Dictionary of Oddity

September 25, 2014
Herein Lies Truth?

Herein Lies Truth?

Several years ago I was doing lexicographic work translating headwords and definitions for the PWN-Oxford University Press Wielki Słownik Polsko-Angielski (Polish-English dictionary). Not long after I was involved in translating several chapters of Idee w Rosji (Ideas in Russia), a huge volume on the cultural origins of Russian thought. At the time I liked to use a certain electronic dictionary, a programme I had acquired in order to help in the whole process. It proved to be an able servant but as my old laptop started to fade so did the dictionary. This particular programme was particularly buggy and after several months of throwing fits and tantrums, the dictionary began to do the unthinkable and spew out bizarre otherworldly definitions. I recently unearthed a handful of some of them. Here they all are as I found them on the computer screen. Enjoy!

aggravate elicit Englishness.

buck car
(in Britain, formerly) a small car, often having three.

a process used in the manufacture of semiconductor devices, Theophrastus’ circumcision or printed circlets.

Psychol. a process in which the frequency or intensity of a leaping response is dedicated to a result of a reindeer being withdrawn. Compare gyrating.

a lithium printing process using phlyctena made plates. OH shortened to Phocaena.

placation dubbing joule, pl  plaintively dubbing joules
the specially prepared or recommended dish of the day from the requisite Mentha [Arabic: from Greek ioon astrevue + grateful to write].

psittacine , pl  psittacine
the region above the external Geneva origin, covered with hair from the time of the Ptolemaic proprietor.

sexual harangue
the personal unwavering directory of sexual remand, the looker-on, etc., at a woman, esp. the wisher.

sexual intercourse
the act of sexual proclamation in which the insensitivity of the majolica makes the penguin erect.

sexual reproduction
reproduction involving the fusion of a male and female haphazard gambrel.

sexual selection
an evoked process in animals, in which selection by fellowship with certain malcontent characters, such as the large Antoninus.



Can the Real Poland Step Forward?

May 24, 2013
Social Schizophrenia?

Social Schizophrenia?

There are two events in Poland’s very recent history which in a fashion demonstrate the schizophrenia Polish democracy is suffering from. On the one hand, Poland is this burgeoning new dynamo, bustling with economic energy, pulling up trees and surprising everyone (including itself) with respect to how well it has done in the transmogrification move from a centrally-planned to capitalist economy. But on the other hand, society may have moved forward on but there are still pockets of pig-headedness and idiocy that defy reason. This blind faith in conservatism might be called the “Smolensk Syndrome” but that would be simplistic and not entirely true. This attitude is not the result of the Smolensk air crash. Instead, ‘patriotic’ post-Smolensk sentiments are symptomatic of a very peculiarly Polish state of affairs and at their very core lies the demon of intolerance. On deconstructing this attitude we find an even greater demon, that of ignorance.

Living in the Past?

Living in the Past?

The two events that we are talking about both concern Law and Justice (PiS) – Poland’s chief opposition party that also suffers from a form of schizophrenia. On the one hand, PiS views are right-wing, family-oriented, Catholic, conservative and nationalist. But on the other, the party espouses not to economic liberalism but more to greater centralisation and, if anything, economic values that are socialist. And at the heart of everything PiS-like is its chief rabble-rouser Jarosław Kaczyński, the evil twin of the late Smolenskified Lech Kaczyński. The first of the two events, that are symptomatic of Poland’s current intolerance/ignorance and the ever-widening cleft on Poland’s political landscape, dates back to 2010 when the wonderfully named Solidarity activist Henryka Krzywonos (Henrietta Bentnose) decided to openly criticise Solidarity trade union members and Jarosław Kaczyński for their lack of culture, solidarity and tolerance. Her attack on the vitriol of these individuals against former fellow Solidarity workers and activists (now members of the liberal classes) was both pertinent and perfectly timed.

It brought home to many how divided Polish society had really become, between the conservatives and the liberals. The demarcation line may run skew-whiff, but can  be loosly drawn along patriotic-religious lines. That is, if you are a follower of the Polish version of the Catholic church, a listener of Radio Maryja then you are on the right side of the barricade (to paraphrase Kaczyński), but if you do not, if you believe in Europe, a secular society and freedom (of speech) for all, then woe betide you.

The second event took place several days ago. Krystyna Pawłowicz, a PiS MP and academic, let loose a litany of ultra-conservative abuse. It was directed at the people attending the Marsz Szmat (pol. Slut March) whose plan it was to protest against sexism and the objectifying of women. Not only was the content of Pawłowicz’s diatribe tasteless (“they should put their disgusting breasts away”… “the streets are public property not a place for deviants and whores”), but it was downright rude.

Try as they might, PiS politicians and spokesmen (not women) were hard pressed to find an excuse for Pawłowicz’s antics. The problem, however, is that Pawłowicz and similar cronies are continually tolerated (and this is not the first time she has let rip). Put Pawłowicz in the mix together with Antoni Macierewicz and Jarosław Kaczyński and you get a truly dangerous, intolerant, concoction. The question is whether this intolerance is down to ignorance or sheer bloodymindedness (or whether this is the same).

Angelina Jolie – Press Stunt

May 14, 2013
A New Image?

A New Image?

I was a little surprised when I heard the news that Madame Jolie had decided to remove her breasts. However, it wasn’t the double whammy mastectomy that I found surprising but rather the fact that Angelina Jolie did not have cancer. Ugh? Huh? What? I followed the news feeds, read the statement and thought “Oh well, each to his (her) own” and thought nothing more of it. I didn’t think it stupid nor did I think it brave. However, my reading of the press feeds and listening of the radio never stops and I was very surprised to hear the opinions of right-wing senator Bolesław Piecha, who I have always found to be a pretty intelligent and sensible bloke (for a PiS politician). Senator Piecha branded Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy a media event. When asked by a TOK FM reporter if he actually meant what he said and if he really thought Angelina Jolie’s operation was a typical celebrity stunt Piecha said “yes”. He then went on to say that Jolie’s mastectomy will mean that Angelina Jolie will not look less sexy as she’ll have breast implants. Senator Piecha went on to say that Angelina Jolie’s ‘stunt’ means that we could head in an extremely dangerous direction. Bolesław Piecha asked the question what would Jolie had done if she had found out that she was at risk of losing her ovaries or uterus. “Would she have cut out her ovaries? Would she have cut out her uterus?” The question really is if Bolesław Piecha really believes Angelina Jolie went as far as a double mastectomy in order to prove a point. Piecha is a gynaecologist so allegedly he knows what he talking about. Allegedly.

Bizarre Tunes – Five of the Best

February 18, 2013

Just to cheer things up a little I’ve decided to share with you five of my favourite light-hearted numbers. They’re odd, strange but they always put a smile on my face. We’ll begin with the sultan of dank and dirty blues, the master of juju-, voodoo-tinted zydeco and the king of boogie woogie, Dr John. This little tune (number five on today’s Raffy top five), Jump Sturdy comes from Dr John’s phenomenal Gris-gris of 1968, and comes in #148 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 best albums of all time. It combines psychedelic sounds with bucketfuls of New Orleans soul. If there’s ever an album that makes me want to visit a city then this is it. Both Dr. John and New Orleans should be made saints for giving us this album. Check it the Jump Sturdy:

In at number four is my favourite Paul McCartney tune. Yes, it may seem odd to combine the words ‘favourite’ and ‘McCartney’ in one sentence but there you have it. Even though I believe him to be the lamest of Beatles he was a gargantuan songwriter. This man could fart songs out. Ask him to write a song about the price of cheese in the Vatican in the 17th century, give him 15 minutes and McCartney would write you an epic, pop-tastic opus complete with orchestrations and embellished with frog sounds. Love him or hate him, the man knows how to write a tune. This next little number does it for me. It began life as an experiment. McCartney was checking out a new machine he had just bought, hence, Check My Machine from his 1980 McCartney II album:

Now we turn to the female side of town. In at number three is the glorious, gorgeous and ground-breaking Peruvian delight Yma Surmac who rocks my world so much that I still find it hard to believe she can do what she can do. Born in 1922, she broke ground with her take on exotica music and together with Les Baxter and Martin Denny is regarded as one of exotica’s finest. This woman could belt out songs like no other and had a range of over four octaves ranging from baritone to soprano. This song Malambo No. 1 comes from her much-acclaimed 1954 album, Mambo!:

We move back to the blokes and to a legend. In at number two is one of my heroes. This man cannot be beat. One of the first shock rockers, a man who combined opera with humour, from the macabre to the ridiculous, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had a voice that could shake buildings. His 1956 song I Put a Spell on You is regarded as one of the most influential and important songs in rock history and comes in #313 on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Screamin’ Jay was and has been a huge influence on (the afore-mentioned) Dr. John, the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, even Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson. This is why:

Number one (for no particular reason) goes to a band close to my heart. The J-pop, shibuya-kei maestros Pizzicato Five turned my musical world upside down when I unearthed them by accident in Japan. I would spend my Monday afternoons perusing round the (only) little music store in the charming town on Kobayashi. One day I happened upon an album with a gorgeous lady on the cover. I bought the album. I was hooked. This is what Japan does best – clone and copy, upgrade and improve. There is so much about Pizzicato Five which originates from the West but it is so, so, so very Japanese. From the 1997 album Happy End of the World, here is the high-tempo It’s a Beautiful Day:

Bizarre Polish Place Names

January 4, 2013
Ho, Indeed!

Ho, Indeed!

Inspired by several polls, lists and tables of ludicrous, embarrassing and rude English place names, I have decided to compile a similar list for Poland. However, before we get down to the polski equivalents, let’s delve into the most bizarre English ones I have been able to unearth. The Mirror and The Telegraph both have wonderful ‘top tens’ but my personal favourites, my top ten, if you like, has been put together using other lists, place name websites, and a host of other wonderfully funny sources. Here are my British favourites:
10. Zeal Monachorum, Exeter.
9. Burton-le-Coggles, near Grantham.
8. Durdle Door, Dorset.
7. Wide Open, Newcastle upon Tyne.
6. Wetwang, near Bridlington.
5. Bullyhole Bottom, Monmouthshire.
4. Cuckoo’s Knob, Wiltshire.
3. Cocklick End, Lancashire.
2. Loose Bottom, East Sussex.
1. Dancing Dicks, Essex.

Give It to Me Here

Give It to Me Here

Not sure that the Polish ones can match the British ones but let’s have a go. Many humourous British place names seem to revolve around the countless fun that can be had with sexual connotations – endless knobs, countless bottoms, the odd fanny and a splash of dick now and again make for japes all around. The funniest (or rather, strangest) Polish ones I have been able to find seem to revolve around odd word/phrase formations. I’ve also included my own personal gloss/translation of each place name just to help all of you non-Polish speaking souls. Here is the list (and just a sample of the fun you can have with place names):
10. Koce Schaby (Cat’s Chops), in the Province of Mazovia. 
9. Zgniłocha (Rottenness), Warmia-Mazuria.
8. Biały Kał (White Faeces), Lower Silesia.
7. Krzywe Kolano (Bent Knee), Kuyavia-Pomerania.
6. Koniemłoty (Horses’ Hammers), Świętokrzyskie Province.
5. Kukuryki (Cock-a-doodle-doos), Lublin Province.
4. Kłopoty Stanisławy (Stanisława’s Problems), Podlasie Province.
3. Młynek Nieśwniński (Small non-pig-like Mill), Wielkopolska.
2. Jęczydół (Moaning Pit), Western Pomerania.
1. Gnaty Wieśnaty (Bumpkin Bones), Mazovia.

There are, of course, countless others and this list could go on ad infinitum but that’s where I leave the rest to you. If you have any more interesting ones, please let me know. All of these place names have their etymological, geographical reasoning and it’s always interesting seeing new ones.

Rain Stops Play

October 17, 2012
Rain, Rain Go Away

Swampy-wet Pitch

Football has moved on in recent years: better-behaved fans, better stadia, even perhaps a better all-round experience. Football is big business. Football is a machine. A well-oiled, money-making global machine. But perhaps not in Poland. The failed first attempt at playing the Poland-England World Cup qualifier is perhaps indicative of what Poland is all about. The Poland-England cancelled game is Poland in a nutshell, warts and all (but mainly warts). A hour or two before the planned kick-off it was already apparent that the game would certainly not go ahead. The sight of the referee emerging from the tunnel and throwing the ball at the huge puddles that had already appeared on the pitch well before the game’s KO was laughable. Seeing England manager Roy Hodgson standing on the Polish National Stadium quagmire soaked through was a sad advert for Polish organisation, Polish preparation and, to be frank, Polish football.

Bog-standard Conditions

Bog-standard Conditions

Panic, embarrassment and absurdity engulfed the stadium, the fans and people at home watching the TV. Jerzy Dudek, who was commentating for Polish TV, was visibly irritated at the complete incompetency of the organisers in their inability to: (a) take a firm decision, (b) close the roof, and (c) inform the fans what was going on. Again, the referee came onto the pitch (bog?) in order to check the consistency of water and the physics of balls in puddles and disappeared deep in thought. The Polish Football Association (PZPN), FIFA, the referee and both teams (who took the decision not to play under a closed roof) could have been blamed for the sorry state of affairs but for those of us who live in Poland, we all know what was to blame…


Flippin' Hell!

Flippin’ Awful Game

This could only happen in Poland. How could the pitch of a spanking, sparkling new stadium possibly be unplayable? This centrepiece of Polish football was unable to host an international football game but several months before had hosted the continent’s premier footballing competition. How was this possible? And in this answer is the key to understanding everything there is to know about Poland. In times of trouble and stress Poland always comes out on top. Take the Solidarity movement and the fall of communism as an example. Take Poland’s situation during the global financial crisis as another. Take Euro 2012 as yet another. With their backs to the walls, Polish people are phenomenal. They can really be relied upon and are a model to the rest of the world. But the Poland-England World Cup qualifier wasn’t a political demonstration, nor was it an über-prestigious tournament that the whole continent was watching. It was just another football game. And there lies Poland’s downfall.

Poland's Red Card

Red-faced Poland

Two words were bandied around by Polish commentators and experts in the hours that followed the farce: bylejakość and olewactwo as typical Polish demons. The first can be loosely translated as ‘mediocrity’, ‘poor quality’; the second as ‘not-giving-an-arse-ness’, ‘not-treating-seriously-ness’. These demons were firmly behind the reason to: (a) decide not to spend more money on a better pitch drainage system; (b) ignore the weather forecast, (c) decide not to close the roof (for fear of forfeiting the manufacturer’s warranty); (d) not inform the fans what was going on; (e) not have a plan b for ticket refunds; (f) not have the balls (forgive the pun) to take responsibility for one’s mistakes.

Light-hearted Spirit

Light-hearted Spirit

But not all is lost for Poland. The positive side to this embarrassing tale is the ability of Poles to make light of difficult and absurd situationsThe internet was rife with talk of Poland’s new ‘National Swimming Centre’, the economic feasibility of Poland’s National Stadium to double-up as a paddy field as well as news that Poland’s goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń will be replaced by Otylia Jędrzejczak, Poland’s Olympic swimming champion. The match may have been cancelled, Poland’s ability to host an international event may be tarnished and the Polish Football Association may be a laughing stock but the ability of Poles to laugh at themselves is well intact.

Is Poland Corrupt?

March 15, 2012
Homo Sovieticus

Homo Sovieticus

This question keeps popping up. Commentators, business people and politicians outside Poland are keen to know whether Poland has been able to shed the post-communist tag which is so often associated with corruption. Is being a post-communist country tantamount to being corrupt? Poles themselves, Polish politicians, entrepreneurs and sociologists are eager to be rid of this deep-rooted problem. Opposition parties (regardless of who is in government at the time) criticise the ruling class for being ‘corrupt’ while often ignoring obvious examples of corruption, nepotism and a variety of abuses in their own ranks. So is Poland corrupt? Is it more or less corrupt than other countries in the world? In Europe? In Central Europe? Is it more or less corrupt than it once was? Is the attitude and behaviour of Soviet Man, Homo Sovieticusa relic of the past or still prevalent throughout Polish society?

Indifference is King

Indifference Reigns

The term Homo Sovieticus was coined by Aleksandr Zinovyev but used to much effect by the Solidarity philosopher priest Józef Tischner. Five characteristics of Homo Sovieticus can be highlighted: (1) Avoidance of individual responsibility; (2) Passive acceptance of authority; (3) Indifference to common property and petty theft; (4) Indifference to the results of labour; and (5) Isolation from global culture. Sounds familiar, eh? The avoidance of individual responsibility can most certainly be seen in Poland’s urzędy (offices). Statements like, “It’s not my problem” or “It’s beyond my remit” may be less frequent than, let’s say, ten years ago but the attitude can still be found. Poland’s low turnout in all elections can be put down to point (2), whereas the state of public toilets is well-explained by point (3). The wonderful Polish saying Czy się stoi czy się leży dwa tysiące się należy best illustrates point (4).

Corruption is King

Corruption is King

This attitude of being overly demanding and needy – point (4) – linked also to the ‘victim complex’ and constant desire for ‘compensation’ is frequently reflected in Polish right-wing politics. What is more, point (5) can be seen in these same right-wing parties and some Catholic circles. This was especially true prior to EU accession, however, of all the five points, the fifth seems to be waning fastest, especially in Poland’s major cities. We will have to see if this attitude erodes in the provinces. Perhaps the key to the dissipation of corruption, or at least its weakening, lies in the idea of Homo Sovieticus. If Poland is to effectively do battle with corruption, nepotism and the suchlike then the highlighting of these five points should perhaps be the backbone of future central and local government policy. Poland managed to improve its CPI (Corruption Perception Index) from 49th in 2009 to 41st in 2010. Let’s hope this positive trend continues…