Bok! All you need to know about the Croatian greeting
by Tea. Blazevic
Whilst we know that sometimes it can be hard to say ‘goodbye’, who would think saying ‘hi’ in Croatian was not as simple as it seemed.
‘Bok’ or ‘Bog’, depending on whom or where someone greets you, is ‘hi’ in Croatian.
Where did Bok come from
There are many theories where the word ‘bok’ originated from. One of those theories is that it is an abbreviated derivation of the archaic Austrian salutation ‘Mein Buecken’ (bow). In Austro-Hungarian Zagreb that was usually accompanied by the gesture of topping one’s hat.
Another theory claims that ‘bok’ is connected to old salutations such as ‘Bog te pozdravi’ (God says hi), ‘Bog daj’ (God give), ‘Bog’(God) or from the term for farewell ‘Zbogom’ (With God).
Leaving the dispute about the origin and usage to the professionals, we decided to explore the B-word as it is used in Zagreb.
Textbook ‘bok’ [bok]
‘Bok’ is usually considered as an informal way to say ‘hi’, ‘hello’ or ‘bye’ (‘dobar dan’ and ‘doviđenja’ is more formal) and although it can be heard in other parts of Croatia (pronounced both ‘bok’ and ‘bog’) it is more characteristic for Zagreb and surrounding areas. In Croatian ‘bok’ also means ‘side’ or ‘flanks’.
Check out the audio of a textbook bok here
In Zagreb, you can hear variants such as bok bok or bok bok bok. Risking sounding like an angry chicken might pay off if you want to say hi to an acquaintance passing by while you are in a hurry and can’t really stop to chit-chat.
Yawn style ‘bok’
Totally different in sound and style is boook with a prolonged o lasting approximately as one proper yawn. This style can be used to say hello to a friend you have seen already that day (thus stressing the fact you have already met previously), or some other reasons that make you want to yawn the word.
‘Ej bok’ – raising of the eyebrows is a must [a: bok]
There’s probably a million reasons to use ‘ej bok’ but if ‘ej’ is stressed it might be used with the moment of surprise (for example you see someone you know at a concert but you are a little bit surprised to see them there) and accompanied with raising eyebrows. Might be followed by ‘Što ti radiš ovdje’ or ‘Otkud ti’ (what are you doing here). It can also be used if you really feel good about meeting someone, then you will probably add a smile to the eyebrow-word combo.
‘Aj bok’ – works like scissors [i:bok]
‘Aj bok’ has a moment of putting something to an end quickly (like ‘that’s it’, ‘I have to go, see ya’) or trying to leave a bit quicker avoiding long goodbyes. It can also be used as an ending to a fight when someone disagrees and sees no end to a dispute or is angry and wants to leave asap (like ‘piss off’). For example, someone has a bad relationship and a friend advises that it should be finished, or someone has had an offer that must be refused. (Ex. ‘They offered me 500 kuna for the job that is at least 100 kuna worth, ma ‘aj bok’…’).
They say that for a long time young Zagreb girls had a monopoly on ‘bokić’. But then boys (mostly in Split and Dalmatia) started using it to make fun of these girls during the summer holidays. So today ‘bokić’ will be used when you want to mock typical ‘purger’ (from Zagreb) girls talk.
‘Ciao, pusa, bok’ [bok]
There are as many ‘boks’ as there are people using the word. You can create your own ‘bok’, combine it with other words such as ciao or frequently used pusa (kiss) (for saying goodbye among close friends), mix it up with a lot of love and serve it to the world as you wish.
When to avoid ‘Bok’
When you are using the B-word just make sure you don’t use it with people from Turkey because in Turkish bok means ‘sh**t’. If you say ‘bok’ to a Hungarian, they will think you are giving them a compliment, whilst a Dutch Afrikaans speaker might be left with the impression that an antelope or goat is approaching.