When Polish Diminutives Aren’t Diminutive Posted by Anna on Mar 24, 2009 in Grammar, Vocabulary
This is odd, but during the last two weeks two different readers, in two different countries, in two different ways mentioned the issue of Polish diminutives. So, who am I to argue with such a coincidence? And because I don’t want any bad karma hanging over my head (those “sexist” occupation nouns can wait), we shall start on the subject of diminutive forms today. We will only start, because, honestly, thick volumes were written on this subject.
Polish seems to be THE language for diminutives. And I’m not talking here only about first names, like for example mine (and by the way, see how many variants you can create from “Anna”), but normal everyday nouns. And adjectives. And adverbs. And other assorted parts of speech. I’ve even heard verbs beaten into submission and mangled into zdrobnienia (singular: zdrobnienie).
But not all diminutives are what they appear on the surface.
Take the word “śmietana,” for example. Its diminutive form is “śmietanka“. Almost all dictionaries translate both words simply as “cream.” But hey, it just wouldn’t be Polish, if it were THAT simple, now would it?
For most Polish speakers and dairy manufacturers, “śmietana” signifies sour cream. If you add “bita” in front of it, then you have “bita śmietana” which is definitely not sour, but whipped cream. And “śmietanka” normally refers to the stuff you pour into your coffee. If you were trying to use śmietana instead, you could be in for a rude surprise – few people I know like their coffee with sour cream.
So yeah, technically, śmietanka is a diminutive form of śmietana, but somewhere along the way they’ve evolved to mean different things.
Another one of those “fake” diminutives is “sałata” and “sałatka”:
- sałata – lettuce,
- sałatka – salad.
And then there’s “chusta”. And “chustka”. And “chusteczka”.
- “Chusta” is what babushki wear on their heads. It can also mean “hijab”.
- “Chustka” would be what a fashionable lady wears around her neck as an accessory.
- And “chusteczka” especially when followed by “higieniczna” is what you blow your nose into.
There is some overlap in meaning between the last two words, but mostly when spoken by older people.
These are just a few examples to show you that not all diminutives are what they appear to be. In our next installment, we will tackle diminutive versions of names. So yeah, just how many different ways can you say “Anna” anyway?
PS. I even found photos of packages of both śmietana and śmietanka, but due to technical difficulties with uploading pictures, I will have to add them at a later date
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