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The Untranslatables – episode 1: Politics Posted by on Mar 28, 2010 in Culture, Vocabulary

Today Adam (what a brave guy) tackles some totally incomprehensible to me political language. Yes, Poles sure do love their politics, and I, for one, am very glad that we have Adam to write about this. Because, frankly, I’d rather chew my leg off and bleed to death than talk politics.

To understand Polish you have to decode the meaning and code it in your mind into your language (usually for readers of this blog it will be English). But language is not mathematics. Two plus two may or may not equal four. Language is a tool that allows people to move in a certain reality. However, place by place, and culture by culture our realities vary. What when a notion has no direct equivalent in another culture? How to translate, or understand, the untranslatable?

The category of words that first springs to my mind as the hardest to translate – are terms connected with socio-politics.

English speakers have gucci-socialists and attack poodles.

In Poland there are many, many terms, some of which emerged within the last decade, that might cause some problems. Here are some possible/used translations. Don’t take all of them seriously. I am counting on your – our readers – creativity. Please do submit your translations (and political vocabulary) in the comments section.

  • odnowa moralna – moral face-lift, political slogan, refers to malpractice
  • nadużycie semantyczne – semantic molestation
  • łże-elita – the so called elites, false-elites, backstabishment,
  • układ – the grey net of interconnections
  • udoskonalanie wolności mediów – media freedom improvement, sarcastically – about attempts to curb media freedom
  • odzyskiwanie państwa – reclaiming the country
  • areszt wydobywczy – an arrest that is aimed to break a person and make them talk about somebody else
  • mijać się z prawdą – lit. to pass the truth walking the other way, euphemistically: to lie
  • moherowe berety – lit. mohair berets, pejorative term referring to a group of followers of a popular nationalistic-Catholic televangelist Mr Rydzyk (or rather – Father Rydzyk, he is a priest, unfortunately) and his media outlets. Typically, consisting of elderly ladies, whose preferred headgear is a mohair beret. This term likens them to an army, as various sub-groups in the Polish army may be recognized by different beret colors.
  • Polska A i Polska B – Poland A (the better one) and Poland B (the worse one). A common used phrase, to divide the country for the better, progressive part, that is intensively modernizing, educating, more liberal, wealthier, more active, where people are more into taking control of their destiny, where surroundings are tidier and more organized. And B – the worse part, that is more backwards, stagnating, more conservative, poorer, passive, where people wait for someone to solve their problems, where surroundings are grey, dirty and disorganized. The boundaries between Poland A and B may be drawn in many ways. Poland A could be the north, south, and west, while Poland B could be the eastern part (see below). Or Poland A could be in the major cities, and Poland B in the countryside. Or in some other way.
  • Ściana Wschodnia – Eastern Wall, another term referring to the Eastern part of the country in a negative way.
  • falandyzacja prawa – an attempt to interpret law in such a way that is stretching it – for someone’s short-term interest
  • koryto – lit. feeding trough, a comfortable position in a state institution

And of course, feel free to add your own favorite phrases!

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Comments:

  1. mrtom:

    Very nice, however, I’d like to pay your attention to the fact that ‘nadużycie semantyczne’ is not about molestation. The correct translation of the phrase is ‘semantic abuse’ which refers to wrong interpretation of given words – overinterpretation. The term is intended to sound ‘linguistics-like’…

  2. Adam Blomberg:

    I would like to put your attention to the fact that this post is not entirely serious:)