpravnika gde je voz za Kikindu. Povede ga otpravnik na peron, a tek će ti Lala:

- Je l ide ovaj vagon za Kikindu?

- Ide.

Dođu do drugog vagona, a Lala:

- A ide li ovaj vagon za Kikindu?

- Ide, naravno.

Krene otpravnik dalje svojim poslom, a Lala ga spopade kod svakog vagona istim pitanjem. Ovom to najzad dojadi, pa ga pita:

- A ti to mene kanda zajebavaš?

- Ta još od prvog vagona!
Lala came to the railway station and asked the dispatcher where is the train to Kikinda. The dispatcher takes him to the train, then Lala goes:

- Is this car going to Kikinda?

- It does.

They get to the second car, Lala goes:

- And this car, does it go to Kikinda?

- Yes it does, of course.

The dispatcher goes on his business down the train, and Lala asks him the same question at each car. He finally gets fed up and asks:

- Are you sorta screwing with me?

- As early as from the first car.
kao mali mačak like the little tomcat

said when someone is imitating the big guys, willingly or not
Krenuli mačori da karaju mačke, i jedva nekako prime i malog mačka u društvo. Verali se celu noć po krovovima, posmrzavali se skroz, al' mačaka nigde. Neka doba kaže mali mačak "ja sam dosta jebo, mogu kući?". Tomcats went to screw cats, and reluctantly allowed the little tomcat into company. They climbed the roofs all night, froze their asses off, but found no cats. At some point the little tomcat says "I had enough of fucking, may I go home now?".
krenula me karta my cards started going well

Googling the phrase returned 1,2 million hits. So I didn't have to retype the joke from memory :)
Haso otišao u Englesku da zaradi malo para, te se uskoro stvarno vrati s puno para. Pita ga Mujo kako je zaradio tolike pare.
- Pa kartao sam poker, kaže Haso.
- Ali ti slabo kartaš poker!
- Ma u prvoj partiji, kad sam tražio da vidim karte od onoga što je rekao da ima poker, on mi je odgovorio da se kod njih igra na savjest i poštenje. E, od tada je mene krenula karta!!!
Haso went to England to make some cash, and soon really returned with lot of money. Mujo asks how did he earn so much money.
- Well I played poker, says Haso.
- But you play poker badly!
- In the first game I asked to see the hand of the guy who said he had a royal flash, and he answered that they play by consciousness and honesty. Then my cards started going well!!!
mani tebe leave yourself [out]

...because you also aren't shortlisted
Baca i Živa ogovaraju celu ulicu i na kraju
- bokte mazo, svi svakakvi i kojekakvi, jedino ti i ja smo za nešto
- a, mani tebe
Baca and Živa (two most common nicknames for Lala) gossip about everyone in their street, and in the end
- god spread you, everyone is such or other, only you and I are good for something
- ah, leave yourself out...
maziću ga i paziću ga i zvaću ga Đorđe I'll pet him and cuddle with him and call him George



Said to anyone (or anything, like an expensive car or phone) when it is due to be assigned preferential treatment.
kaže se kad nekom (ili nečemu, naprimer skupljem autu ili telefonu) sledi poseban tretman. I know it's an american toon, but the translations and specially the voices of Đuza Stojiljković (as Duffy) and Nikola Simić (as Bugs) have long ago achieved cult status.
možda ste dobili pogrešan broj, ali ste dobili koga ste tražili you may have gotten the wrong number, but you got who you were looking for From "Balkanski špijun" (Balkan spy). The guy is suspecting everyone around, specially his tenant, and this is how he reacts after a few wrong number calls.
na kanal! on the channel!

said to anyone looking for a free expert advice or technical help
Žalio se jedan da mu je kamilac spor. Ode kod majstora, ovaj kaže "na kanal"... nateraju kamilca na kanal, a ovaj uzme dve cigle i raspali kamilca po mudima. Kamilac zaždi sprintom a ovaj će "a kako sad da ga stignem?". "Na kanal!". Channel in this context is the pit under the car where the mechanic works, as in the case of the slow camel, where the fix was to get the animal "on the channel", and ti have its balls hit by two bricks from each side. The camel sprinted away, and its owner asked "how do I get to it now?". "On the channel!".
ne talasaj don't make waves

May be said to anyone who may disturb the political status quo, no matter how small the politics.
Stigao jedan u pakao i tamo ga strpaju u bazen s govnima, dubok tačno do usta. Kaže on susedima "čuj, pa ovo i nije tako loše, kako sam se bojao".

Odgovor: "Ne talasaj"
A guy arrives to hell and gets to stand in a pool of shit, deep exactly to the mouth. He comments to his neighbors: "hey, this isn't as bad as I feared".

Answe: "Don't make waves!".
nema ni bicikl doesn't even have a bicycle Zaustavi pajkan Muju i krene da mu proverava biciklO - ni zvonceta, ni svetla, ni mačjeg oka, ni kočnica...

- Pa tebi sve fali! Ovo ima da bude poprilična kazna. Šta se smeješ?

- Saće naić' Haso, on nema ni biciklo. Koliko ćeš tek njemu da naplatiš...
A cop pulls Mujo over and starts going over his bicycle - no bell, no light, no rear light, no brakes...

- That's quite a list, it's going to cost you a big fine. Why are you laughing?

- Haso is coming behind me, and he doesn't even have a bicycle. Just thinkin' how much will you charge him...
ni pisma, ni razglednice no letter, no postcard - Bolan Mujo, što ti je, pa si tako potišten?
- Šuti bolan Haso, silov'o me medvjed!
- Uh bolan, nezgodno! Pa je l' boli?
- (uzdah) Čuj, kako ne bi boljelo? Prođoše dvije nedjelje, ni pisma, ni razglednice...
- Mujo, bro, why are you in such a sad mood?
- Don't ask bro Haso, I was raped by a bear!
- Oh, bro, that's bad... Does it hurt?
- (sigh) Look, here, how wouldn't it hurt? Two weeks passed, no letter, no postcard...
nije bilo neslano it wasn't unsalted

whenever the silent one finally starts speaking
Mali Đetić do šeste godine nije govorio, a onda jednom za ručkom reče "a đe je so". Zašto dosad nije govorio? "Pa nije bilo neslano". The little Montenegrin wasn't speaking until age of six, and then once during lunch he said "and where's the salt?". Why didn't he speak so far? "Well it wasn't unsalted".
odlikaši, sine, odlikaši. A students, son, A students.

Said to onyone ogling a sexy girl, or complaining about school, having bad grades.
Sin donese knjižicu sa dosta kečeva. Otac ga odvede na ribanje.
- Jel' pušiš?
- Ma jok, ponekad jednu-dve sa društvom.
- Šta pušiš?
- Nišku "moravu".
- Izem ti nivo. Evo ti mali Bora, na, zapali. Piješ?
- Nee... ponekad na žurci, jedno pivo.
- Pivo? Evo ti viski, popi bre. Jel' gledaš ribe?
- Pa ono, malo iz "Starta".
- "Starta"? Joj, ko te napravi. Drž ovaj "Plejboj". Otvori duplericu.
- Auu... ko jebe ove slatkiše?
- Odlikaši, sine, odlikaši.
Son brings lots of bad grades from school. Dad takes him to some rubbing.
- Do you smoke?
- No. Well, one or two sometimes.
- And what do you smoke?
- "Morava" from Niš.
- Some level. Here, take a mali Bora (Marlboro). Do you drink?
- Nooo... sometimes, at a party, one beer.
- Beer? Here's a whisky, have one. Are you looking up chicks?
- Well, some, a little, from "Start" [magazine].
- "Start"? Ouch, who made you... Grab this "Playboy". Open the centerfold.
- Au... who fucks these cookies?
- A students, son, A students.
pali, ide starts, goes

Said about anything that just works, no bells nor whistles.
Iz malog oglasa, negde iz '92: "Na prodaju fića, 260 DEM. Pali, ide."

A classified ad from about 1992: "Fića on sale, 260DEM. Starts, goes."
That would be about 130€ or $175. Fića was the national small car, made by Zastava until about 1981, derived from Fiat 600, long before they made the Yugo.
pominjanje šumara mentioning the forester
whenever a dispute is not quite serious or is a fake fight, someone will mention that the forester should/will/may come.
"I tako mi udri odovud, Nemci odonud. Juriš mi, pa juriš oni, pa tako ceo dan."
"I kako se to završilo?"
"Došao šumar i rasterao nas."
"And so we hit from this side, and Germans from the other, then we charged and then they charged and it took all day."
"And how did it finish?"
"The forester came and ran as all out."
popiti štiklu
popiti nogu
to drink a [high] heel
to drink a leg
što se ranije zvalo "šut karta", tj noga u dupe; ukratko, dobiti odbijenicu/odjebenicu Previously this was called "kick ticket", i.e. kick in the ass. To be refused or just told to fuck off. The high heel version is when coming from a lady.
radimo na tome we're working on it Krajem šezdesetih, kad je Politika imala trač rubriku, pitali čuvenu friško udatu nerotkinju Lepu Lukić da li planiraju da imaju dece. Odgovor "radimo na tome" je ostao zapamćen, u samom jeziku. In the late sixties, when Politika newspaper had a gossip column, they asked the newly wed, childless celebrity folk singer Lepa Lukić whether they plan to have children. Her response "we're working on it" (phrase stolen from the current politicians' lingo) was memorized in the language itself.
samo tetki da odnesem lek just let me take the medicine to my aunt This is from "Balkan express". It begins around 0:55, when the Gestapo guy turns his attention to Bora Todorović, who first confirms he's a musician, then denies it, then...
sjeti se, bolan, sjeti se remember it, bro, remember

Usually mentioned while purposedly looking at the nearest wall.
Uhapsili Muju kao stranog špijuna. Mučili ga danonoćno, al' ništa im nije rekao. Onda mu ubace kameru u ćeliju, da vide hoće li se odati nečim. Kad imaju šta da vide: udara Mujo glavom o zid i ponavlja "sjet' se bar nečeg, budalo, sjet' se" Mujo was arrested as an espionage suspect. He was tortured day and night but they couldn't get anything out of him. Then they installed a camera in his cell to see if he will mutter anything to himself. They saw him banging his head against the wall, repeating "remember it, bro, remember anything!".
šta ćito, odo! what [do you mean] read [it], walked [over it]!

[whenever you want to say you have more than indirect experience on the matter]
- Mujo, jesi ćito "Na Drini ćupriju"*
- Šta ćito, odo!
- Mujo, did you read "The bridge over Drina"?
- What, read? Walked!
tko vrijedi, leti
tko leti, vrijedi
tko ne leti, ne vrijedi
who flies, is worthy
who is worthy, flies
who doesn't fly, isn't worthy
Another one from Grunf... mostly pointless and irrelevant, so it is quoted when someone says something that's true but useless.

From the italian original:
chi vola, vale
chi vale, vola
chi non vola, e vile
tri četr sad three four now
The common cue to start something on it, whatever two or more people should do synchronously. Usually there's a second's distance between the words.
  We can only assume this used to be counted from one to five, and was shortened to this. Nobody remembers any other way, and everyone knows this way. No explanation, no source.
vidjet ćemo, što bi rekli slijepci we'll see, as the blind would say

Short for "we'll see"
  Pronounced in Croatian (Serbian would be "videćemo, što bi rekli slepci"), quoting Brixy's memorable translation in Alan Ford comic.