They say that Eskimos have 77 different words for snow. It’s probably an urban myth, but, since snow is part of their everyday experience, I’m sure they have a lot of words to describe it.
If something is important to a particular culture, then it’s natural that they develop a rich vocabulary to discuss it.
In British English, for example, we have at least 77 words to describe drunkenness (pissed, plastered, rat-faced etc) and your level of drunkenness (tipsy, merry, paralytic etc) – it’s a common feature of our everyday experience.
So I wonder what’s the Polish equivalent? What is so important to Polish culture that a broad and nuanced vocabulary has evolved to describe it?
Here’s one possibility.
In a bar where I used to eat lunch everyday, the menu is pinned to the wall and as the queue approaches the counter, you have time (but not much time) to read the menu and choose what you want to order. The challenge (except on Fridays) is to understand the difference between various types of meat.
This bar regularly serve the following:
On a typical day, the menu includes 5 of the above meat choices plus one vegetarian option. What’s the difference is between zraz, bitki and bryzol? Aren’t they all just pieces of meat? Well, one day the menu actually included sztuka mięsa…so no zraz, bitki and bryzol aren’t pieces of meat because ‘piece of meat’ is another menu option!
Because there’s not much time to make a decision, I usually play safe and order kotlet. That’s the challenge with learning words for food – you learn by experience, but when you’re hungry, it’s not the time to take a risk.
Also, with unknown foods, I usually make a judgment based on the sound of the word. Bryzol, for instance, sounds like a product for cleaning the bathroom, zraz sounds like a sports injury, and bitki sounds like what’s left on the field after a battle. Sorry, but I have 30 minutes for lunch before I’m due back at my desk, just give me a kotlet with potatoes!