POLISH SAYINGS – powiedzenia Posted by on Mar 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

Each country has its’ own sayings. Some of them may be similar or have similar meanings as in other countries. However Polish sayings, when translated exactly, word by word, most of the times don’t make to much sense.

Today I will try to explain the meaning of some of them to you.

Let’s start with this one:

“Słowo się rzekło, kobyłka u płotu”

Few have a chance to understand the meaning of this old Polish saying. Most Poles might point to the very sense of it and they know why they pronounce these few strange-arranged words to say what is intended, but few understand their real meaning.

It seems nonsense when translated literally: “A word was said – a mare is standing by the fence”. This old saying has a long historic background. In the 15th century, before there were newspapers and photographs, the kings could often venture out “incognito” among their subjects and “check up on them”.

The story goes that the famous Polish King Jan Sobieski III, the savior of Vienna (1683), notot far from his palace, made a bet with a petty noble (małostkowy szlachetny) who didn’t recognize him. Sobieski was kidding him that a man in his position would never get a chance to speak to the King. Jan bet his favourite mare. He was obviously going to “throw” the bet and let the poor man win, just for the amusement of his traveling companions. The hot-headed gentry-man demanded that his partner must present him immediately to the King. Sobieski then said to the confused gentryman: “słowo się rzekło, kobyłka u płotu”, pointing to the horse.

Hundreds of such wonderful sayings are functioning in the Polish language making it rich and nice to hear. The language is really a living monument.

Another great saying:

“Nie dla wszystkich skrzypce grają”

“The violin doesn’t play for everybody”

This is the reason why Itzhak Perlman can make pretty music with the cheapest fiddle, while even a Stradivarius is of no help to me…:)

“Co po trzeźwemu myśli, to po pijanemu powie”

“What one thinks when sober, one says when drunk”

 This one is as old as the hills. “In vino veritas” is Latin for “In wine there is truth” – “W winie jest prawda”

“Potrzebny jak dziura w moście”

“As necessary as a hole in the bridge”

 I need that like a hole in the head!

 “Ręka rękę myje, noga nogę wspiera”

“Hand washes hand, leg supports leg”

 You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours! Quid pro quo (Latin for “something for something”) Polish – “coś za coś”

Here are few more:

“Jak cię widzą, tak cię piszą”

How they see you, that’s how they perceive you

“Gdyby kózka nie skakała, to by nóżki nie złamała”

If the goat didn’t jump, she wouldn’t have broken her leg

“Gdyby kózka nie skakała, to by smutne życie miała”

If the goat didn’t jump, she’d have a miserable life

“Swój ciągnie do swojego”

Same kinds attract

“Każdy sądzi według siebie”

Everyone judges according to themselves

“Z kim się zadajesz, takim się stajesz”

You become whom you befriend

“Kto się czubi, ten się lubi”

Those who argue, like each other

“Baba z wozu koniom lżej”

When the woman gets off the wagon, horses have an easier time

“Lepszy wróbel w garści niż gołąb na dachu”

It’s better to have a sparrow in your hand, than a pigeon on the roof

“Co nagle, to po diable”

The devil dictates when you’re in a hurry

“W zdrowym ciele, zdrowy duch”

Healthy soul in a healthy body

“Mądry Polak po szkodzie”

Smart Pole after the damage is done

“Co kraj to obyczaj”

Each country has it’s own tradition

“Co ciało lubi, to duszę zgubi”

What likes the body will lose the soul

“Komu pora, temu czas”

When it’s your time, you have to go

“Kwiat bez zapachu, jak człowiek bez duszy”

A flower without a smell is like a man without a soul

“Komu w drogę, temu gwóźdź w nogę”

who wants/needs to leave, stick a nail in his foot

“Sukces ma wieju ojców, porażka jest sierotą”

A success has many fathers, a failure is an orphan

“Musi to na Rusi, a w Polsce jak kto chce”

A must is in Russia, in Poland you do however you want

“Kto pije i pali ten nie ma robali”

The one who both smokes and drinks doesn’t get roundworms

“Modli się pod figurą a diabła ma za skorą”

He(she) prays but has a devil under the skin.

“Panu Bogu świeczkę, a diabłu ogarek”

A candle for God, a stump for the devil (said about two faced people)

“Szczęście jest pomiędzy ustami i brzegiem kielicha”

Happiness is between the lips and the rim of a glass

“Ładnemu we wszystkim ładnie”

A pretty person looks pretty in everything

“Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem słońca”

Don’t praise the day before sunset

“Wszędzie dobrze, ale w domu najlepiej”

Everywhere’s fine, but best at home

“Potrzeba jest matką wynalazków”

Necessity is the mother of invention

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


  1. kasianz1:

    Thanks this has been helpful for my Polish laqnguage for tourists class as reading/phonetic practice. Suitably short pieces of language.

  2. Elaine of Kalilily:

    I wonder if you would know how I can track down something my mother used to say when I would have to improvise to make some sewing project fit, making adjustments that to cover up mistakes. In the English meaning, it was something like — a dumb person won’t even notice the mistake and a smart person will think that you meant to do it that way. I’m trying to find the Polish version. Any suggestions?

    • David Priestley:

      @Elaine of Kalilily My mother always said the same thing. sounded like “Munz zi na va gi” she said it was part of the saying ” The Dumb wont notice it and the Wise, would say that’s the way it is”. Is there a saying like that? I’d like to make a list of her sayings to pass down to my child. Any Suggestions?

  3. Peter Porebski,Sr.:


    I am an American of Polish descent (100%). However, my parents although they spoke Polish, never taught it to me. They died about a year ago and I recently was going thru their things. I found a tee shirt of Dad’s that says “Nie Bzykam Na Boku”. It has an image of a honey bee on it too. Google translation comes back as Don’t whiz on the side.

    Can you please provide some context for this? I suspect something is being lost in the translation. Thank you.

    Peter P.

    • Grzegorz:

      @Peter Porebski,Sr. Haha, I know I’m waaaay too late with this, but this was too funny not to respond 🙂 “Nie bzykam na boku” literally means something like “I don’t buzz on the side(lines)”. “To buzz” is also a slang word for having sex and having it “on the side” would mean “outside your marriage/relationship” – cheating, basically. To sum up, it just means “I don’t cheat” 🙂

      • Kate:

        @Grzegorz In a slang it means I don’t fuck around / on a side/ outside of my marriage or relationship…

        In more polite way… I am faithfuful…

  4. melinda:

    I’m coming to the game late, but I really enjoyed these. My grandparents were Polish, but the only Polish word I know is “garbachik,” which I know I’m spelling wrong. That’s what my grandmother called her cane, and she always laughed when she said it. I never knew what it meant, but I think she was referring to it as a shepherd’s crook. I’d love to know if I’m right. She had ten children and many grandchildren, so I’m sure she often felt like a shepherd keeping everyone in line!

    • bartek990:

      @melinda Hi, I’m answering late but maybe you’ll read that anyway.

      I thing this “garbachik” could be something like “garbacik” (as a spelling) and could be just a private saying/call of your grandmother.
      It is common that old people in Poland (especially born at the beginning of XX century) invents their own some-kind funny words in old-fashion style – my grand grandmother did that, too 🙂

      I thing “garbacik” is from “garb” which means hump (like on your back). So it could mean “the thing that cause a hump on your back”. Because of ending “cik” it gives some kind of funny, tiny and nice impression of the word.

      But as I said – it is just my theory and for sure it is non-existent word in official Polish – maybe in some dialect.

      Hope you’ll read that
      Greetings from Poland 😉

      • Edward Garbacik:

        @bartek990 Melinda and Bartek990, actually, Garbacik is an actual Polish name ( as in my family name ). The root word “garbacz” means a “tanner” – one who tans leather. There are a few variant spellings like Garbaczyk or Garbaciak ( I think ) but Garbacik is, to my knowledge, the most common spelling. I don’t think it’s a very common name, but it’s most frequenly found in southeastern Poland. Melinda, I’ve no idea why your grandmother would call her cane “garbacik”. That’s a new one to me.

    • Anna:

      @melinda That’s how polish people call garbage cans “garbecik”

      • Jurek:

        @Anna This comes from the word “garbowac” with “skore” being implied. In loose translation it means “to tan your hide’, meaning here being obvious. This is a commonly used humorous threat usually aimed at small children.

      • Edward Garbacik:

        @Anna Silly girl. Hehe.

        • Wiesia:

          @Edward Garbacik A moze babcia uzywala tej laski do “garbowania skory” co znaczy po polsku ” zbic dupe”-“wygarbowac skore”

  5. Micci:

    I am looking for this saying to be transplanted into Polish if you could help me I would be very appreciative. “It isn’t torture, it is progress.”

    Thank you!

    • Kate:

      @Micci To nie tortura, to progres.

  6. Elanah:

    Hello what is Follow your dreams and turn them into reality In polish

  7. Sawik:

    Dear Peter
    it could be translated in two ways. Literally “bzykać” means “to make noise like a fly or a bee”. However “bzykać” could means also “to fuck”. “Na boku” means literally “on a side”, so the whole sentence could be translated “I’m not cheating [my wife]”. 😉

  8. Sandy Wladecki:

    I’m looking for a Polish saying about family unity..Always supporting each other..I am so glad to have found you and hope you can help with this !!!!

  9. Heroniem:

    There is supposed to be a Polish saying that when said in English is: “What Grandfather’s had Fathers Lost and Sons Seek.”

    My understanding is that this pertains to the knowledge of the Polish Traditions and Ancestors of the family that the Grandfather had; which were gradually abandoned or forgotten by his son (Father); and now the son of the Father is seeking to recover. It is my situation whereby my father was reluctant to share the Polish traditions and knowledge of the family in Poland with me (they had a tough time during WWII). I had to reconstruct everything from the past and now possess a large amount of information and knowledge of my Polish heritage and ancestors and their pasts.

    I would like to know what the nuanced Polish statement would be for “What Grandfather’s had, Fathers Lost and Sons Seek.”

    • Ania:

      @Heroniem What Grandfather’s had Fathers Lost and Sons Seek
      Co dziadek miał, ojciec zgubił a syn szuka.

  10. Greg:

    In Reymont’s novel “Ziemia obiecana,” a bank president responds to someone trying to excuse himself to return to work (“mam dużo roboty”) with the aphorism:

    Robota nie gęś, ona się nie wytopi.

    How would you translate that? Perhaps: Work is not a goose, it will not fly away? Is this 19th century Polish?

    • Piotrek:

      @Greg Sounds like early 1900s or mid 1800s I remember seeing that movie Ziemie Obiecane.It can’t be translated to make sense. But it means work is not like a geese because work can’t fly away like a geese can and you will drown in work. I think that’s what you thought it meant too from reading your comment.

  11. Jakiela:

    Many thanks, this site is really beneficial.

  12. Robert:

    This comment goes back to a saying mentioned a ways back, My father used to comment on someones innocent slip up, “The smart ones won’t say anything and the dumb ones won’t notice. Its the ones in between that you have to watch out for.”

  13. Martha:

    Zagołi się do wesela… “It’ll heel before your wedding day”…My Babcia Used to say that all the time if we got hurt playing or something :-). I may not have spelled it quite right.

  14. Roxanne Cook ne: Jasienski:

    I am second generation Polish /American. My older relatives were too serious about adapting to their new country and refused to let us learn Polish. ….seventy years old and I can learn whatever I please now….that’s why I am here.

  15. Janice Jay:

    My son is going to work in Warsaw for 6 months, so I’m hoping to take a trip there, God willing. It would be nice to learn to speak more Polish. I understand some, but limited. So foolish not to have learned from my Mom who spoke and wrote well. This website makes it fun to learn. Thank you.

  16. R. Jannasch:

    Have been told my name is German but recently was told possible Polish. My dad used a phrase Yaksa Smooch(SP). Recently heard it on a program for Polish restaurant. By the time they said it and I quit talking to the wife I missed the meaning. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks