Much Ado About Polish #2 – Smacznego lutego!

At the start of February, it is worth having a look at some of the things likely to be going on in the coming month which you may be involved in if you live and work in Poland.

First, let’s consider the name of the month, “luty”. Note that months are not written with capital letters in Polish unless they are in headers or beginnings of sentences. “Luty” is an adjective, functioning here as a noun, and is therefore called an ‘adjectival noun’ and these are common in all the Slavonic languages. Therefore you’ll hear versions of it like “lutego” in the meaning “of February” or “w lutym” in February. If you wanted to talk about a lot of Februaries from various years, you could see forms like “lute” or “lutych” but they would be as rare as “Februaries” as such is in English. They are in any case always masculine with the word for month, “miesiąc”, understood.

The meaning of “luty” is “severe”, “wild”, etc, and conjures the idea of difficult weather, which indeed you have every right to expect if you are in Poland that month, although no refunds will be given should the sun actually come out and all the snow and slush melt (don’t get the sun cream out yet, though). As an adjective in its own right it is archaic and you might encounter it in its original meaning only in poetic or historic texts.

Slavic names for months vary between the countries and the Czechs have the term “únor” from “nořiti se”, to float, referring to partially thawed ice floating down the rivers. In Poland the ice in the rivers is likely to be fairly solid rather than floating around, although you never know. Croatian has Veljača, meaning the month when day length starts to increase. As we know, this already happens in the last ten days of December, but it is a question of perception, in the absence of scientific measurement. Slovene, Serbian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian, and Slovak all follow Latin months like most West European languages. You probably already know how this word comes from Februa, the “purgings” or “purifications”, and is cognate with “fever” and I wonder why that is…

Ukrainian and Belorusian, along with the local languages within Poland of Kashubian and Silesian all share forms of “luty”, spelt their own ways. The Sorbian language which is a Slavic language in East Germany spoken now by very few people has “maly rożk” which means small month, referring to the fact that February has fewer days than the other months.

Polish had in the past alternative words for February, including “mięsopustnik”, meaning “meat leaver”, for the obvious reason that usually Lent would at least start in this month.

We all know that in leap years February has an extra day and the Polish for “leap year” is “rok przechodni” (adjectives in -ni are soft adjectives, and we’ll have to come back to that at some point) which means “going over” or “walking over”. In Poland there is no actual leaping over, as the other side where you land could have black ice or a “gołoledź” as it is known, and no amount of look-before-you-leaping will help in such instances. Had they put the extra day in June, it probably would be a different matter.

In Poland there are various sayings and proverbs associated with February, one of the best is “Czasem w luty ostro kuty, czasem w luty same pluty” which refers to the fact that the month can have severe cold or simply be rainy and muddy. Another nice one is “Spyta cię luty, masz-li buty?” namely “February is asking you whether you have good shoes?”. A very common one “Idzie luty, podkuj buty” seems tongue-in-cheek as it says “February is coming, put a horseshoe under your shoes”, but it refers to the old practice of adding steel grips, like the English blakeys or segs which we don’t tend to do anymore, so if you want segs, you need to go to Russia, a fine destination for segs tourism.

A couple of these expressions refer to weather lore and predicting coming meteorological conditions: “Gdy ciepło w lutym, zimno w marcu bywa, długo trwa zima, to jest niewątpliwa”. “If February is warm, March will be cold and the winter long, without a doubt”. Several other rhyming phrases echo this sentiment but there is one unusual one: w Katarzynę z nieba nic nie spadnie, będzie w przyszłym lutym chyba jeszcze ładniej. This means “if there is no rain on St Catherine’s Day, February next year will be even finer”, not that that is necessarily good news if the preceding proverbs are anything to go by.

St Catherine’s Day is 13th February, and is not the only common name day this month. This is a large topic however and worthy to be reserved for a separate article.

St Valentines is well known on 14th of the month, not that many Poles have that name but they have had their share of massacres, if not that particular one. The largest massacre currently going on is the sacrifice of native culture to imported culture, so don’t be surprised if poles around you also engage in some romantic nonsense on that day. Social clubs are as likely to make “antywalentynkowe” events as “walentynkowe” ones, as most Poles are in agreement that romance is not compatible with the flick of a switch, or the rning of a page in a calendar.

Usually, though, the most significant days connected with February are related to Lent or “Wielki Post”, and such disciplines, unlike romance, you can certainly plan for. However, ironically, the fast is a “moveable feast”, and this particular year, 2019, we have a late Easter and so Ash Wednesday is not until March, with the celebration of Ostatki – where the remains are eaten and a carnival atmosphere sustained, the preceding day, also in March for 2019. Still, even this year the preceding Thursday, which is “Fat Thursday” or “Tłusty Czwartek” instead of the French Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, is in February, the 28th in fact in 2019. On this day employers will generally arrange doughnuts for all the staff and this is not one of the best days of the year to have a gluten intolerance. Those of you not in a company will have to arrange your own, and the best in Warsaw are considered to come from Blikle. There is no pancake day, this is all instead of that. Obviously you can have pancakes if you want them, it is a question of visiting the nearest ‘naleśnikarnia’, but you will find a very tasty Polish tradition eating “pączek”s, or “small buds” as the word literally means. They are not small at all, by the way, and they are often iced on top and filled with jam in the middle.

Smacznego lutego!



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