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Polish Language/Diminutives and Folklore


Hello.  Iím about to publish a young adult novel that includes a Polish character, and I have two questions Iíd like help with.

First, the character creates a derisive nickname for another character that means ďlittle cabbage.Ē  Instead of using it in an endearing way, as the French do, he uses it to mock the other characterís lack of intelligence.  Iíve been writing Kapustaczka, but thatís basically a blind guess based on the Polish word for cabbage.  Is there a word or a way to write a diminutive of cabbage you would recommend?  Or would it be more appropriate to use a different vegetable?

Second, the character references two creatures from Polish folklore.  Unfortunately, I read about these creatures on the internet, and I canít find any reputable sources to confirm what I read online.  What Iíve read says that a dola is a type of spirit that makes sure people act in accordance to their fate and that a nawie is the spirit of a person who died tragically or before baptism.  Is this correct?  (I understand that folklore isnít your area of expertise and will completely understand if this isnít a question you can answer.)

Thank you so much for your time and attention.

Yours truly,

Dear Kit,

a) Diminutives for "kapusta" are quite rare in daily use in Poland - yet everything is possible.

The one that comes to mind immediately is "kapustka" (1st degree diminutive: "kapust-[a]" + "ka"), but this refers more to a dish made of thinly sliced and cooked cabbage). The second degree diminutive is always possible: "kapusteczka" (i.e. a diminutive made from the 1st degree diminutive: "kapust-ka" + "-ek-" with an alternation [palatalisation of k] to "-ecz-").

Your guess for this kind of diminutive is close to correct, yet you have not taken into consideration that here we deal with an infix "-ek-"/"-ecz", not with a suffix, and that the final ending "-a" is not a part of the word base.

Compare: chusta - chustka - chusteczka (all three words in very frequent common usage: shawl/scarf - scarf/handkerchief - handkerchief/napkin).

I think that for your purpose the word "kapusteczka" might be used, but that would require a great deal of raffinated irony or sarcasm. The word is endearing, but in a very simple way, and for mocking one would need something more "swet" or "cute". More probable for mocking purpose one would use another type of the 2nd degree diminutive: either the modern "Kapuścinka" (the final -st of the word base becomes palatalised to -ść before the -i of "-in"; or sounding a bit archaic or regional "Kapusteńka". The Vocative case of them would be "Kapuścinko" and "Kapusteńko" respectivly. If referring to a female character I would recommend "Kapuścinka" with Vocative "Kapuścinko"; but if referring to a male character I would recommend using an ancient form of the Vocative for the second one instead, "Kapusteńku", similar to the forms found in the 19th century's (yet still pretending to be archaich of the XVIIth century) Henryk Sienkiewicz's "Trilogy", especially frequently found in the expressions of Zagłoba in these novels (see: I cannot recall any example now, this would require an hour or two of re-reading the thick volumes of seond part of the Trilogy, "The Deluge".

I will also remind you that in Polish diminutive can be used for mocking purpose, yet for direct derogatory purpose we rather use augmentative (zgrubienie), which is opposite to diminituve (zdrobnienie).
So augentatives for "kapusta" could be "Kapuścicha" (especially good if referring to a female), or "Kapuścisko" (for both sexes). For the same puspose one may also call someone "Kapuśniak" (lit.: "the cabbage soup"), especially good for males.

A choise fo cabbage for mocking a person's (lack of) intelligence is a good choice. Quite common is the rhyming expression "Kapusta, głowa pusta" (Cabbage - an empty head), found in the poem "Na straganie" (AT THE VEGETABLE STALL) by the famous Polish writer Jan Brzechwa ( - see a link at the bottom of the page there).

I hope you don't need help with pronunciation. If you need one, please write a follow-up.

b) You are right that folklore is not my area of competence. This kind of folklore is not a contemporary Polish folklore, anyhow. It migh have been one in the 19th century, especially in the North-Eastern parts of Poland (which are mostly now, alas, parts of Belarus and Lithuania), where the old pagan traditions surived the longest.

The word "dola" has the original meaning "fate", and this word is still in use in daily Polish as in the expressions: "Taka moja dola" = Taki můj los" ("That's my fate"), or "Przyszła na nich ciężka dola" ("Ill [lit.: heavy] fate came upon them]. So it might be a creature (a spirit) forcing the fate upon individuals, maybe (maybe !!!) like the Greek Moirai.

I have never heard the word "nawie". A form of the word seems strange, anyhow. A quick check at Wikipedia shows me that this word is a plural form - and that the singular form is "nawia" or "nawka". This is however not an original Polish word, it is found foremost in the Bulgarian and Russian folklore.

I also couldn't check your request in any good source material, as I don't have them handy.
Good sources would be the books by BrŁckner (, especially "Mitologia słowiańska", "Mitologia polska" (both jointly reedited by S. Urbańczyk in 1980 as  "Mitologia słowiańska i polska"), or by Kopaliński (, especially the "Słownik mitůw i tradycji kultury" (it's surprising I don't have it!), or by Roman Jacobson "The Slavic God Veles and his Indo-European Cognates", Brescia 1970. I only have a small book by Aleksander Gieysztor "Mitologia Słowian" [Slavic Mythology] which has a glossary of the terms. Gieysztor writes that "dola" is an Easter Slavic (i.e. Ukrainia, Belarusian or Russsian) personification of fate, and that "nawie" (sing. naw, nawka or nawia) are demons of the souls of the people who died in a rapid or tragic way, or maybe of the dead people in general, and that the word is probably of pan-Slavic origin. I so, it might originate for the word "wiać", "to blow", with the prefix "na-" meaing "on" ("onto") or "in" ("into") - so "nawia" would be something that is "blown in(to) [a body]" or "blown onto [a give area]", which reminds of the general Greek, Hebrew, Indian (Sanskrit), Chinese or even Amerindian notion of the soul or spirit as breathing. I couldn't check this word against my etymological dictionaries as this word is not found in modern Polish.

Anyhow, most of the sources about the Slavic folklore deal with Eastern Slavic and Southern Slavic, where they might be influenced by the Finnish and other Balkan nations respectively; and the resources from Poland are mosty based on archeological findings and on analogies with Lithuanian beliefs (wich also includes Baltic and Finnish influences and is more Eastern Slavic than Western). There is vary little written material available for the Western Slavic areas (Polish, Kashubian, Polavian, Lusatian, Czech, Slovak or even Slovenian).

Hoping this could help,
Sincerely yours,

Polish Language

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Maciej St. ZiÍba


I am native Polish and from time to time I teach Polish to foreigners. I know (passively of actively) more than 15 other languages - so I can answer many questions concerning Polish grammar, pronounciation, spelling, etymology and usage - as compared to English, French, German, Russian, Dutch, Esperanto or Norwegian. Also questions concerning other Slavic languages, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, or general linguistics, especially scripts (writing systems and transcriptions) - are welcome.


Teaching English, French, and Esperanto to Poles, Polish to foreigners, teaching Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese, Classical Chinese and Tibetan. Tour Guide in English, French, Russian and German. Former President of the Regional Examination Committee for Tourist Guides (English and French)(1999-2005).

Polish Oriental Society (since 1979); International Association of Buddhist Studies (since 1986); Klingon Language Institute (since 1986); Learned Society of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (since 1989); Polish Philosophical Association (since 1997); Universala Esperanto-Asocio (since 1978).

Books: "Origin of the World According to Rigveda" (Montreal 1996); "Our River Bug. Creating Conditions for Development of the Border Areas of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus through Enhancement and Preservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage" (Lublin 2008); "Migration - a Challenge to the 21st century" (Lublin 2008); "Migracja zarobkowa do Woch" (Job migration to Italy) (Lublin 2008); more than 100 articles in "Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii" (Universal Encyclopedia od Philosophy) vol. 1-10 (Lublin 2000-2009); many more in Polish, some of them available online, see: here and here (a list up to 2012.

Studying philosophy at Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) 1976-81; PhD in Philosophy (1989). Having learned languages in Gdansk and Gdynia (Russian, Esperanto, Latin, English - International Bacalaureate), Lublin (KUL - French, German, Dutch, Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient Greek; UMCS - Chinese, Japanese; elsewhere - Esperanto, Spanish, Italian), Paris (IIAP - French; INALCO - Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese; Sorbonne - Sanskrit), Asker (Norwegian, while working in a kindergarten!), Montreal (McGill - Chinese); Rome and Venice (Italian); Taichung, Taiwan (Chinese), Shimla, India (sanskrit). Self-taught: Slavic languages (other than Polish and Russian), Hungarian, Korean, Vietnamese, Klingon and several other.

Awards and Honors
2012 Golden Medal of Civil Service of Poland; 2012-13 Taiwan Fellowship - Tunghai University (Taichung)

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AllExperts users (since 12/03/2003); Wikipedia readers in many languages (since 2004); students learning languages (since 1979).

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