Strange Words

MazowieckiLanguage reflects the world around us and reading Kayla Hope’s Transubstantiation has given me a lot to think about. Two of the posts in particular. The first post (which you can find here) is about the – now infamous – words of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. What I found interesting was the fact that Mazowiecki never actually said the words “gruba kreska” but “gruba linia”. It may be of little concern to some people but I find it ironic that a phrase which has become so loaded was never actually uttered by the man everyone believes said it. To some the phrase “gruba kreska” (roughly translated as “thick line”) is a positive term which set out the politics of post-communist Poland, that is to separate previous communist governments from the newly-formed ‘free’ government that was headed by Mazowiecki. The idea was that all that was in the past should stay in the past and Poland should look to the future with all political factions working together. Of course, the idea of the “thick line” has been interpreted differently by others who believe Mazowiecki gave the communists carte blanche to do whatever they wanted and get away with past crimes.

PalikotThe second post on Transubstantition (to be found here) is about several neologisms that can be found on the billboards of every major town in Poland. The controversial Janusz Palikot of opposition party Civic Platform (PO) has decided to advertise his blog ( on these billboards. Part of the campaign has been to plaster the billboards with bizarre, yet amusing neologisms. The idea to translate them on Transubstantiation is brilliant and highlights the difficulty we have in translating terms from one culture into another. My particular favourite is “odwkurzacz” which is a combination of “wkurzać” (to annoy) and “odkurzacz” (vacuum cleaner) so it is something that sucks away stress, a ‘de-stressant’ or ‘anti-stressant’.

Poland has become a linguist’s dream in recent years with politicians and advertisers taking full advantage of their new found freedom. Terms like “gruba kreska” or “odwkurzacz” show the need for the Polish language to shake free of socialist linguistic shackles and communist newspeak and find a new voice. However, Poland’s politicians have shown their inability to rise to the challenge and their language and politics often seem to be worryingly similar to what we were accustomed to before 1989, note Speaker of the House Ludwik Dorn’s “łże-elity” (lying elites) or other examples given in a previous post here.

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