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 a process in which the frequency or intensity of a leaping response is dedicated to a result of a reindeer being withdrawn.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



The Curious Case of Cacica

August 26, 2013
Land that Time Forgot

Land that Time Forgot

Cacica is one of those magical places that we find in Europe. It lies in an area forgotten by many and is not the easiest place in the world to get to. Cacica lies in Suceava county where the inhabitants speak a cocktail of languages: Romanian, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Slovak and there are also a handful of… Lipovans. Religion-wise, again, it’s a cocktail. Orthodox, Catholics and… Old Believers. Who are the Lipovans? Who are the Old Believers? And there lies the beauty and mystery of this part of the world. It’s one of Europe’s borderlands that have seen a variety of powers come and go. Yet, it remains as magical as before.

Moldoviţa Monastery

Magical Monastery

To the north of Suceava county lies Ukraine, to the west lie the Carpathians and fabled county of Maramureş. Most of the county lies in southern Bukovina, in Moldavia (not to be confused with Moldova). Suceava county lies in Romania. Cacica, and the county in which is lies, is remarkable. 74% of the inhabitants of Cacica are Romanian but over 20% are Polish (with another 4% Ukrainian). The beginnings of Cacica (also known by many of its residents as Kaczyka) date back to the 1780s when the village became famous for salt-mining with many (German) miners coming from the (Polish) town of Bochnia. And thus began Kaczyka’s ties with Poland.

Bochnian Legacy

Bochnian Salt Mine Legacy

With its army of Bochnians, Cacica inherited the Polish tradition of salt mining. Tourists familiar with the mines of southern Poland will notice similarities between Cacica salt mine and the famed mines of Bochnia and Wieliczka. The salt frescoes and sculptures bear a striking resemblance to the ones in Wieliczka. The Polish salt connection does not end there. Not far from Cacica lie the villages of Soloneţu Nou (Nowy Soloniec), Solca (Solka) [Polish sól = salt], Pleşa (Plesza) and Poiana Micului (Pojana Mikuli) with either a large Polish minority or Polish majority.

Old Believer Persecution

Old Believer Persecution

Yet another curiosity is the handful of Lipovans to be found in Bukovina. The Lipovans is the name given to the ethnic Russian Old Believers in Romania, a schismatic sect of the Russian Orthodox church which split from orthodoxy in 1666 (as they wanted to be more orthodox and did not agree with the reforms of Patriarch Nikon). They were persecuted in Russia and many fled. The men do not shave, they cross themselves with two fingers (not three) and do not use polyphonic singing in church but rather chant. Indeed, with its small troop of Lipovans, native Ukrainians and Bochnian Poles, Cacica, Suceava and Bukovina is an odd little corner of the world.

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.

Lost Polish Tribe on Haiti…

June 2, 2013
Polish Legions in Haiti

Polish Legions in Haiti

It’s not something I normally do but the following post has proved to be so popular that I have decided to re-post it. Enjoy.

Perhaps the most intriguing group of people among Poland’s huge diaspora (the so-called Polonia) are the ‘Poles of Haiti’. I heard about this lost little enclave of ‘Polishness’ on radio and began to follow, Theseus-like, the strands of stories that might lead me to some sort of end-point in my search for the truth in the labyrinthine information maze that is the internet. Much to my surprise, I was able to bring together these strands and get some kind of picture of how on earth Poland has managed to touch the culture of Haiti.

Following HIS orders

Bonaparte – Giving The Orders

In 1804, Haiti declared independence from Napoleonic France. Napoleon was having none of it and swiftly sent a force of over 5,200 Polish Legions to stamp his authority on the natives and their lust for independence. The Third Half-Brigade of the Polish Legions were not extremely happy with this state of affairs as the Legions were primarily focused on fighting for Polish freedom in Europe. The idea of (1) fighting against freedom and (2) fighting over eight thousand kilometres away from one’s homeland on the other side of the world seemed both ridiculous and annoying to these soldiers. But soldiers they were, and more importantly, soldiers of Napoleon and they had to follow orders.

Dessalines - Father of Haitian Freedom

Dessalines – Father of Haitian Freedom

The Polish Legions became embroiled in the Haitian Revolution, and most died, although it was not the fighting that killed them but yellow fever. Unaccustomed to the climate and the dangers of life in the Caribbean 4,000 soldiers died of the disease. Those that remained became the stuff of legend, Haitian legend. Miffed off with fighting those who were fighting for freedom (like themselves), the remaining Polish soldiers decided to throw off the yoke of their French masters and joined Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the Haitian struggle for independence living to see a free Haiti. The indigenous peoples were so enamoured by their Polish brothers-in-arms that they included them in the Haitian Constitution of 1805 in which it was stated in Articles 12 and 13 that no white man may hold land on Haiti apart from the Germans (who had a small community there) and the Polanders (Poles).

Erzulie Dantor - Not Matka Boska

Erzulie Dantor – Not Matka Boska

These naturalised Polish Haitians had a great impact on the fledgling Empire of Haiti, later the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians were impressed by the Poles’ great love of their Matka Boska Częstochowska (Our Lady of Częstochowa). They noticed how greatly the legionnaires venerated their icon. Through a process of assimilation and transformation, the Polish Catholic Matka Boska Częstochowska became the Haitian Vodou Erzulie Dantor, a warrior spirit, the protector of women and children, associated also with lesbians, homosexual men and abused women. Interestingly, like Matka Boska Częstochowska, Erzulie Dantor also has scars on the right-side of her face which she got from a fight with her sister when she stole her husband from her. A rather different persona from Matka Boska Częstochowska.

A 'Polish' Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

A ‘Polish’ Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

The ties between the two countries do not stop there. In Cazale, 70 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince there lives a community often referred to as blanc, polone. They are, to all intents and purposes, Haitians but due to the fact that the bulk of the Polish legionnaires settled there, the community has forever been referred to as ‘Polish’. If you are from Cazale, you are Polish, it’s as simple as that. Interestingly, there is a high proportion of blue-eyed Haitians here. Another link is Jerzy Grotowski who came to Haiti in search of inspiration in the 1970s. It’s fair to say that his experimental theatre owes a great deal to the spirituality of Haitian Vodou.

Haiti - Not Just Earthquakes

Haiti – Not Just Earthquakes

It is wonderful how two seemingly disparate and distant cultures have common threads weaving them together. On the one hand, we have Napoleon, the Haitian battle for freedom, the Polish legionnaires who joined with the Haitians in their Revolution and all the ramifications of their presence on the island. This includes a strong genetic marker in Cazale and the surrounding area and the warrior spirit of Erzulie Dantor. On the other hand we have Grotowski and his deep love of Haiti and its spirituality. Poland and Haiti – who would have thought…?

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.

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.

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.

What’s in a name?

June 12, 2007

The Mighty HussarsI honestly believe that in order to know yourself you have to know your history and everything that it entails. A recent scan of the internet looking for the name Uzar gave amusing results as some of you may recall (–> here).

On a more serious note, however, I think it’s useful for people to know a little bit about their family history and, for example, where their surname comes from. This has proved quite problematic for me and has resulted in conflicting results but they all – surprisingly – seem to lead to the same source.

I was given a few ideas by my grandmother whose knowledge of history and geopolitics was poor to say the least but she was convinced that the family was given the surname by King Jan Sobieski III in honour of their heroics in battle. Perhaps.

This, however, doesn’t explain why the form of the name is ‘Uzar’ and not ‘Hussar‘ which of course would be more appropriate for Sobieski’s soldiers. As is known, the Hussars, or more appropriately, the Polish Hussars were a mighty and feared set of warriors.

Yup, this I like. I wouldn’t mind being one of those. My own little theory is that the name Hussar changed over time to Uzar. Not at all improbable seeing that the family’s origins are somewhere in western Ukraine – the dropping of the ‘h’ sound and hardening of the ‘ss’ into ‘z’ would not be out of the question.

Another theory that also seems to gravitate towards Ukraine is the myth of the Khazars which I find particulary alluring and romantic. ‘Khazar’, also, is not far off ‘Uzar’ and the shift is quite smooth:
Khazar –> Azar –> Uzar. Hey, presto! What I love about the myth of the Khazars is that the whole civilisation/culture is shrouded in mystery. By some they are seen as one of the lost tribes of Israel, by others a people whose king was petitioned by Muslims, Christians and Jews to convert to their religion and this choice ultimately sealed their doom. There is so much mystery surrounding these people that it’s difficult to pinpoint who they were or where they came from and why they disappeared – a kind of Eurasian equivalent of the Mayas/Incas who allegedly disappeared off the face of the earth.