The Polish Butcher

On a warm July evening we sat in the garden of a friend’s summer house. In the growing darkness the only illumination was a lamp on the wall of the cottage, which acted as a magnet for insects from the local forest. Moths and flies flew in circles while beetles and bugs crawled up the cottage wall towards the source of light.

I noticed something huge…slowly making it’s way up the wall…and now it was only a few centimetres from my friend’s head. I had to warn her.

Emm, Ola…uważaj bo blisko twoja głowa jest ogromny koń polowy.

(Look out Ola because there’s a huge field horse near your head).

She looked surprised, but turned around to see what I was referring to. Realising that it was only a harmless grasshopper, she started laughing, ‘Kon polowy!’ and the rest of the group started giggling too.


In English we have an idiomatic expression to butcher a language, i.e. to cut it into pieces until there’s just a big mess. Well, I’ve been butchering Polish for years…changing the word order, inventing completely new expressions, combining words that shouldn’t be combined, adding sounds to the pronunciation of words and using expressions in the wrong context. What’s left after this butchery is a bit of a dog’s dinner. Honestly, it’s never been my goal to speak perfect Polish, but to have fun interacting with Poles. I usually give them a good laugh.

Of course, when you want to warn someone that a huge bug is about to jump on their face, it’s useful to use the right vocabulary. Saying that a horse (koń) is climbing the wall instead of a grasshopper (konik polny) helps to get the listener’s attention…even if it doesn’t convey the correct level of danger.

But these mistakes are logical. I mean, I knew that the Polish word for grasshopper was related to a horse! And it was such a big grasshopper than the diminutive konik just didn’t do it justice. So, there’ some rational behind my butchery…I hope.

For instance, when someone says dziękuję, I always respond with proszuję. I prefer it when one expression mirrors the other.

Or with the word order in the sentence nic się nie stało… even when 55,000 Polish football fans are singing this in the National Stadium, I still can’t get the word order right. Switching the order of nie and się, I always say nic nie się stało. But, Polish word order is supposed to be flexible, isn’t it? … so don’t blame me if I take liberties.

Then there are words into which I add additional sounds…they just sound better to my ears. Most often this involves adding the letter z into words connected to animals:

  • pajęczy-z-na (pajęczyna / spider’s web)
  • ro-z-pucha (ropucha / toad)

Finally, Polish has too many comparative expressions and I only have enough free memory space for one…which happens to be the shortest and simplest: jak bela (as a bale) which is used in the expression pijany jak bela (drunk as a bale)

Now I compare everything to a bale:

  • szybki jak bela (fast as a bale)
  • zimno jak bela (cold as a bale)
  • lubić kogoś jak bela (to like someone as much as a bale)

and just assume that the listener understands that I mean ‘a lot’ or ‘very’.

So I butcher Polish…which works for me… but that’s not good news for those around me.

I live in Poland and interact in Polish around 90% of the time. The consequence of this is that my Polish skills improve, while the Polish of those I interact with gets worse!

Those friends from the summer house also use the expression kon polowy from time to time.

And my wife got so used to jak bela that she started to use it herself. Now we both use jak bela. It’s a nice shortcut, but, technically, her Polish is now worse.

So I invite you to start using jak bela too.

I wait for the day when it spreads out into society and I hear it in everyday situations. For instance, when I visit the doctor and he or she says, after completing the medical examination, that I’m zdrowy jak bela or when I’m watching football on TV and the commentator says Rasiak walczył jak bela.

I’ll be able to laugh and say…hah!…I started that…that’s my creative butchery!

13 thoughts on “The Polish Butcher

  1. Płakałam ze śmiechu czytając ten blog. Nie ma nic lepszego na poprawę humoru!!! Każdy tekst przeczytam z pewnością jeszcze raz i wykorzystam na zajęciach angielskiego ( jeśli autor blogu oczywiście pozwoli).
    Pozdrawiam i liczę na więcej genialnych tekstów .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so genius! Those words got stuck in my head… pajęczyzna. I love playing with language but non native polish speakers have so much more creativity!
    My friend invented word “polemikować” which I love. It came from polemika (noun) because logically a verb “should” sound “polemikować” not “polemizować” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just remembered when one of my korean professors said:
    – wołowina
    – wieprzowina
    – drobiowina…
    Not easy.

    Polish being flexible still doesn’t mean we have no rules…
    “się” just doesn’t like to be at the end of the sentence but you cannot start a sentence with that. Plus it likes to be close to the object of the sentence.

    So you will hear:
    Wkurzyłem się – OK (you cannot start with się).
    Ale się wkurzyłem – OK (you can move się because it will not be the first word and not the last).
    Ale wkurzyłem się – Wrong.
    Wkurzyłem się na nią (OK – there is something after się).
    Ale się wkurzyłem na nią – Weird. Keep “się” with the object (at her)
    Ale się na nią wkurzyłem. – Great.

    Another example: Uczy się. On się uczy (never “on uczy się” – I would ask: What? What he learns?).

    So: Coś się stało. Because “coś stało się” is wrong (not last).
    Nic się nie stało (as się is close to the subject and not last)
    Also: “Nie stało się nic” is OK. Alone is a bit unusual/lyrical and we usually put subject first (nic się nie stało is so common that we use it without thinking) but you can still say: Nie stało się nic złego = Nic złego się nie stało.

    two “się” become one.
    Uczyć się + modlić się = Uczę się modlić (weird example, sorry).

    More advanced się problems are a matter of personal taste:
    Nie mogę się doczekać imprezy vs. Nie mogę doczekać się imprezy.
    Both are correct.

    Sorry, I wanted to keep it short but it is a big comment now. I don’t want to teach you and just mention that we do have some rules.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nie stało się nic złego = Nic złego się nie stało…for some reason if there’s lots of 3-letter words in the sentence (nic, się, nie), I get the word order mixed up. Verb + się – no problem.
      Thanks for the clarification (and lovely anecdote about your Korean professor)!


  4. You are butchering Polish and I am butchering Hungarian! Last week when my Hungarian teacher asked me what I wanted her to bring me from Hungary, I said “savanyúság” which means “kiszonki” but then I started saying that actually maybe it’s not a good idea because they are heavy and difficult to carry. She was pretty confused because she heard “sovány újság” which means, literally, a thin newspaper.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s