In my life I have come across many a Polish soul. Through work, friendship, family and even love, I have spent much time listening to the Polish language being exuberantly exchanged over a table or bar. And on occasion I find myself intrigued somewhat, interested enough to dig out the dictionary and fire up a variety of online translators.
The first time my ears were piqued was with the use of the word masakra. Pronounced ma-sack-ra, the word was often dropped into conversation, usually indicating through tone that something had gone wrong. Obviously, the word comes from the French massacre, which the English have also stolen and like our friends from across the Channel, it’s meaning is perhaps somewhat more blood-curdling than the, erm, apparently downgraded definition of my Polish friends.
It would seem that every time a computer crashes or a glass is dropped, masakra spills in abundance from the lips from my Polish staff. Because of the nature of the word, I have to bite my tongue to not make a sarcastic comment along the lines of “chill, no blood was spilled” or similar.
Anyway, despite it’s perhaps now slang-ish use, I have grown accustomed to hearing the word at the slightest upset and it has almost become a part of my own (slightly odd and multi-cultured) vocabulary. Recently though, my eyes thought they were deceiving me when I read a Happy Birthday follow-on comment that involved the word cholera.
The message was essentially ‘Happy Birthday, phew I didn’t forget!’ Given the lateness of day, the comment was met with a smile. I responded comically, pointing out that Poland is one hour ahead, so they actually had plenty of time to offer wishes. The following response went like this: Cholera. Czy bycie w pracy mnie usprawiedliwia? Which roughly translates to Damn. Does being at work excuse me?
So cholera in Poland means damn. A rude way of saying goodness me and a polite way of saying fuck. How strange! Of course, to my eyes and ears, cholera is a very nasty and mostly water-borne bacterial disease that causes all sorts of horrible symptoms and can lead to dehydration and even death. The Latin for the particular intestinal bug is Vibrio cholerae. It’s Cholera! Is this another overly-extended use of a word that Poland, much like England does, has bastardised?
Well, apparently maybe not. To put the word into a little more formal context, Google suggests the translation of ty cholero as you dumb shit. And according to one forum, can also be used to mean bastard. For now, I will assume the slang version of this word rather than the literal.
As language evolves and changes, most obviously noted in my mother tongue, it is worth remembering how perhaps other languages adapt, change and also evolve. And when one word is borrowed from a third-party, how that affects people’s ears when all get together around a table to chew the cud.
Language. It never fails to interest.