The world is full of politicians who deliberately (or even unwittingly) try and effect language. Historians give countless examples of witless (or even intelligent) political schemers who have made their mark on language. Either through the coining of new compounds, bizarre collocations, alternative set phrases and mixed metaphors or through commentary about politicians by observers are we forever introduced to a variety of odd constructions that sometimes bubble and sink in the linguistic melting pot or float to the top like unwanted excrement refusing to disappear.
Poland’s politicians are no different and are busy at work trying to stamp their authority on the Polish language. I was filled with linguistic glee (whatever that is!) when I learned that Roman Giertych, of ultra-catholic, right-wing fame, won his battle for the re-introduction of uniforms in Poland’s primary and high schools because of the fact that some people have begun calling these uniforms Giertyszki or Romanówki – a great example of Polish’s delightful penchant for possessive–diminutives. This also reminds me of Borówki (which also means ‘berries’) referring to the team of people closely associated with Marek Borowski, leader of the SDPL.
However, what really drew my attention to the linguistic shenanigans of Poland’s political classes was Transubstantiation in which we find the following examples of political gobbledygook:
łże-elity, bure suki, lumpen liberałowie, wykształciuchy
All these words are usually uttered with venom (or bile, take your pick) and are generally always directed at politicians of the ‘liberal persuasion’ (don’t say it out loud – this is Poland) by members of Law and Justice (PiS). Anyone who belongs to any sort of elite, intellectual grouping, academic team or is a
liberal (struck out to make it less offensive) can be classed as one of the above. As Transubstantiation tells us (but with additional commentary of my own) łże-elity are the ‘lying elite dogs’; bure suki is another subtle reference to dogs and it generally means ‘drab dogs/bitches’ (how nice!); lumpen liberałowie is a classic and shows the disdain with which PiS views liberalism – these are the ‘lowly liberals’, the ‘uber-scum of Poland’; the final one wykształciuchy is a brilliant perversion of the word ‘educated’ giving it a contemptuous coating. I’ve heard it used to refer to academics and journalists who refuse to be vetted by government authorities.
Whatever you think, you can’t say that politicians don’t have the gift of the gab. Yes, they’re ill-mannered, unfriendly and unethical, but they have the ability to make me smile when I hear the verbal garbage they use. The phrase that seems to have the greatest political (and statistical) currency in Poland at the moment is IV RP which has nothing to do with Received Pronunciation but is an abbreviation of czwarta Rzeczpospolita or ‘Fourth Republic’, a fantasy utopia coined by Poland’s President Lech Kaczyński to imply a new state that aims to cut all ties with the (post-communist) ‘Third Republic’ (1989 and onwards). The idea is interesting but has met with little support outside government circles leading to the even newer concept of the ‘Fifth Republic‘ put forward by Lech Mażewski.
We certainly do live in interesting times.