With a few exceptions that are Latin, the Polish month names of the year take more from the Pagan world of seasonal changes, rather than from the Latin calendar that we all know and use in English.
What’s even more interesting is that even though Poland is historically a Catholic country, they chose to distance themselves from Latin names that are so ubiquitous in other parts of Europe. Instead, Poland held onto an older pre-Christian form of calendar naming. This contrasts to Russia which actually changed to be Latin. One language pundit on Reddit suggested that this was a linguistic rebellion against the dominance of Germany in Central Europe in the Middle Ages, but I couldn’t verify if this was true.
The hidden secrets of these Polish words reveal a lot about the culture
These Slavic words tell us a lot about ancient and contemporary Poland, including the lives people led which were close to nature and the changing seasons.
Styczeń (pronounced stitch-enn) comes from the verb siec. This refers to the action of cutting down trees, possibly in the dark and cold of a -14 degree Polish winter. Perhaps the wood was easier to carry on sleighs?
Luty, the word for February (pronounced loo-te) is an adjective which means harsh or cruel. It’s likely referring to the freezing Baltic temperatures of this month. It may sound like like lód which is the word for ice in Polish, but this is a false word association.
A month name with a Latin origin, Marzec (pronounced Mar-zets) is similar to the English word for March. Both words take their name from the Roman god of war: Mars.
Kwiecień, the word for April (pronounced kvi-etchenn) is inspired by the Polish word for flower, kwiat (pron: kvi-at). This is the month of budding blossoms and heralds the start of spring-time.
The other Latin month is Maj, which takes its name from the Roman goddess Maia.
This is a quirky one! Czerwiec (pronounced cher-vi-ets) takes its name from a humble worm czerw in Polish. Why? in ancient times, June was the month when these worms slithered out of the underworld and into the woods. Known as Polish cochineals Porphyrophora polonica, they were used to produce a red dye, which become a symbolic Polish colour of carmine, used in furniture, garments and even the Polish flag. The Polish word for red: czerwony also comes from the humble worm, the czerw.
The name for July is Lipiec (pronounced lip-i-ets). This word is derived from lipa which means linden tree in Polish. Linden trees are flourishing with plenty of flowers and lush leaves at this time of the year. They are a common sight in all Polish cities and add to the beauty of verdant summertime in the countryside.
The word for August Serpień (pronounced serp-yenn) derives from the word sierp meaning sickle. August marks the annual harvest and the sickle was the primary hand tool for reaping crops since time immemorial, before machinery came along and made it automated.
Wrzesień (pronounced vresh-i-enn) is derived from the word wrzos, meaning ‘heather. The fiery flushing heather on the mountainside always looks the most beautiful in the pale autumn light.
Październik, the name for October, (pronounced paz-d-jernik) comes from the Polish word to chaff: paździerze. This is the process of removing fibre from hemp or flax for the production of rope and sacks. The industrialised process still lives on today in the form of chipboard and MDF board that you can buy in hardware stores.
The Polish name for November’s comes from two very evocative words. liście (leaves) and padać (fall). So Listopad is a simple and gentle word for a seasonal phenomenon.
As the earth settles down to rest at the end of the northern year, gruda is celebrated. A gruda is a lump of earth, beaten down and sedated by the freezing cold. Grudzien (pronounced Grud-Zen with a hard Z) hails a time of rest, quiet and recuperation.
The quirky history of the Polish calendar months Culture.pl
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10 thoughts on “The quirky meander through the origins of language in the Polish calendar”
For us folk living in the southern hemisphere, wouldn’t it be great to name our months with some connection to nature.
Ah yes would be amazing!!! even better a pagan book of hours relating to indigenous Australian mythology and all of the cool animals both extant and extinct!!
I would love to spearhead such a thing
Connection to nature….it’s sorely missed
This was fun and educational. The best combo. Thanks!
Thanks so much Lani 🙂 glad you enjoyed it. This iwas fun to write too.
Great rread thank you
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Thank you Veronica 💚