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!

annoying
aggravate elicit Englishness.

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

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

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 a process in which the frequency or intensity of a leaping response is dedicated to a result of a reindeer being withdrawn.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

photography
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.

 


Words of Love – Transexual TNT

June 22, 2013
Polish Tag Cloud

Polish Tag Cloud

I was out and about on the internet the other day looking for new Polish words which might inspire me to new heights of bilingual bliss and was mildly amused by the graphical interpretation that tag frequency clouds often provide. You often get useless alphabetical combinations of words that mean nothing, but every now and again you are afforded an interesting glimpse at the current state of the language. On Słowa na Czasie I found a wonderfully serendipitous lexical marriage: transeksualny trotyl which is a remarkably good summary of Poland’s recent problems. Transeksualny tops the tag frequency list because of the Polish media’s recent fascination with (and perhaps intolerance of) Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transgender (post-transitioned) member of Parliament as well as all things liberal and non-Catholic. Tolerance and Catholicism have become two very large sticks that various political groups use to beat each other with; largely unsuccessfully and without any hope of conciliation. It is therefore no surprise that transeksualny can be found in the tag cloud of most commonly used Polish words (also równość – ‘equality’ and szmata – ‘slut’) The second word of this lexical combination is trotyl (TNT) which has been frequently used in the Polish news to refer to suggestions that traces of TNT were allegedly found on the ‘Smolensk’ plane in which Lech Kaczyński and a host of other Polish VIPs died when their plane crashed. Smolensk (the word has come to signify a moment in time and a political state of being) has divided Poles into those that want to believe President Kaczyński was murdered (generally allied to Catholicism) and those that believe it was a tragic accident (generally allied to Liberalism). Transeksualny trotyl is work well in summarising the Poland of here and now.


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.


Poles Apart

December 21, 2009

Plight of the Eagle

Plight of the Eagle

After the previous post (click here) I was surprised by the serendipity in my choice of topic after I discovered an article in Dziennik about the state of the Polish language around the world. Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently published a report entitled: “The Situation of Polish People Abroad”. This is the most detailed report of its kind ever published and it paints a worrying picture for the future of Polish people and the Polish language abroad.

Radek On a Mission

Radek On a Mission

The report looked at thirty countries around the world, most of them European states. According to Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the purpose of the report is ascertain what particular problems affect the Polonia (the Polish community outside Poland) around the globe so that the Ministry can then implement a plan to help them tackle these difficulties.

South America Tops

South America Tops

In the report we find several important pieces of information. Firstly, the number of Poles living in each country, the number of Polish schools and the local state’s attitude and policy with regards to Polish people. The report shows that Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Sweden stand out as the ‘best’ countries for Poles to live in, that is their rights are respected most in those states.

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

However, in the other countries found in the report, Polish ex-pats and the Polish language have little chance for support. In France, Polish children may be surprised to learn that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising were one in the same and there was much anti-Semitic feeling during WWII; in Germany they are taught that Chopin and Marie Curie-Skłodowska were French.

United in Intolerance?

United in Intolerance?

This report, once again, shows us that any talk of European solidarity and tolerance is just that – talk. Actions speak louder than words, of course, and if we truly are committed to building a united Europe then it is probably about time to do away with nationalism and intolerance. This goes for ALL the countries of the European Union, Poland included. Pie in the sky? I hope not…


No Polish, Please

December 14, 2009

European Film Awards

European Film Awards

The European Film Academy Awards certainly don’t aspire to be anything like the Oscars. And they certainly aren’t. Once again, I had the pleasure of taking part in the event, this time in the Rhineland city of Bochum in the industrial settings of the Jahrhunderthalle. Although this post is not about my adventures swanking about with European film’s nobs and toffs, it does nicely set the scene for something which not only irked me but downright riled me.

Beautiful Düsseldorf

Beautiful Düsseldorf

I arrived in Germany on Friday afternoon and left Düsseldorf’s shiny new airport by a science-fiction-like shuttle service which looks something like a cross between an amusement park ride and a whizzing Star Trek space pod. Düsseldorf is a modern city slap bang in the centre of the sprawling Ruhr metropolis. The shuttle took me to the station and from there I caught the train to Bochum.

Multicultural Germany

Multicultural Germany

One of the many things that always strikes me about Germany is its ethnic mix, the cultural crucible that is so apparent in all of its urban centres. Waiting for the train I heard Turkish, Greek, a Slav language (perhaps Serbian?) and Arabic, to name but a few. As much as I strained my ears, however, not once did I hear Polish, although I could have sworn that many of the Rhineland denizens looked decidedly Pole-like.

No Poland

No Poland

I got to the the hotel. I smiled at the young blonde at the desk, the letters on her name tag shouted back at me: “Walczak”. “Are you Polish?” I enquired. “Half-Polish,” she said. She spoke a little Polish, had even been to Poland and Warsaw but conceded that Poland just wasn’t her cup of tea. It seemed a strange answer as it sounded more like an excuse.

Cleaning Away Language

Cleaning Away Language

A little later that day I heard the hotel cleaning ladies happily chirping away in Polish as I left my room for a wander. They were thrilled to hear me speak Polish and just as excited to talk to me about my adventures with the European Film Academy. We took the lift together down to the reception but no sooner did they spot reception than they reverted to a thickly-accented German. “Odd,” I thought.

Unwanted Gastarbeiter

Unwanted Gastarbeiter

This pattern kept repeating itself with Polish names and Polish people seemingly everywhere, yet every time they used Polish it seemed limited, stunted or somehow ‘not right’. The only real explanation seems to be the German attitude to the use of Polish. To my mind, Germany’s approach to the native tongues of ‘Gastarbeiter’, especially Polish ones, is nigh on fascist, with no real sense of European solidarity, something which the Germans, allegedly, pride themselves on.

Looking From Afar

Looking From Afar

This fact seemed all the more ironic when I stood, wine glass in hand (looking extremely suave in my dinner jacket), watching Europe’s top filmmakers, producers and actors, most of them German (due to the location of the event), clap, cheer and ‘bravo’ Andrzej Wajda, Krystyna Janda, Maciej Stuhr and Marcel Lozinski during the film awards ceremony. Is pluralism really only an elitist idea or is it an elistist cover-up?


Black Madonna

July 16, 2009
Faith & Family
Faith & Family

Many thanks to my good pal Jim for giving me the heads up about this text. It’s a great piece about the life of the post-war Polonia, that is the Polish people who came to the United Kingdom after World War II (as part of the UK Polish Repatriation Act) as opposed to those Polish people who have come to the UK post-EU accession. I’m ‘posting’ the text in full (copyright The Guardian 2009):

As a child growing up in Derby in the 60s I spoke Polish beautifully, thanks to my grandmother. While my mother went out to work, my grandmother, who spoke no English, looked after me, teaching me to speak her native tongue. Babcia, as we called her, dressed in black with stout brown shoes, wore her grey hair in a bun, and carried a walking stick. She was the hub of our household – she could cook Polish delicacies, play Chopin on the piano and make paper storks. I adored her.

My father, Jerzy, had escaped from Poland after the Germans invaded, travelling on foot across Europe to England, where he became a pilot in the RAF. At the end of the war, he met my English mother at a dance organised by my maternal grandfather to help lonely young Polish pilots. In 1957, he arranged for my grandmother, Maria, who was living in a tiny flat in Warsaw in increasing distress under the privations of communism, to come to the UK.

Like other Polish families in the area, we spent our weekends in the vast Polish club that kept our community’s culture alive. My father helped to establish Dom Polski (Polish House) in the 1950s and it was known as the air force club because the founders were pilots. It provided a focus for all those old comrades and their history. I remember one woman at the club who had a concentration camp number tattooed on her arm, and another whose husband and daughter got off the train transporting them to Siberia to buy bread, only for the train to leave without them. She never saw them again. There were people who had been taken east through Russia as slave labour, others who were taken west to provide a workforce for German farms and factories.

The walls of the club were covered with black-and-white photos of Polish pilots, and a huge propeller from a Spitfire was fixed to one wall. On Saturday mornings my sisters and I would study Polish at the school it ran, and on Saturday nights, my parents would go dancing. On Sundays, we played tombola there over lunch.

But my love affair with Polish culture began to fade when I was five – the year Babcia died. We had been so close that when she was dying, her last words were to ask that I should be looked after. I couldn’t believe she was dead, and went from being confident and cocky to a very quiet child.

Without Babcia’s childcare, my mother had to give up her full-time job and take part-time work in a school across the road. I was placed in the reception class and, accustomed to being at home alone with Babcia, I hated it. I don’t remember making a conscious decision, but in shock I refused to speak Polish until I saw Babcia again.

My sisters and I continued to go to Polish school, but the language would not return. Despite the efforts of my father, even a family trip to Poland in 1965 could not bring it back. When six years later my father died too, at just 53, our Polish connection almost ceased to exist. I left Derby and went to university in London. I never spoke Polish, never ate Polish food nor visited Poland. My childhood was gone and almost forgotten.

Then in 2004, more than 30 years later, things changed again. A new wave of Polish immigrants had arrived and I began to hear the language of my childhood all around me – every time I got on a bus. I saw Polish news-papers in the capital and Polish food for sale in the shops. The language sounded so familiar yet somehow distant – as if it were something I tried to grab but was always out of reach.

In Derby, Dom Polski had closed down. The building was decaying and up for rent; the old soldiers and air force men were almost all dead, and the second and third generations too busy to worry about it. But my memory had been jogged. I began to write a novel about a fictional Polish family and, at the same time, decided to enrol at a Polish language school.

Each week I went through half-remembered phrases, getting bogged down in the intricate grammar and impossible inflections. When my book was published, it put me back in touch with schoolfriends who like me were second-generation Polish. And strangely, in my language classes, I still had my accent and I found words and phrases would sometimes come unbidden, long lost speech patterns making a sudden reappearance. I had found my childhood again.

Joanna Czechowska

Her book, The Black Madonna of Derby (or Goodbye Polsko) is published by Silkmill Press.


Magna Graecia

April 26, 2009

Italian Greece

Italian Greece

As many of you may have guessed by now, I have an unquenched curiosity for history and minority languages. Whilst on my travels, I had the august pleasure of visiting the city of Lecce in southern Italy and driving around the surrounding area (namely the pennisula of Salento) and the easterly parts of the province of Puglia. What strikes one about this area is its glorious natural beauty, breathtaking in a very literal sense; its delectable food and wine; and exquisitely rich culture.

Grecìa Salentina
Salento is a hidden gem for a number of reasons. Santa Maria di Leuca, the picturesque little town at the tip of the pennisula, witnesses the meeting of two seas: the Adriatic and the Ionian and, in a sense, symbolises the history and heritage of Salento. The Adriatic has always been equated with the Romans, the Italians and their respective cultures whereas the Ionian with the Greeks and their culture. Salento is a meeting of these two cultures.

Greek Union

Greek Union

κατεπανίκιον Ἰταλίας
The southern part of Italy, including Salento, had been colonised by the Greeks since the 8th century BCE, although some sources claim that there was a Greek presence in Italy as early as the 7th century BCE. Southern Italy was a part of the Byzantine Empire for several centuries and, as such, experienced a large influx of Greek speakers. The Catepanate of Italy, as it was called, then witnessed the formation of a distinct Greek community.

Griko-Κατωιταλιώτικα
Although Salento is now thoroughly Italian, traces of its former Greek culture permeate to the surface. In several villages that lie between the city of Lecce and the town of Maglie, a dialect of Greek is still spoken today nearly a thousand years after the end of the reign of the last Italian Catepan, Mabrikias, in 1069. The Griko language centres around nine towns (united together in the Unione dei Comuni della Grecìa Salentina) in which some of their inhabitants speak Griko.

Minoranze Grike dell’Etnia Griko-Salentina
As always, numbers vary but there are said to be between 10,000 and 15,000 speakers of Griko (this includes Grecìa Salentina and Grecìa Calabra, in Calabria). Grecìa Salentina comprises the towns of Martano, Calimera, Corigliano d’Otranto, Soleto, Castrignano de’ Greci, Sternatia, Melpignano, Zollino and Martignano (in order of size) whereas there seem to be very few, if any, native speakers of Griko in Grecìa Calabra (around 2,000 speak the language here).

Estinzione linguistica
Fortunately, the EU seems to be supporting the language and the Italian parliament even recognises people of Griko-Salentinian ethnicity, which seems to be a rather quirky little construct. However, the future for Griko seems precarious. Grecìa Calabra is a lost linguistic community to all intents and purposes. Grecìa Salentina will, in effect, be the place where Griko makes its last stand. With a decreasing young population it could be difficult but the hope is that with EU support Griko might still live to fight another day.