Quirky Polish#1 – Saigon

The beauty of a language is that they evolve – words get attached to meanings and sometimes no one knows why. The expression sticks and every one uses it, but no one questions why it’s used.

That’s one of the joys of learning a foreign language – you come across such curious expressions for stuff.

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So here is one of my favourite bizarre Polish expressions:

Saigon

To był kompletny saigon!

Poles use this expression when a situation or place is in a total mess or upheaval, a good English translation would be ‘disaster zone’.

Now there are some expressions that come with a date stamp, you know exactly in which period of history they come from.

Obviously, this expression came into being during the Vietnam War when Saigon wasn’t looking its best. So sometime during the late Sixties or early Seventies when the Vietnam War was in the news, some Poles started using the word and it caught on.

I often hear Poles in their 20’s or 30s using this expression even though they weren’t even born when the Vietnam War took place!

Jokingly I ask them why they haven’t updated the word, i.e. chosen a more freshly bombed out city to describe a messy situation. Why not Bagdad or Grozny? But then again, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

If you’re Vietnamese, wouldn’t you find this expression would be a little offensive? Imagine another culture that heard about the destruction of Warsaw during World War II and it became common in that language to use the word ‘Warsaw’ to describe something that is a total mess. ‘The event was a complete Warsaw‘. Not exactly good PR.

5 thoughts on “Quirky Polish#1 – Saigon

  1. I think that the expression “Sajgon” in Polish refers not to the bombing of that city but rather to the frantic and chaotic evacuation of American and South-Vietnamese personnel when the Ho Chi Minh army was approaching. I hope that “Syria” will not come into use. It would be indeed offensive to use a tragedy of that scale to just make the language more expressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m too young to remember when ‘sajgon’ came to be used in this sense in Polish, but I suspect it was influenced not directly by news of the Vietnam War, but by the Hollywood portrayal of it. In any case, I do think this usage is offensive and I make a point of avoiding it.

    Liked by 1 person

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