84 Abbreviations, Phrases and Euphemisms

Every language has many idiomatic phrases, constructs that have unexpected meanings. Generally they cannot be translated from language to language.


The following words have often-seen abbreviations, which do not change through cases and singular/plural. Abbreviations having more than one letter end with a period (.), and one-letter abbreviations do not:

sath (!)"hour"
sveti, svetasv.adj. "saint"

Therefore, while in English you would see "1 pc" ("piece"), "2 pcs" ("pieces"), in Croatian it's always 1 kom. (1 komad), 2 kom. (2 komada) etc.

Many abbreviations common to the metric system are also often seen, such as m (metar), kg (kilogram), etc.


A few often used phrases have standard abbreviations:

phraseabbr.meaning (Engl. abbr.)
na primjërnpr."for example" (e.g.)
to jesttj."that is" (i.e.)
i tako daljeitd."et cetera" (etc.)
takozvani adj.tzv."so-called"

I have included tzv. here, it could be included in the previous table as well.

Furthermore there are some phrases where words are always used together but meaning can be easily deduced:

postavim pitanje "pose a question""ask a question"
položim ispit "lay down an exam""pass an exam"
prëma tome "according to that""therefore"
u ime + gen. "in the name of""on behalf of"

There are some phrases involving 'modal' na + acc., that translate to English adverbs:

na brzinu "on speed""hastily"
na sreću "on luck""luckily, fortunately"
na vrijëme "on time"(same as the English phrase)
na žalost "on regret""unfortunately, regrettably"

They are sometimes spelled as one word (e.g. nažalost).

Some other phrases having completely shifted meanings are:

Bogu iza leđa "middle of nowhere"
grom iz vedra neba "out of the blue"
imam i ovce i novce "have cake and eat it"
nalazim (~ nađem) zajednički jezik "find a common ground"
mačji kašälj "nothing serious"
na licu mjësta "on the spot, immediately"
ni pet ni šest "without hesitation"
ostavljam (~ ostavim) na cjëdilu "leave out in the cold", "betray"
ostavljam (~ ostavim) na miru "leave alone"
pao s Marsa "without a clue", "without any prior knowledge"
prëpušten sam sebi "left to his/her own devices"
punom parom "full steam"
spajam (~ spojim) kraj s krajem "make ends meet"
špansko selo "something completely unknown"
u (punom) jeku "in full swing"
trn u oku or trn u peti "thorn in one's side"
živim na visokoj nozi "spend lavishly, have extravagant lifestyle"

This is just a short list, there are many other phrases.


Euphemisms are words or phrases that are used instead of something we cannot say openly for some reason. For instance a verb preminem "pass away" is used instead of umrem, umro, umrla, umrijëti "die". Also, when someone dies, reasons are seldom said clearly, a phrase nakon kratke/duge i teške bolesti "after a short/long and serious illness" is used instead.

It's worth noting that Standard Croatian has different verbs used with meaning "die" depending on who dies. For people, umrem, umro, umrla, umrijëti (or preminem), but for animals crknem should be used instead. However, many speakers use just umrem in all occasions.

Note that Croatian has relatively few Bible-based phrases, despite Croats being traditionally Catholics.

Updated 2014-08-22 (v. 0.4)


Anonymous said...

I find your comment of the Bible playing a minor role in Catholicism to be highly problematic. It is, after all, the Catholic Church that wrote the books of the new testament, selected which books would belong there, preserved it through the work of countless monks and translated it to almost every language on the planet.

Anonymous said...

What about "fali mu daska u glavi" etc.? I feel this section should be huge... :-)

Daniel N. said...

You are right. I will add the phrase. However, I cannot add all phrases, the most often used must have priority.

Anabonana said...

That bothers me that you would say the Bible plays a minor role for Catholics and that religion, therefore there are not a lot of phrases from the Bible. My entire family in Croatia and the ones in Hercegovina have always read the Bible and it has always played a major role. The Bible and scripture is read every day and my uncle who was a priest always stressed the importance to read it every day. I think this maybe a generalization. To read the Bible is an individual decision whether Catholic or Protestant. You don't even need that on your blog though since it could really be subjective.

Hvaljen Isus or Hvaljen Isus i Marija with the reply of "za uvijek" is the major greeting in my area.

Daniel N. said...

You might be right. However, compared to English, there are not so many Bible-related phrases. Any English speaker will recognize "my brother's keeper", but most Croatian speakers would not.

Your family is obviously devoted, and you have a priest in family. You might be more familiar than others.

I think the better way to state it is that Bibles in Croatian were not common at all until 20th century. There were some in 19th century, true, but they were no widely distributed.

This is an overview in English (from a slightly Protestant perspective): http://hrcak.srce.hr/file/38574

I'm personally uninterested in the issue (I'm not considering myself a Christian in any sense), but I think I will remove the statement to avoid further complaints.

However, from my experience, very few people in Croatia actually read the Bible. I know many people who own one, but have never opened it. I know just by reading a book in English (or watching a movie) how English has more Bible-related phrases than Croatian.

lp Daniel

Anonymous said...

Hi, is there a colloquial expression for good luck? Something similar to the Italian "in boca al lupo"?

Daniel N. said...

Not really, you would just say "sretno".

Daniel N. said...

Or "srećom", "nasreću"...

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