Polish Influences in my Family's Language

I grew up as the grandson of four Polish immigrants.

By the time I was born, my family was well integrated into American culture and language. My sisters and I were not taught to speak Polish, although we heard our relatives use Polish to speak to each other, especially when they were talking about something they didn’t want us to hear. Still, certain Polish traditions were faithfully celebrated and a few Polish words were integrated into our language as firmly as if they were English words.

Most Americans are familiar with the Polish words kiełbasa (sausage), and pierogi (dumplings). These Polish words are listed in many dictionaries of the English language, and were certainly part of my family’s vocabulary.

At family gatherings, other Polish words for food occasionally crept into conversations that were otherwise in English – ziemniaki (potatoes), kapusta (cabbage), bułki (rolls or buns), piwo (beer), and gołąbki (stuffed cabbages).

Still other Polish words and phrases entered my family’s vocabulary, and my family uses those words and phrases to the present day.

We use the Polish word dupa meaning one’s anatomical bottom, even though most four-letter English words are carefully avoided. I can still remember hearing my father or my sister call out to me when I dawdled or was slow getting ready for Mass: “Get your dupa over here!”. For my sisters and me, the word is an acceptable alternative to the English equivalent. My family uses the word with relatively wild abandon, although our Aunt Helen still blushes and giggles whenever she hears it.

My family uses the word pieniężny, the Polish word for money, especially when referring to being particular rich or poor (Oh, I wish I had more pieniężny! Boy, he’s just rolling in pieniężny!). When my family visited my Grandmother Danko, grandmother would give each of my sisters and me pieniężny – a clean, crisp dollar bill which, it turned out, she had recently washed, ironed and sequestered under her mattress just for such occasions. She just detested dirty pieniężny.

Speaking of Grandmother Danko: she always called me Staś, the Polish diminutive of the name Stanisław (Stanley). I don’t know if she thought my name really was Stanisław or if she just decided that my name should have been Stanisław, regardless of what my parents named me. My father and sisters still call me Staś, especially when they’re nostalgic or affectionate.

And when our visits with Grandmother Danko were over and we were leaving for the night, my sisters and I would wish grandmother “Dobranoc!” – “Good night!”.

Written for the 54th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy – The Family Language.

Copyright © 2008 by Stephen J. Danko

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3 Responses to Polish Influences in my Family's Language

  1. Abba-Dad says:

    I love this post. We had a lot of Polish and Yiddish in our family and just reading the word Kapusta made my mouth water.

  2. Larry Czarnik says:

    Steve,

    I consider it one of those very thin threads of life to see a post – Best of the Genea-Blogs – April 18-24, 2010 from Genea-Musings by Randy Seaver referencing A Beginner’s Guide to Eastern European Genealogy – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 by Stephen Danko on Steve’s Genealogy Blog. What a great treasure trove of information for Steve’s specialty. A keeper!

    Among so many other entries I was attracted to those posts, didn’t even read them closely, but noticed this post in the blog, because of my own, to find you and I share this “I grew up as the grandson of four Polish immigrants”.

    Am really busy and may come back and offer more similar thoughts, but had one query – Why if your name is Steve, did your babci (grandmother) call you Stas (Stanley)??? (My Dad’s name is Stanley).

    I’ll be back,
    Larry
    2010AP26 07:20 Sydney, AP25 17:20 US EDY

  3. Paula Guerin-Howard (part of the Danko/Golinski "clan" from Worcester, MA) says:

    I think we may have met about 43 years ago in Albany, NY. (that is if your Dad was “Frankie” Danko, as my mother called him). I am the daughter of Josephine Golinski and George Guerin. My maternal grandmother was Mary Danko. She married my grandfather, (Pop pop) aka Paul Golinski, and they lived at Prescott Place in Worcester, MA before moving to Millbury to live upstairs above their son Joseph Golinski and his family. Uncle Joe is still with us and I have numerous fond memories. My mom and my aunt Fran are also enjoying life in Auburn and Worcester, respectively.

    I was compelled to write because, like you, I grew up hearing many Polish words (all that you mentioned (except for money), and more.) I have a very funny story to tell about the word “dupa”. In the early 1970’s, while dating the man who would later become my husband, I said to him laughingly one day, something like, “I’m going to smack you in the dupa”. He looked at me and said, “What?” I repeated myself over and over. I couldn’t believe that dupa was NOT an English word. I was about 17 years old! I love being Polish. Growing up in a Polish family was so much fun – lots of love and lots of good food! P.S. I love reading your blogs and website! Thank you!

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