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Polish Language/Polish expressions


Dear Mr. Zieba,

I have previously written to you regarding translations for two novels I've written.  Your answers have been so helpful, and even impressed the copy editor at my publisher.  I'm about to finish the third and final book in the series, and I have a few more questions with which I hope you can assist.

1. I have a scene in which a young woman says to an older, male co-worker, "No, thank you," when he offers her coffee.  Their relationship is not particularly formal or respectful, as she is a young American woman.  Would "Nie, dziękuję," be the appropriate response, or would she be likely to say something else?

2. There is a moment in the book when she says, "You've done a complete 180 on that, haven't you?" meaning that he has reversed his position entirely.  Does this expression ("do a 180") exist in Polish culture, or would he ask for an explanation?

3. Is there a Polish equivalent to the word "gizmo"?

4. Finally, is makowiec an appropriate bread to serve when having guests over for coffee?  (I realize that most Poles prefer tea, but this particular character is enamored of very strong Turkish coffee.)  I actually made two loaves and they were delicious--my father is still talking about them!

Thank you so much for all your help on these books.  I will send you a private message regarding sending you a copy of the first two books as thanks.

Yours truly,

Dear Kit,

> Your answers have been so helpful, and even impressed the copy editor at my publisher.  

I am very glad that I have been of help. I hope I am again. Should I expect now a letter from the publisher asking me my account number to transfer my royalties? ;)

Ad 1. In Polish in most cases she would just answer "Dziękuję" (Thank you), without any equivalent to "No" (or "Yes", in a contrary case), expressed otherwise than by the tone of her voice or by her mimics, gestures etc. Yes, I know, this is ambiguous and in Polish it is so as well, so if the other person is confused (cannot guess the intention from the intonation or body language), a typical follow up is "Dziękuję, tak, czy Dziękuję, nie?" (Thank you, yes, or Thank you, no?"), and only after the second answer the situation clarifies. I know that this sounds silly (or at least not logical), why not say 'yes' or 'no' in the first hand?, but that's how it works. Who has said that the language communication is always logical?

Ad 2. In Polish we do not have such an abbreviated usage for it, so it rather wouldn't be understood, we say it in full: "zrobić zwrot o 180 stopni" (to make a 180 degrees turn). And no equivalent of the word "complete" in such phrases (redundant!). The phrase I have given above is in infinitive, so a direct translation of your sentence would be "Zrobiłeś w tej sprawie zwrot o sto osiemdziesiąt (=180) stopni, prawda?", (I have assumed that she says it to HIM, to a male; if she says it to a woman it would be "Zrobiłaś w tej sprawie zwrot o sto osiemdziesiąt (=180) stopni, prawda?").

I have to admit that this phrase in Polish sound very artificial to me. Maybe because of the usage of the final "prawda?" ("haven't you?") - we don't use such question tags too frequently; maybe because of "w tej sprawie" ("in this case", "in this affair")? I lack the context so if you give me more information, what is "the case" in which this U-turn has been made, or what were the previous phrases said in this particular conversation, I could maybe correct it.

PS. 18.06.2016 You have not made a follow-up, so no clue was given to me about the context. Thinking about this phrase I have made a well-sounding Polish neutral version:
"Wydaje mi się, że zrobiłeś tu zwrot o sto osiemdziesiąt stopni".
"Wydaje mi się, że" ('It seems to me that') replaces "prawda?" ('haven't you?')
"Tu" ('Here') replaces "w tej sprawie" ('in this case') as the rendering of "on that".
Now it sounds pretty natural. [end of PS.]

PS. 24.06.2016 After a further reflection I have realized that if we replace the "complete" of your request with "full" (Polish: "pełny" or "zupełny"), then it is perfectly well acceptable for such a situation (yes, maybe it will still be redundant, but redundant expressions are quite often used to emphasize our utterances, aren't they?). So in Polish it would be "Wydaje mi się, że zrobiłeś tu pełny zwrot o sto osiemdziesiąt stopni".
NB. I have corrected my previous typo of "to" into correct "tu" in the previous postscript.  [end of PS.]

Ad 3. Gizmo? What kind of "gizmo" do you mean? Just simple gizmo gizmo ("gizmo jak gizmo"), or a fully gizmic gizmo ("gizmiczne gizmo"), or rather a kind of gizmoish gizmo ("gizmowate gizmo") or maybe even a gizmo-like gizmo ("gizmopodobne gizmo")? Please describe it a bit (is it something performing some function or at least moving in its parts, or is it something "just like that"  having a permanent shape?; a kind of tool (device) of unknown name or just something "good for nothing", good for putting it somewhere and forgetting about it?; is it big or small?; found or obtained?; used daily (at least: worn, kept in the purse or so, like a talisman) or kept on the shelf or sideboard? And so on... In Polish, there are many words for this, like "wihajster", "dynks", "ustrojstwo", "takie coś", "sam wiesz co", "bidelot", "durnostojka", "bzdet", "tul", "takie ciu" etc.; and the usage of them highly depends not only on the factors mentioned above, relating to the object itself, but also and first of all on the generation, and region, and profession of the speakear / language user - and gender. (Tell me her age (year of birth) and place of birth or region(s) where she has raised or has been educated / or is living now in Poland and her profession; I am not suggesting that I know all the possible combinations of the three factors, only that this MIGHT be of help to decide about one or another word). Wikisłownik (Polish Wiktionary) under gizmo gives also "gadżet", but I seriously doubt if this can be used for "gizmo" in a situation other than "something obtained for free during a sale or promotion", or "something used in replacement for something else that would normally be used". English equivalent for gizmo mighy be "gadget" (like in the French cartoon "Inspector Gadget", but the meaning and the usage of the word "gadżet" in Polish has shifted seriously. My grandchildren (aged 9 and 10) simply say "gizmo", but they belong to the MineCraft generation, MineCraft being only partly translated into Polish, so they use a huge load of English words (even those that have Polish equivalents  within the MinceCraft context, perfectly well known to them) for MineCraft objects and stuffs, inflecting them however in Polish, like normal Polish words, in all cases and making Polish derivatives of them (an example of that usage, albeit this time wholly invented by me, you could see in the first lines of this paragraph, in the typology of gizmos in the MineCrafty Engpolish of theirs).

PS. 24.06.2016 Without any follow-up of yours, I have decided to make the final cut. Personally I would opt for "wihajster" (from German "wie heisst er?" = "How is this called?") - a word of already 200-plus years of tradition of usage in Polish, or a more modern "dynks" (maybe also from German "Ding" = "Thing") - already noted in the early 1960-ies. Whichever you choose, I think both are commonly understood. [end of PS.]

Ad 4. "Makowiec" (in some regions also called "makownik" and elsewhere "strucla makowa"/"strucel makowy") is always good, for both coffee and tea. Also with milk, water, juice, hot chocolate (cocoa) etc. In fact, the preference for tea in Poland is diminishing; plenty of Poles prefer coffee, not only among public administration and other people working in various offices (where a coffee maker 'gizmo' is a must); recently we had protests of high school and college (liceum) students (so aged 12-19) demanding return of coffee to school shops and cantines/buffets/caffeterias, after the Ministry of Health has decided a ban on junk and unhealthy food (including sugar, salt etc. - and coffee) in schools.

PS. 24.06.2016 Turkish coffee is very popular in Poland, or at least what we call "Turkish coffee" ("kawa po turecku", "kawa parzona") - which is made without using any kind of coffee maker machine. It consists in putting a teaspoonful or two of ground coffee into a glass or mug and pouring the boling water onto it. The coffee grounds remain there until you finish drinking your coffee (the remaining dregs may be eventually used for fortune-telling by an experienced Gypsy woman or another psychic afterwards ;), as it was frequently practiced maybe until 1990). Such coffee is mych stronger indeed, that the typical American style "filter coffee" ("kawa z filtra", "americano"), often called "the American brown water" ("amerykańska brązowa woda"), not to mention the instant coffee ("kawa rozpuszczalna"). It might be equally strong as the Italian style presso coffee ("kawa z ekspresu", "kawa po włosku"), and it's certainly less strong than the typical, countryside Turkish (or Norwegian) cooked coffee, where they actually cook the coarse-ground coffee in water, before serving the beverage. [end of PS.]

On the other hand we would never call "makowiec" a "bread", for us it is a "cake", like you probably wouldn't call an American apple pie a "bread". For us 'bread' ("chleb") is something that is used to make sandwiches, or to eat accompanying a salad or some kinds of soup, but never in a situation of coffee / tea drinking, to accompany them, nor as a dessert - in these situation what we serve and eat is "ciastko" ("a cake") (or "ciasto", ie. a home-made cake, pie, etc.) eventually a "herbatnik" (a biscuit) or "drożdźówka" (sweet roll, sweet bakery). More or less, what is sweet is not a bread to us.

I think you mean something like this:

Bread is typically sold as "a [one] loaf of bread" ("[jeden] bochenek chleba", in short "[jeden] bochenek"), we never say "[jeden] bochenek makowca" but simply "[jeden] makowiec" eventually baking ladies say "blaszka makowca" ("a tin (i.a. a baking-form) of makowiec"), just like we do talk about other kinds of (home-baked) pastries.
Bread is typically served as "a slice of bread" ("kromka chleba"), but we never say "kromka makowca" but "kawałek makowca" ("a piece of makowiec"), just like we say "a piece of a cake".

If on the other hand you mean something like this [which, to my surprise, is here called a "Japanese makowiec", as if Japanese ever used poppy seed for baking] or like this: - then there is even less question about calling one of them 'a bread'.

All the beast


PS. Thank you for the book offer, I am awaiting it with expected pleasure.


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Maciej St. Zięba


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)

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

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