From A to Š: A Guide to Serbian Phrases and Idioms (Part 2)

Young Serbian people laughing and drinking coffee

Did you take time to read our first article on idioms and phrases in the Serbian language? If you still haven’t come across this article, we recommend you take a look before you read this one.

We know you’ve been impatient – so we’ve also been busy bees and prepared the second part of Serbian phrases that everyone needs to know before deciding to visit Serbia. 

Let’s dive in!

N - Napiti se ko majka

To get as drunk as a mother (literal)

Motherhood in Serbia doesn’t come along with the bottle of rakija, as it may seem from this Serbian phrase. However, when someone is very, very drunk, we will say that they are as drunk as a mother.

There’s an explanation: in old times, when women were in labor, there was nothing to ease their pain, so nurses and midwives had to give them some alcohol to ease the pain and make the labor more tolerable. 

Pogledaj kako hoda, pijan je kao majka. – Look at the way he walks, he is as drunk as a mother.

Mom holding a baby and smiling
Sober mom 🙂

NJ - Njakati kao magarac

Bray like a donkey (literal)

Do you know those people with irritating voices that you can’t stand listening to? In our experience, they’re, in most cases, the ones who can’t stop talking, like, ever – and for them, we’d say that they are braying like a donkey. 

It’s insulting in Serbian, so be careful; you don’t want to say such a thing to someone you’re not close to.

Ne mogu da te slušam, njačeš kao magarac!I can’t stand listening to you, you’re braying like a donkey!

O - Obrati zelen bostan

Harvest a green watermelon (literal)

Imagine a situation: you’re a teenager, and you’re waaay past your curfew, hanging out with your friends. Your parents don’t know where you are, and your phone is dead. What awaits you back at home? Obraćeš zelen bostan (You’ll harvest a green watermelon.)

So, this is an unpleasant situation: a person is in huge trouble, and there’s nothing they can do to save themselves. In most cases, the trouble appears in the shape of a parent, spouse, or some other person you’re gravely afraid of.

Opet si pijan, žena će te ubiti kad dođeš kući, obrao si zelen bostan! – You’re drunk again, your wife will kill you when you come home, you harvested a green watermelon!

This guy probably harvested a green watermelon 🙂

P - Prebiti ko vola u kupusu

Beat (someone) like an ox in cabbage (literal)

Beat someone pretty hard. In most cases, the parent will say it to their oh-so-beloved child after minor mischief.

Prebiću te kao vola u kupusu ako ne središ te igračke! – I’ll beat you like an ox in cabbage if you don’t sort out these toys!

R - Ružan ko lopov

Ugly as a thief (literal)

Okay, we know that there are many very attractive and good-looking thieves (just remember Ocean’s Eleven – yes, that’s what we’re talking about). However, this hasn’t much to do with physical appearance, it’s about ethics and mental traits.

For Serbs, morals and honor are very important, and everyone who doesn’t respect them is considered an ugly person. So, we don’t have attractive burglars such as the ones in Ocean’s Eleven or Money Heist – ours are ugly, old, and probably smelly. 

You’d use this case if you want to describe your friend’s ex-boyfriend.

Ne znam šta je videla u njemu, ružan je kao lopov. I don’t know what she has seen in him, he’s ugly as a thief.

S - Svetog Petra kajgana

Saint Peter’s scrambled eggs (literal)

If you’d bought a Rolex watch, Chanel bag, Dior dress, and hand-made perfume from France and checked the bill – you’d see that it’s still cheaper than Saint Peter’s scrambled eggs. So, these eggs are expensive beyond imagination. Expensive, like, only Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates may afford them. 

In the eyes of an average Serbian man, it can describe every dress his wife ever bought.

Opet si kupila novu haljinu, verovatno je koštala kao Svetog Petra kajgana. You bought a new dress again, it probably cost as much as Saint Peter’s scrambled eggs!

T - Tresla se gora, rodio se miš

Hills were shaking, a mouse was born (literal)

We use this idiom to describe the situation when someone is making a big deal out of nothing. The equivalent of that in the English language would be “to make a mountain out of a molehill”. A typical scenario in which we hear this phrase:

– Jaoo, 100% neću položiti ovaj ispit! – I am 100% sure I am going to fail this exam!

– Tresla se gora rodio se miš! (we can respond like this to someone complaining about failing the exam but we are sure they studied and are actually going to pass).

Ć - Ćutati kao grob

Be as silent as a grave (literal)

If the situation is normal, the grave is usually silent. If it isn’t, stop thinking about Serbian phrases and go find help, someone has to save that poor man!

No, we don’t want to give you some creepy ideas – but in Serbia, when you say that you’ll be as silent as a grave, it also can mean that you’ll keep someone’s secret to the grave.

Ne brini, ćutaću kao grob. Don’t worry, I’ll be as silent as a grave! 

U - U sitna crevca

In the small intestines (literal)

When something is examined very carefully and explained in all the minor details, Serbs will say that it is done u sitna crevca

For example, it’s the way we at GoSpeakSerbian are examining and explaining the Serbian language. 🙂

Sjajan ti je domaći zadatak, analizirao si problem u sitna crevca. – Your homework is amazing, you analyzed the problem in the small intestines!

F - Fale samo od popa uši

Only the priest’s ears are missing. (literal)

The place where everything can be found if you look long enough, e.g., a woman’s bag. In that small purse, she can put everything. Literally, everything, like there are five lipsticks, her phone, tissues, an additional pair of shoes, a notebook… Well, whatever you can imagine – but not the priest’s ears.

Who knows what she keeps in there? 🙂

H - Hajde Jovo nanovo

Come on Jova, again (literal)

Poor Jova, he is like a Serbian Sisyphus. He keeps doing the same thing over and over again, and he fails every time. When he finally succeeds, everyone forgets about him.

So, when you fail, you say Hajde da probamo ponovo! (Let’s try again!), or Hajmo Jovo nanovo

Opet nisam položila ispit. Pa, dobro, hajmo Jovo nanovo. – I failed the exam again. Well, okay, let’s try again!

C - Cvetaju mu ruže

His roses are blooming (literal)

He is a lucky bastard! Everything goes well, everyone is happy… And that’s when we say that the roses are blooming. 

See? Serbian phrases for beautiful situations also exist!

Dobio je novi posao, oženio se, cvetaju mu ruže. – He got a new job, he got married, and his life is just a bowl of cherries.

Č - Časna reč

Word of honor (literal)

The most important word a Serb will ever say to you. If someone in Serbia promises something to you, saying Časna reč, that promise won’t be broken. 

Časna reč!

DŽ - Dža ili bu

Okay, we don’t have a translation for this one. Dža or bu? Not helping, we know.

This phrase means everything, but at the same time, it means nothing. Fun fact: nobody, even in Serbia, doesn’t really know what it means. 

We’re not quitters, so let’s try to explain:

You have to make a choice between two possible solutions. Let’s say the question is, will you go out with your friends or stay at home watching Netflix? 

In this case, dža would be going out, and bu is Netflix. So, you need to choose between dža and bu. Also, it’s pretty expressive, and the person that is saying that to you is probably already annoyed you still haven’t made up your mind.

Hoćeš li da izađemo napolje ili da ostanemo kod kuće? Hajde, odluči se, dža ili bu!Do you want to go out or stay at home? Come on, decide already, dža or bu!

A couple watching Netflix
It was a BU 🙂

Š - Šta bleneš ko tele u šarena vrata

Why are you staring like a calf stares at a colourful door?

An illustrator and artist Zmajast has a perfect drawing of this idiom. By now you already know that Serbian parents use all the juicy and colourful idioms to scold their children. This is another idiom like that. Teachers in Serbia like it too. They use it whenever a student cannot answer a question and responds with that blank, lost stare. 

Pokaži mi gde je na karti Francuska. Hajde, šta bleneš ko tele u šarena vrata. – Show me where France is on the map. C’mon, what are you staring at?

As you can see, Serbian phrases and idioms are beyond interesting. At first glance, many of them don’t make much sense, but if you conduct research and find out something more about Serbian traditions and history, you’ll see how much of that is kept in language.

You don’t have to be all alone on that journey – we’re here to help, to further explain these Serbian phrases, and learn new ones. Sign up for our Group Serbian Conversation lessons, and you’ll sound like a native in no time!

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