The Polish language can be quite challenging and sounds to many like a string of countless consonants that are difficult to pronounce, interrupted only occasionally by vowels. In today’s article on Poland we would like to introduce you to the funniest names, expressions and tongue twisters that the Polish language has to offer. And don’t worry, you don’t have to know Polish for that!
The right greeting
When you meet someone from another country and are interested in their language, the first thing you often ask is what “hello” means. In Polish it means the same as “hello”, simply cześć (“tshesctshtsh”) and that’s probably the point most people lose interest in the Polish language already. Many wonder how something as simple as hello can be so complicated. Good thing that there are some alternative expressions:
- Siema – Hi (abbreviation of “jak się masz”, meaning “how are you”. Great, so you also asked how the other person is doing)
- Hey – Hi
- Czołem – Hi
- Co tam? – What there? (like: What’s new with you?)
- Elo – Hello (Hip-Hop slang)
How to greet a priest
The famous Polish hand kiss fits to these expressions by the way only conditionally and you would not welcome a dignitary like this. And did you know that a priest in Catholic Poland is not greeted with a good day (dzień dobry)? Instead, you say “God’s blessing” (szczęść Boże, spoken “shtshentsh boshe”) and receive “God repays” (bóg zapłać, bug zapwatsh) as an answer. But since szczęść is even more difficult to pronounce than cześć, a meaningful nod of the head is sufficient.
Money, money, money
Money (pieniądze) is of course also important in Poland. And for money there are many funny expressions in Poland:
- Flota – Fleet
- Hajs – coal (from the German word “heiß” for “hot”)
- Forsa – Gravel
- Kasa – Cash
- Siano – Hay
- Sałata – Salad
- Szmal – narrow thing (from the German word “schmal”)
And not only that: The Polish language is also quite creative when it comes to money. A cash machine is called for example ściana płaczu, thus Wailing Wall. If one begins to cry there, then one probably “took nothing with on the hill” (brać coś na górkę), thus saved or a bad business made and “squeaks of poverty” (piszczeć z biedy).
By the way, foreigners in Poland tend to struggle with money and numbers. This is mainly because there is almost nothing that is as difficult to decipher as numbers in Polish. I once saw a five-volume work in a library with the beautiful name “The Declination of Polish Numbers”, no joke. An example? The Polish currency is called Złoty. You say 1 Złoty, but 2 Złote. And from 5 Złote you suddenly say Złotych, so you use the genitive plural. But of course only up to 22, then you use the nominative plural again, so 22 Złote. And so on …
Ever heard of the film “Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową” (“How I Unleashed World War II”)? Probably not, but in Poland the comedy from the year 1969 is quite famous. The adventures of the protagonist Franciszek Dolas include a scene that shows the pitfalls of the Polish language more than any other. In this scene Dolas is captured by the Nazis and then taken to an SS interrogation. The German official then has to take Dolas’ personal details and fails already because of his name Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz – not to mention his place of residence!
A visit to the stadium
I still haven’t understood why the Polish league is called “Ekstraklasa”, because the “digging” (kopanina) there is definitely not extra class. But one thing is for sure, the fans are absolutely world class and the atmosphere in the stadium is unique.
What birds have to do with hooligans
The Polish language distinguishes between boring fans, the “picnic visitors” (piknikowcy), who are often referred to by their first name Janusz. Why, is still not quite clear to me. Real fans are called lapwings (kibice) by the way. The word has been adopted from the German language, because the bird kibice is actually called Czajka zwyczajna in Polish. Probably it often breeds near the stadium, otherwise I can’t explain it. A fan who overdoes it with the love for his team is called pseudokibic, by the way.
And one who makes a stadium visit “experience-oriented”, i.e. becomes violent, is called kibol. At the top of the picture you can see that the fans of Lech Posen proudly call themselves “Kibolski Klub Sportowy”, i.e. a hooligan sports club.
Drunk as in a Russian tank
Vodka (wódka) and beer (piwo) are not to be missed at a Polish party, of course. But what happens if you overdo it a little bit? The following expressions are used in Poland when you say that someone is drunk:
- Trzeźwy jak świnia – sober as a pig
- Pijany jak w ruskim czołgu – drunk as in a Russian tank
- Najebany jak szpak – fucked like a siskin (yes, please excuse the expression, and no, I don’t know why exotic birds have to be used again and again for language pictures)
- Zachlany w trupa – covered up like a corpse
- Najebany jak Messerschmidt – fucked up like a Messerschmidt airplane (sorry again …)
The end of the world – the Polish language knows it
The contrasts between city and country can be quite stark in Poland. Therefore, the Polish language knows many expressions to describe a lonely, remote or boring place. Here are some of the most beautiful ones and their English translation:
- Tam, gdzie psy dupami szczekają – Where dogs’ asses bark
- Tam, gdzie prąd zawraca w kablach – where the current in the cables reverses
- Tam, gdzie raki zimują – where the crabs hibernate
- Tam, gdzie wrony zawracają – where the crows turn back
But I find the most beautiful expression in the following:
- Tam, gdzie diabeł mówi dobranoc – where the devil says good night
On the bucket
There is hardly any other area where the Polish language is as rich as in the conduct of daily business. In other countries people usually just say toilet. The word toaleta is also used in Polish, but these expressions are simply much nicer:
- Kibel – Bucket
- Sedes – Toilet seat (actually “seat” from Latin)
- Klop klop – Toilet (attempt to imitate a gossip sound)
- Śmierdziuszek – Little smell
- Sracz – Shiter
- Tron – Throne
Mysterious signs on the door
Even the first visit to the toilet in a restaurant can be a challenge. This is due to the mysterious signs on the doors. Or would you know spontaneously whether a circle is a symbol for a woman or a man? And what does the triangle mean?
Kurwa – the most important word of all
The word kurwa (hooker) is familiar to everyone who has ever had a beer with a Pole. It is the most exciting word that the Polish language knows. Why? Well, it is simply universal and can be used as a verb, noun, adjective or punctuation mark as needed. Which word can say that about itself?
Actually it is used like the German word “scheiße” or the English word “fuck”. You can use the word kurwa just as a small gap filler when you are angry as well. But you can also express your admiration and respect. Then you say “o kurwa”. And depending on which prefix or ending you add in Polish, you make kurwa a verb or adjective and say that you want to go to the toilet, want to kill someone or something is beautiful. Great word, right?
W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie
No, don’t worry, I didn’t fall asleep while writing the headline and banged my head on the keyboard. The expression really exists! When I tell Poles that I know Polish, the reaction often is “Do you already know this tongue twister?” and the almost unpronounceable sentence comes over their lips like a simple “hello” (which in Polish as described above means “cześć”, i.e. “tsheshtshtsh” and is also problematic).
But what is the horror sentence about? Well, it is actually quite sweet and harmless: “In Szczebrzeszyn the beetle sounds in the reeds” is its translation. It is part of a children’s poem by Jan Brzechwa and stands like no other for the pitfalls of the Polish language. You want to repeat it? Very simple, here is the transcription in English: “W Sctshebshescynje Chshonshtsh bshmi w tshtshinje”. Everything clear? Here is a video with the whole poem:
Polish exit – in Polish
Perhaps you know the meaning of the phrase “Polish departure” – that is, to go Polish and not say anything to anyone, an expression used in Germany. But how do Poles really express themselves when they say goodbye? After I taught you how to say hello, there must of course be a section on saying goodbye. Sure, you can just say cześć to say goodbye, but it can also be more creative. The Polish language knows so many nice expressions for this. “I’m falling” (spadam) goes, but also “We’re flying to Szczecin” (lecim na Szczecin), if you are not alone. But not only is flying in Poland, you can also just “disappear” and then say zmykam.
And if you know somebody well, just say papa. If you know someone well, but you’re angry with him or her, then just say pa with a strong emphasis. Sometimes the Polish language is quite simple.
And in contrast to the “Polish departure” that is supposed to be imputed to the Poles, people in Poland tend to say goodbye several times – to ensure that it is noticed. There must be at least three or four expressions when saying goodbye. The important thing is to rattle them off one after the other as quickly as possible. That way you show that you really know the Polish language. In this sense: trzymaj-się-na-razie-cześć-hej-papa.
You do not know the polish language yet? Then take a look at my phrase book Kauderwelsch Polnisch Slang*, which I published a few years ago at Reise Know-How Verlag. Here you can get to know many other Polish expressions and learn to speak in a way that you will definitely not be taught in any course, but need to know German to understand it, since it is in German.
You know other funny Polish words and phrases? Write them in the comments!