Kasia of Polish Language Blog had a post on Mar 6, 2012, called Przekleństwa – curse words that’s just what it sounds like:

When it comes to Polish translation, in certain contexts, the swear words (curse words), przekleństwa, have their both prominent and well-deserved role to play. True, English is not completely toothless in this respect, but still there is no comparison. The Poles lead by far.

Sex related swear words are most useful and most common. Let’s see, the so called four letter word, or to be explicit, “f***” – no need to be prudish here – after all it is a linguistic exercise we are involved in corresponds rather well to its Polish counterpart, although, already from the beginning Polish has an advantage here – with a whole nine letter-word.

I am, of course, amused by “f*** – no need to be prudish,” but it’s a fun list. Thanks, Kobi!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Pierdolić looks as if it’s related to “fart” etymologically. Some confusion on the (proto) Vistula?
    Not everyone preserves the Good Old Words as faithfully as the Russians, it seems.

  2. lnteresting that four or five people wanted translations of a swear word their Polish grandmother used continually. All different words, too.

    Unless “grandmother” is itself a Polish euphemism.

  3. PlasticPaddy says
    In Irish the word is from this root, to break (wind), compare Welsh bram (unfortunately the name Bram, as in Bram Stoker, is derived from another Welsh word). In German the passage in sich erbrechen is from the other end but the idea is similar.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    In German the passage in sich erbrechen is from the other end but the idea is similar.

    Where did you find in sich erbrechen? Never heard the expression, it doesn’t make any sense with or without reference to farting, so it flunks even the nonce joke test. I herewith contribute auf der Südseite rülpsen as a corny nonce funny,

  5. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry. I meant in “sich erbrechen”, not “in sich erbrechen”. I think the sich is also optional.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    A nice variant of that is sich es nochmal durch den Kopf gehen lassen for puking. It’s normally used to mean “give it another thought”.

  7. Stu Clayton says

    I think the sich is also optional.

    It’s not optional in the sense that you can add it or leave it out at pleasure. It depends on context and mode (? tr./intr.). Duden gives us the example das Baby hat seinen Brei wieder erbrochen. When erbrechen is transitive, no sich is permissible (because, I guess one could say, there would then be two direct objects. I don’t know if the sich in sich erbrechen counts as a direct object. I would simply call the form reflexive. But who knows what flag a given linguist flies under.)

    There’s also, colloquially, brechen meaning sich erbrechen, but never with sich. Er hat sich gebrochen wouldn’t even make sense, in contrast to Er hat sich das Bein gebrochen.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Good to know it’s colloquial somewhere! For me, erbrechen is rather literary, and brechen in that meaning is downright medical (Brechreiz “gag reflex”… though Reiz means “stimulus, irritation”, not “reflex”, which is otherwise Reflex).

    Unsurprisingly, the colloquial word I’m used to is regional: speiben, with a diminutive (uh, speiberln) for babies. It’s a doublet of speien (“spew”, literary) with an ancient *w confusion.

  9. Stu Clayton says

    brechen in that meaning is downright medical (Brechreiz “gag reflex”…

    I lifted the “colloquially” from Duden. I have heard brechen used this way in Cologne, even from medical people. Oddly, now that I think about it, I would say some people, not in the highest ranks of Kultur und Dichtung, use brechen when they want to be high-class. And then Duden demotes this to “colloquial” ! On the other hand, I suppose wanting to seem above your station is a colloquial tendency.

    a) (ugs.) erbrechen, sich übergeben: nach dem Essen musste er heftig b.;

    I like speiben. I will try to fit it into my parole production schedule.

  10. I’d say brechen is the normal word in Northerly German, while (sich) erbrechen is more literary / sophisticated. The “standard” vulgar word is kotzen, and then there are of course many slangy or regional colloquial synonyms like reihern, göbeln, etc.

  11. I was long unsure as to how to pronounce Kotzebue, the name of an 18C literary gent. The answer also dispelled any suspicion that the name might have something to do with kotzen. Kotzebue is an aristocratic family that originated in Kossebau, now in Sachsen-Anhalt. In 1281 it was referred to in a legal document as Coczebu, which is maybe Polish ? Gothic, Indo-Nostratic ?

  12. PlasticPaddy says

    For kotzebue what I see in sources is a mangled “gospodar” meaning prince or ruler. I suspect coczebu is kotzebue with a different spelling.

  13. I suspect coczebu is kotzebue with a different spelling.


  14. Just as kotschoubeyanus comes from Кочубей:

  15. David Marjanović says

    Yes, kotzen is widespread, though not quite universal just yet.

    In 1281 it was referred to in a legal document as Coczebu, which is maybe Polish ?

    No, this cz is just a medieval way to make extra sure to indicate [ts]. It started in Old French, funnily enough.

    The whole thing is probably related to the city of Cottbus, in Upper Sorbian Choćebuz, or to the personal name the name of the city is apparently derived from.

  16. January First-of-May says

    the so called four letter word, or to be explicit, “f***” – no need to be prudish here

    Judging by the translation, the word in question was “fart”.

    (Actually, judging by the context, they probably did mean the bigger one, but even if not deliberate – and it might well be deliberate – the ambiguity is hilarious.)

  17. Old joke. Two border patrolmen Polish and Russian patrol on the opposite sides of the border. Russian cries toward his Polish counterpart
    — How do you Poles call zhopa [ass]?
    — Dupa.
    — Just as nice.

  18. Kotzebue
    When I first came across that name in a history book as an immature pre-teen, I found it hilarious for obvious reasons. Never mind that it was in the context of the man being assassinated and his assassination being the pretext for repression against liberal thinkers in Germany at that time.

  19. But what does it mean in Sorbian?

    I can only parse it as “I want” + “to be”.

    Very Hamletian

    “To be or not to be?”
    “ I want to be”

  20. When I first came across that name in a history book as an immature pre-teen

    I first came across another Kotzebue, of Krusenstern & Lisianski fame:

  21. David Marjanović says

    But what does it mean in Sorbian?

    de.WP waffles about a reconstructed vigilant hero whose name ended in -bud – so “wake” rather than “be”. Still, it strikes me as a just-so story.

  22. David Marjanović says

    Back to the topic…

    Another “nice” Polish swear-word is “kurwa” literally a “whore”, although in some contexts translated as a “bitch”, or even as “sh*t”, a very useful word indeed. Please, note that although the “k”-word is also a swear word, it is often used instead of a “comma” in the speech, giving the speaker a chance to recover before continuing the argument.

    Ah yes. “The Cockney alphabet” supposedly goes fucking A, fucking B, fucking C…, and Polish lists can likewise go like this: A, kurwa… B, kurwa… C, kurwa…

  23. I wonder if хезка/khezka “john” and khazi are etymologically related.

  24. January First-of-May says

    another Kotzebue, of Krusenstern & Lisianski fame

    …Oh. So that‘s where the name of Kotzebue, Alaska came from.

    (I knew the name of the Alaskan town – and no, I don’t recall which context that managed to come up in – but I’m not sure if I ever wondered about its origin.)

  25. August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (/ˈkɔtsəbu/, * 3. Mai 1761 in Weimar; † 23. März 1819 in Mannheim) war ein deutscher Dramatiker, Schriftsteller und Librettist.

    Why the final E in Kotzebue if it’s not pronounced?

  26. Stu Clayton says

    When the fonts are dry, “ü” is written as “ue”.

  27. Ah. Is it ever written as Kotzebü, do you think?

  28. Stu Clayton says

    Dunno. Some people have names with the alternative form baked-in. But I think I’ve made a mistake here. I just remembered there are a few German orthographic conventions that seem to conflict with each other in the present, but they’re only relicts of different conventions – they’re not all still “productive”, as the experts say.

    A guy I work with at the bank has “Paetz” as last name. He pronounces it as “Payts”, not “Petts” = “Pätz”. The town of Soest in NRW is pronounced “Soost” (“oo” as in “flow”), not “Söst”. That is a “vowel-lengthening e”, not a workaround for a missing lead-type “ö”.

    Kotzebue prounciation:

    # Als Aussprache ist angegeben: ˈkɔtsəˌbuː, also mit Längungs-e so wie in Knie oder Itzehoe. #

    So it’s “boo”, not “bü” in that name.

  29. I first came across another Kotzebue, of Krusenstern & Lisianski fame:

    That Wikipedia article says “In the last years of his life, Kotzebue lived at the Triigi Manor near Kose,” so I visited the Triigi page, and I discovered this. Why does a tiny Estonian village have a Volapük page?

  30. The fan(atic) who created the page was born there ?

  31. David Marjanović says


    For a while, ie was wildly overgeneralized. You’ll find lots of ae in older Dutch, including the French versions of the names of subway stations in Brussels; the Dutch oe also comes from there – it has drifted off to [uː], which couldn’t be spelled any other way and therefore keeps the convention alive.

  32. You’ll find lots of ae in older Dutch, including the French versions of the names of subway stations in Brussels

    I find only two here (I searched for “ae” on the page):


  33. Thanks, Stu.

    So it’s “boo”, not “bü” in that name.

    Probably how they pronounce it up there in Canada too, I’m guessing. I remember Itzehoe from when I lived in Hamburg. I never had to pronounce it, but always imagined it – correctly as it turns out – sounding like Ivanhoe.

  34. January First-of-May says

    Why does a tiny Estonian village have a Volapük page?

    As so often in Wikipedia, the answer is “bots” – some guy in… 2007, apparently, though I recall it being far earlier… decided that the Volapük Wikipedia should have over a hundred thousand pages, so he wrote a bot that would make pages for it.
    The constructed nature of Volapük obviously made it easier, and presumably the subjects were chosen to make the article creation simplier; small villages are a particularly convenient subject for this, since an article about a small village doesn’t have to be anything but easily available stats joined by a bit of common wording, and there’s a lot of small villages.

    An even more sophisticated version of the same thing that happened with Volapük occurred later on in the Swedish and Cebuano editions, to the extent that they became the editions with the third and second (after English) largest article count respectively – those two being the native languages respectively of Lars Sverker Johannson, of Lsjbot fame, and his wife Smiley (as I referred to on LH before).

    …Ironically enough, Volapük wasn’t even the first version to do this – that was actually the English Wikipedia, with Rambot in 2002. Supposedly the Volapük guy was inspired by that case (though it was far lower in scale).

  35. Interesting! I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I guess there’s no harm done.

  36. David Marjanović says

    Heh, I must have passed through Maelbeek/Maalbeek a bit too often!

  37. Stu Clayton says

    I figured that was the explanation. I was briefly inspired to go whole hog, searching for lizard genetics institutes in Bruxelles near metro stations, in order to discover if you might have gone through one or two very often. But then I expired, because the task is not well-defined. I’m not even sure you work in lizard genetics. Was verstehe ich denn von solchen Geschichten !

  38. Alas, poor Stu! I knew him, Horatio.

  39. David Marjanović says

    Heh… I don’t; neither lizards nor genetics. I’ve been to Brussels twice, each time for a conference.

  40. Old joke.

    A replay of 2016, but then we got a Russian version from the Hat and some explanation for clueless me. Alas, I still don’t see why it’s funny.

  41. You’ll find Längungs-e and -i a lot on the Lower Rhine, with place names like Straelen (with [a:]) or in -broich [bro:x].

  42. Stu Clayton says

    or in -broich [bro:x]

    Grevenbroich ! The Musical.

  43. PlasticPaddy says

    Something previous joke explainers do not bring up is the possibility of krasivo being infected by Russian krasivoe = beautiful, so “polish asshole also nice/beautiful”. But maybe you had to be there.

  44. Stu Clayton says

    In 50 years, if we’re lucky, they’ll be saying “you had to be there” in order to understand Stand by your man.

  45. «Alas, I still don’t see why it’s funny.»
    John, I put an extensive reply on the 2016 post you’ve linked to.

  46. It’s an inherently funny word. Every joke with “dupa” is funny by default.

    To nie sztuka zabić kruka ani sowę trafić w głowę ale sztuka całkiem świeża gołą dupą siąść na jeża

  47. Stu Clayton says
  48. David Marjanović says

    Grevenbroich !

    Also Voigt, which I only found out recently.

  49. Alas, I still don’t see why it’s funny.

    Sashura said: “the [additional] humour here is that the Russian word zhopa means asshole, and the Polish word dupa to a Russian ear also sounds vaguely like ‘hole’ as in duplo – hollow, cavity in a tree (or in a tooth). That’s why the Russian soldier says ‘it’s also nice’. Back passage – asshole, zhopa, dupa.”

  50. I mean, it’s not a thigh-slapper, more a wry chuckle.

  51. Well, the Russian view of the Polish word is very clarifying. Thanks, Sashura.

  52. Unsurprisingly this is totally opaque even though some words are similar, but used quite differently. Eg balvan in BCS is just a “log”, and the word kurva is just “whore” whereas in Polish it seems to have evolved into some kind of super-swearword. In general Polish swearing seems pretty polite compared to Serbo-Croatian, Kasia’s evident discomfort with this type of language makes her a less than ideal teacher of it

    The real eye opening part of the article was the comments section – consisting of various ladies attempting to phonetically spell out some phrase they half-remember their Polish babcia saying, and soliciting input on their possible meanings. Who knew that Polish grandmas swore so much!

  53. I was going to recommend Maciej Widawski’s The Polish-English Dictionary of Slang and Colloquialism, which has excellent coverage of swears, but holy crap: 7 Used from $74.66, 5 Used from $101.39, 1 New from $894.90! I got mine for $2.98 back in the day, and I can’t imagine why it’s so pricy.

  54. Interesting. To my ear it sounded unmistakably Turkish, and my intuition proved correct (for once). However, figuring out the Turkish counterpart proved trickier – the best – or at any rate most extravagant – explanation is that it comes ultimately from the Turkic “balbal” meaning “gravestone”, indirectly borrowed via Avar(!); its initial meaning, at least in the Balkans, referred either to an idol or the place where an idol was kept (a shrine?). I’m a little unclear on how it got from “idol” to “wooden log” but it has something to do with the idols having been made of wood.

    Hopefully one of our many experts here can help me understand whether this is even remotely plausible.

  55. That’s the most common explanation, yes.

    Balbals are stone idols left by Turkic nomads in the southern Russian steppes. They look like this

    In Russian (and pretty much every Slavic language), they were called “bolvans”.

    All other meanings (“wooden log”, “dumb idiot”) derive from its shape and general appearance.

  56. Bloomin’ idol made o’ wood.

Speak Your Mind