Polish Language Blog

Polish Diminutives – one more time Posted by on Apr 7, 2009 in Culture, Vocabulary

I think I should add a brief explanation regarding my previous post on diminutive proper names.

I am fully aware that if you really want to you can create zdrobnienia of just about any name out there, including Agnieszka, for example. The difference between some names and others is this: while very few perfect strangers would think to address a grown woman they don’t know as “Pani Agusia” (Agnieszka), they consider it perfectly normal and natural to say “Pani Krysia” (Krystyna) or “Pani Asia” (Joanna).

A few weeks ago when I was calling the pharmacy to find out if my prescriptions were ready for pick up, the pharmacist said this: “Pani Aneczko, lekarstewka są gotowe” (polite Pani, then my name in one of its diminutive forms, medicines are ready). For a sec I had to think who this “Pani Aneczka” was. And no, I’m not friends with the lady who works at the pharmacy, I don’t even know her name. But just because she knows my name, where I live and what kind of yeast infection treatment I use, she thinks it gives her the right to call me “Pani Aneczka”???

And “lekarstewka”??? Isn’t it a bit of an overkill? But unfortunately, this is what happens in Polish.

  • lekarstwo (neuter, plural: lekarstwa) – medicine

The pharmacist used “lekarstewka” – plural of “lekarstewko”, which would be what exactly, huh? Itsy bitsy medicine?

This use of diminutives in every day conversations is so widespread, that I don’t even remember the last time I was offered something other than “herbatka” (tea, diminutive) or “kawka” (“kawunia” or “kawusia” in some cases, either way, it’s coffee, diminutive) to accompany a “ciasteczko” (cake, diminutive) or a “kawałeczek placuszka z jabłuszkami” (piece of apple pie/cake, diminutive).

You know you are fully fluent in Polish when you stop getting confused if I asked at the store whether you prefer “szyneczka” (ham, diminutive) or “polędwiczka” (different kind of ham, diminutive). And then make your own “kanapeczki z pomidorkiem i ogóreczkiem” (sandwiches with tomato and cucumber, diminutive) with “plastereczki” (slices, diminutive) of either your “szyneczka” or “polędwiczka“.

Though wait a sec here.

Kanapka” is one of those goofy nouns. It’s a diminutive already – of “kanapa” which means “sofa.” But “kanapka” is a sandwich. And “kanapeczka” (sandwich, diminutive) is what you may offer your unexpected guests for a quick lunch. And oh yeah, “kanapeczka” doesn’t have to be small. One of my friends makes “kanapeczki” (plural of diminutive sandwiches) the size of wagon wheels.

And now, if you excuse me, because this is tydzień wielkanocny (Easter week), I have been tasked with preparing a traditional Polish Easter in this far-away exotic land that I am currently visiting. So, I need to go out and buy “jajeczka” (eggs, diminutive) to make “pisaneczki” (painted eggs, diminutive) and sort out a nice “koszyczek” (basket, diminutive) for “święconeczka” (diminutive of “święconka“ which is an assortment of food put in a basket and taken to church to be blessed on Great/Holy Saturday.)

There’s no church here to take my “święconka“ to, but I guess it’s the thought that counts, right?

Wesołych Świąt Wielkiej Nocy!!! – Happy Easter!!!

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  1. michael:

    Forgive me for defending Polish people! 🙂
    Is this use of diminutative names just a way of trying to be friendly?

    On the other hand if some woman was threatening to pull your hair out or worse because you had an affair with her husband would they still use Aneczka!!

  2. Mark:

    I find the use of diminutives to be fascinating as it allows a greater range of expression than is possible. This allows a more personal and direct communication and relationship to be articulated. As ever there are cultural and gender issues tied up. The form of the language is also a reflection of the status or state of the speaker. Given your pharmacy experience, the use of the diminutive form may be an attempt to establish a more personal and thus a confidential and re-assuring communication. Unfortunately in English the diminutive is not widely used, eg ham is just ham, not hammy or hamock or hamster!

  3. Karola:

    I absolutely enjoyed this post on Polish use of diminutives. It was a total ‘deja vu’ experience for me. I remember my father explaining the use of Polish diminutives. Thanks for the memory!

    As Alice said:
    “…if I don’t make haste, I shall have to go back through the looking-glass…back into the old room-and there’d be an end of all my adventures!”
    Sending my ‘curiouser & curiouser’ thoughts through the looking-glass.

  4. Elaine:

    Hi!! Just found your blog today so I don’t know if you will see my comment about your post from over a year ago. But I was thinking about how my grandmother would call my brother “boy-chic” (pronounced boy-sheek). I am guessing it was a form of what we called “Pidgen Polish”, taking an English word and adding a Polish syllable. But is there such a diminutive in Polish as “chic”?