It’s a pity, that we didn’t experience the proper Indian summer in Hamburg, because the topic actually inspired me to write another article. It’s no longer about the weather, but the ethnic stereotypes in the language. At first, some theory.
We all know that there are hundreds of languages in the world. Some of them we understand, in another we only recognise several words, but most of them we don’t understand at all. Even neighbouring nations can have very different languages. It’s the existence of so many languages that gave the reason to create some particular expressions, which sometimes sound a bit xenophobic, even though they have nothing to do with the truth.
Not only the language itself is the cause, but also the culture and the history of a particular nation. Significant political, social or economic events also had influence on the development of idiomatic phrases formation in the neighbouring nations’ languages. Such forms can have different meanings, both positive and negative.
Poland borders on seven countries: Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany, but we must remember, that Poland in its best times had to do also with many other nations. Let’s see which stereotypical idioms we have.
- Ruski rok (Russian year)
Once in a Russian year (raz na ruski rok) – Poles say, when something happens really rare or probably won’t happen at all. On the other hand, both ruski rok (Russian year) and ruski miesiąc (Russian month) describe the situation, when something lasts for ages.
Some people say, that this idiom refers to the deportations to Siberia during the war. Often, the punishments had been lengthened and hardly anyone was coming back from there, which is why the Russian year lasts so long. However, there is another explanation. Due to the harsh Russian winters, the period of any activity was only possible in the rare warm periods. Thus, once in a Russian year happens rather rare.
- Czeski film (Czech movie) and czeski błąd (Czech mistake)
Except the movie produced in the Czech Republic, Czech movie is the expression, which Poles use, when nobody knows what’s going on. While the Czech mistake is a typical thing, that all of us do, when we write the numbers or letters in the wrong order. In English, it cannot be explained better than a typo with interchanged neighbouring characters.
The etymology of the Czech film surprisingly has its origin in the cinematography, because the term arose after the movie “Nobody knows anything” showed in Poland in the 70s (of course Czechoslovak production). What’s interesting, no one knows, where the Czech mistake came from. Some linguists claim, that the term was created, because in the Czech language many words resemble Polish ones, like: karp (Polish) – kapr (Czech) – for a carp fish in English.
- Tureckie or Niemieckie kazanie (Turkish or German sermon)
To sit in the Turkish/German sermon (siedzieć na tureckim/niemieckim kazaniu) means simply not understanding anything. These idioms arose, because for the Polish people both Turkish and German languages were completely incomprehensible. In addition, in the Polish language we call Germans – Niemcy, which means dumb people. In other languages we would rather call Germans with the name of the tribe, that inhabited closest to the particular country’s border, but maybe we will discuss this next time.