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Exploring Polish words with no English equivalent

By Tarli Cameron | October 12, 2021 | Word Geek

Polish translation

Word Geek has continued her etymological tour, visiting ‘green list’ countries in search of wonderful foreign words that have no direct translation in English. This week she has found herself in Poland, home to beautiful stately castles, incredible hospitality and some fantastic phrases. 

Polish, a West Slavic language spoken by 50 million people around the world, is thought to be one of the trickiest languages to learn, due to its consonant clusters, seven grammatical cases (most languages typically have four) and tongue-twistingly difficult pronunciation. Just try saying Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz for a taster of the challenges involved in learning this fascinating and culturally-rich language!

Check out Word Geek’s four favourite Polish terms which could get lost in translation due to their lack of an English equivalent.

 

Kilkanaście

We use the words ‘umpteen’ and ‘many’, but there is not a single English word that can encapsulate the precisely imprecise nature of kilkanaścje. Used to refer to numbers between 12 and nineteen, we can’t help wonder why 11 wasn’t allowed to join the exclusive club!

 

Kombinować

Have you ever found yourself getting around a situation by going down a non-conventional, creative or mischievous path? Perhaps as a child, you found a cunning way to get out of going to school or doing your homework. If so, you have embodied the meaning of Kombinować. One search for this word yields a whole plethora of near translations, such as be up to no good, deceive, contrive, scheme, figure something out, work an angle, fiddle, hustle, wheel and deal, get creative, juggle, try something and conspire. Any or all could be used but none quite capture its essence.

 

Juz Po Pta

The poetic expression Po Ptaka translates to “after the birds” and describes something that Word Geek has fallen ill of many times, leaving things too late. Perhaps you forgot to put your bins out and now you have to wait until next week for them to be picked up, or maybe you got to the supermarket only to discover they are closing. Either way, it’s after the birds, so better luck next time!

 

Pogodnie

Enjoying the Indian summer? Word Geek is soaking up the last of the summer sun and it’s influenced her final choice. Pogodnie means ‘fine’ or ‘good’ but only in the context of describing the weather. Translating the Polish for “the weather is good” though translates literally as “the weather is weatherly”. Apparently it’s obvious in Polish that it’s good weather, not an assumption we’d make in the UK!