Question of the day.

   What’s a saying in your language that probably doesn’t have a straight-forward translation into other languages? 

   My answer: 

   Well, in my experience, when translating anything between Polish and English, it’s English that has more words that are untranslatable into Polish, simply because English has loads more words than Polish does. That being said, we do have a lot of sayings, also proverbs, idioms, colloquial or downright slangy words that are very handy yet don’t seem to have a straightforward translation into English, and as much as, when speaking Polish to a non-English speaker, I often sorely lack the huge amounts of weirdly specific and descriptive words that English has, on the other hand, when speaking English, I really feel the lack of all those very picturesque and often quite humourous and to the point sayings, idioms etc. of my native language. As you may know, I have always envied people who are multilingual since early childhood, but as my own language development keeps progressing, I am increasingly more inclined to believe someone I was once writing with who was raised bilingual, and who told me that being bilingual is not all amazing, because, according to him,   when you speak two or more languages fluently from a very early age, in a way you can’t develop either of them as well as a monoglot can, and you have gaps in each of them and mix them up a lot totally accidentally etc. I was raised monolingual, so that was not my experience, but now that my thinking is pretty equally divided between Polish and English, and my Swedish is also pretty strong, I think I am starting to see that myself. When I speak English, I still don’t know a lot of niche words or am unfamiliar with some structures, or make a lot of mistakes, or am just not sure how to express some very specific thing, or  like I said  lack some colourful idiom from my native language. But when I speak my native language, I find it increasingly difficult to resist the temptation of snobbishly throwing words from other languages in between or awkwardly calquing expressions from other languages, or otherwise it sometimes takes me ages to remember what something’s called in Polish which feels and appears ridiculous. Also I write a lot less in Polish these days than I do in English and sometimes I have an impression that ever since I’ve started writing loads in English, like blogging and having mostly English-speaking friends, my writing skills in Polish have degraded slightly but visibly, while I still haven’t developed as distinctive a writing style as I’ve had in Polish. I shared that observation with my grandad a few months ago and he said that perhaps this is evidence for why humans might not actually be built for being multilingual. It’s an interesting theory and could sort of make sense at the first glance, because in the past people rarely travelled so far that they’d need more than one language to communicate effectively with everyone, nonetheless I don’t believe in this theory one bit. AlSo yeah, linguistic dilemmas. But anyway, I’m digressing already before I’ve even managed to properly start answering the question. 😀 

   So, an untranslatable Polish saying? The first thing that comes to my mind is one that would literally translate to “to think about blue almonds”. At least on the surface, that may seem like the best literal translation for it, even though it’s not really right or exact but we’ll get to that in a minute. If you’re thinking about blue almonds, it means that you are dreaming, usually about something that isn’t very likely to come true, or, in any case, you are not doing anything to get closer to it coming true. It is also strongly associated with being idle and lazy, like, instead of doing what you’re supposed to do, for example doing your job so that you can eventually get a raise and gradually become richer and possibly very rich, you just sit there thinking about blue almonds, that is in this case  how cool it would be to be a billionaire and what you’d be doing if you were one, but you’re not even trying to increase the likelihood of it happening. I’ve also heard it used several times to signify something more like zoning out, for example, you’re in the middle of doing something, and then you stop in the midst of it and suddenly appear deep in thought, so someone might ask you what you’re thinking about and you could say: “Oh,  just thinking about blue almonds”, meaning that you’d simply zoned out and weren’t thinking about anything in particular at all or just mind wandering or something. But generally it’s most basic meaning I’d say is idle, lazy daydreaming of very unlikely or perhaps utopian things. 

   But why blue almonds, actually? Well, the thing is that they aren’t really blue. The Polish word for blue (niebieski) also has another meaning – “heavenly”. – It is much less commonly used, these days you’d mainly see it in religious texts like the Bible (lol my Mac is so brainwashed by me already that it autocorrects Bible to Bibiel 🤣 ) or hymns or prayers (so essentially in Polish Heavenly Father means the same as blue father, and I remember that when I was little I found that really odd) or such, or otherwise perhaps astronomy-related stuff where it would mean “celestial”. I guess it’s because the word for heaven (niebo) is the same as sky in Polish, and well, the sky is blue. Or perhaps there’s a more logical reason behind that. So technically the almonds aren’t really supposed to be blue, but heavenly. But since “niebieski) is more  commonly used as meaning blue these days, most people think the almonds in the saying are actually blue and interpret it as to think/daydream about something very weird/fantastical/surreal, ‘cause blue almonds don’t exist. Apparently, in the past centuries, the Polish word for almond (migdał) was also used to mean something delicious, perhaps a bit sumptuous, exotic, luxurious, that you didn’t eat every single day. So I guess a more fitting literal translation would really be something like “to think about heavenly delicacies”. 

   Or am I wrong in assuming that this doesn’t have an English equivalent? If so, please do enlighten me.

   . How about you? Or if you’re not sure what sayings from your language are or are not translatable to others, what’s your favourite saying in your native language? 🙂 


15 thoughts on “Question of the day.”

  1. Too fun! Blue almonds, oh my goodness! Well, I think I’ve heard “heavenly delights”. That might be the translation!

    Hmm… my favorite saying is… I can’t think! I’ve been ill with either the flu and/or gluten withdrawal! And today’s Thanksgiving! Doctor tomorrow, and oh hey, I finally got a cellphone! I’m using it now. Harder to type on! 😮 I hope you’re doing well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that’s too bad you’ve been feeling unwell, and on Thanksgiving specifically! I hope you still had a good holiday though. 🙂 And that whatever is causing you to feel yucky will go away quickly.
      How cool that you have a cell phone, but yeah, I totally hear you about it being hard to type on the phone screen, which is why I don’t even do it myself almost ever. 😀 I always use an external keyboard or, better even, my Braille display which is actually a Braille notetaker so it has a keyboard that also works with the phone. But even so, I still find typing on the computer incomparably better.
      I’m feeling real anxious today for some mysterious reason, but other than that, things are going very well here. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh dear I hope you feel better soon! Bad anxiety! Keep me posted and I’ll report back after I see the doctor soon!

        I’m glad you have such good keyboards! Huh I wonder if a keyboard can be linked to a phone! 😮

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m happy to say that my anxiety is a lot better today, nowhere near as it was yesterday. 🙂
      It definitely is totally doable to link a keyboard to a phone with touch screen, the keyboard just needs to have Bluetooth. Not sure if it’s possible if the phone has a built-in physical keyboard.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The “blue almonds” make me think of the Arabic saying of the child who cried for toasted snow.

    [though it may not have the implication of dissatisfaction/sour grapes that the Arabic saying – through English translators – has].

    And now it does make more sense to think of almonds in the sky like stars or sky-almonds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We also use “strike while the iron is hot” in Polish, and in exactly the same form.
      Talking under water or sand…? I can’t think of any Polish saying like that, but then I’m sure there are a lot of Polish sayings that I may not know, like regional or archaic stuff. The only kind of similar thing that comes to my brain right now that I guess is kind of similar is to hide one’s head in the sand, but I believe this also works in English since it relates to the ostrich and it’s not like the ostrich is a distinctly Polish thing or something. 😀 Or there’s also “to pour water”, which means to speak a lot and possibly quite eloquently but off topic or very vaguely.


      1. Don’t I know about the sand-hiding ostrich!

        The “pouring water” saying makes me think about the “Empty vessels make the most sound” which feels like a classical saying from Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey.

        The Iron saying must have had a whole Indo-European cast during the Bronze or the Iron Age.

        If you do find some great archaic and/or regional sayings.

        Yes – I think of the water pouring through thin soil for all the receptiveness the intended listeners and audience had had.

        I wonder if Poles have fairies at the bottoms of their gardens?

        [Yes – I know the fairy I am thinking of is so very Celtic – or even Gaelic].

        Then I think also of keeping our chins up and turning the other cheek.

        These body sayings are likely to be very or flexibly translatable.

        [especially if they were previously or widely from a sacred text – eg the Bible or this Hindu text I am thinking about].


    2. Hm, fairies…? Well, I’m not perfectly sure but I believe the Slavic people did believe in fairies of some sort, I guess stuff like rusałkas or brzeginias could be classified as a type of fairies though quite different from the Celtic-influenced general notion of a fairy in the English-speaking world, I suppose. Rusałkas and brzeginias lived in the waters, so I’m not sure if they’d be drawn to gardens at all or if there was a specific garden creature, kind of like Greeks had all those various kinds of nymphs. Perhaps fairies only like gardens in really wet/humid areas, like ours is by the river as it runs through our backyard. Shall look around for them and will report back if I find any. But generally while Slavic people were very imaginative with their folklore, Poles these days aren’t really particularly open to those things, compared to Celtic nations or I suppose even Germanic. Which has both its big pros and big cons.
      Yeah, I’m sure loads of sayings came through sacred texts and similar things and those must be quite universal indeed.


  3. there is a verbalisity in polish, which probably is non-translatable… it goes like this: to dance and to pray(do tańca i do rożańca).
    It made my year actually- this kind of ethnic wisdom. A person who could integrate the playfullness in itself and the ability to be completely in allighment with the mind of Unknowable. Its an incredible mental instrument.
    If theres an equal wisephrase in english please, Emi, inform me. Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, that’s a very cool saying indeed, and it nicely deals with that stereotype of Christians having to always be gravely serious and sad people, it shows that balance is a very good thing. I’ve seen it used in a more negative way, as in when someone is sort of hypocritically religious – seemingly praying all the time but actually having their mind entirely on earthly things – but the original meaning is definitely a positive one indeed.
      Unfortunately I don’t think I know of any equivalent phrase in English, which doesn’t have to mean that there is none.


      1. Americans [particularly evangelical and charismatic types – as well as some of the more pragmatic mainliners] talk often about “Thoughts and Prayers”.

        And the dancing, W, reminds me of a dervish in Hinduism and a little bit of Jainism.

        There have been lots of rapturous Dancers of the Book.

        Solomon and his Song is a profound exemplar.

        The interaction between earth and heaven is foundational to all kinds of sayings.

        Dancing and praying is very relatable. A lot of people feel like they touch God when they dance – or God touches them.

        The one I am thinking of at the moment in English is very much:

        “Tread lightly”

        or in the travel and tourism world

        “Take only photographs and leave only footprints”.

        National and state protected parks are more direct:

        “Take your rubbish/trash/garbage with you”.

        And ecology and environmentalism have their hypocrites also.

        Liked by 1 person

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