…then you’re probably all caught up in Polish idioms right now. It’s not so bad – idioms are fun and they “get to the heart” of the matter.
Does this sound familiar? You’ve been learning Polish for a while and have a respectable basic vocabulary, but in conversation you sometimes understand about as much as “sitting through a sermon in Turkish”, even though you know all the individual words. “Let a goose kick it,” you say, and ask yourself why these people don’t “put the coffee on the bench”.
Not sure what all this means? Then it’s probably high time to learn some Polish idioms1!
In order to understand an idiom, it takes more than just knowing the individual words. But it works the other way as well – if you want to use an idiom correctly, you don’t necessarily need to have mastered all the words in the phrase. Idioms don’t work like that. If taken literally, they sound like nonsense, even if some would find it wonderful if an upcoming math test were not only in the figurative sense “a small beer” – as in “nothing to worry about”. One has to take idioms at much more than just face value and know in which context to use them.
But why put in the effort? Or, as they say in Polish, aren’t idioms about as “necessary as a hole in a bridge”? The answer is very simply, “no”. Here are a few reasons why idioms aren’t just amazing, but also essential.
First of all, more literal isn’t necessarily more precise or more understandable. Sometimes a lot of extra words are needed to describe something appropriately and accurately.
Idioms are very applicable since they are usually related to everyday things and situations, such as eating and drinking, which everyone can understand. That’s why there’s surely no idiom in any language that’ll make you “as tired as a hypothesis after its verification”. Sometimes even a non-native speaker knows immediately what is meant, because the picture the idiom evokes literally “speaks for itself” – you’ve most certainly already thought that the “hole in a bridge” expression means something like “as necessary as a hole in the head”. By the way, the phrase “speaks for itself” exists in Polish in the exact same wording – a prime example that many idioms have no cultural boundaries.
Sometimes, however, the meaning isn’t evident in and of itself. For example, do you know what “to make Bigos” means? If you have ever seen the brownish-red stew made of sauerkraut and who-knows-what-else that is the Polish national dish, then this phrase should remind you of chaos. In fact, the idiom means something like “to cause confusion” or “to cause trouble”. Therefore, it’s beneficial to know a little about the society from which the idiom comes. (By the way, Bigos is absolutely delicious if you’re in the mood for something hearty – so don’t judge the book by its cover).
Last but not least, idioms are incredibly funny if you take them literally. Imagine, for example, “making your boss a horse” (or a horse’s rear end, as we might say), and you’ve just made your day. In our mother tongues, this humor goes mostly unnoticed because the idioms are so embedded in the culture. That’s why it’s even more fun to learn idioms in a foreign language, because one doesn’t have any other choice but to translate them literally and to bring the meaning behind the image to mind.
Inspired to learn some idioms? Then take a look at the idioms courses available at Babbel. You’ll find the Polish idioms here.
1. In Polish, “like sitting through a sermon in Turkish” means “not having a clue”, “let a goose kick it” actually means “to hell with it””, and “to put the coffee on the bench” means “to speak clearly”.↩