What’s your favorite country to visit? In Europe, one of the countries I like the most is Poland. I haven’t been to Poland very much, but I’ve always enjoyed myself when I’ve been there. Poland is a beautiful country with excellent food, which has given quite a few words to English! We call these borrowed words loan words, and they’re a great way to help learn a language. There are quite a few Polish loan words in English, and some of them I found pretty shocking (surprising)! I had no idea that some of these common words came from Polish!

If you’ve been looking to improve your English (or maybe even your Polish!), here are some interesting words that the two languages share. Keep reading to find out more about the history of these Polish loan words in English!

Kevlar (ˈkɛvlɚ)

Do you like watching war movies or police procedurals (shows about police or solving crime)? Then you may have heard the term Kevlar thrown around (mentioned). Kevlar is a strong, synthetic (man-made), fiber (cloth), that is used to make clothing and objects that can be used to protect people. For example, Kevlar is used to make bulletproof vests, protective gloves, or combat (fighting) helmets. While Kevlar is not a direct Polish loan word, it was named for the person who created it, Stephanie Kwolek, a scientist who worked for DuPont who was born to Polish immigrants to the United States.

For example:

  • “Don’t forget your Kevlar vest,” the policeman said in an episode of Law & Order.
  • My grandfather enjoyed carving things out of wood, and always wore a Kevlar glove to protect his hand.

Make-up (ˈmeɪkˌʌp)

This is one Polish loan word that is also named for a Polish person, and is one that I found pretty surprising! Make-up, or what people use to paint their faces, has been used for centuries- here is our Easy English blog on make-up vocabulary in English ! However, Maksymilian Faktorowicz (also known as Max Factor), was a Polish beautician (someone who works in the beauty industry) who developed the modern make-up industry in the United States, and came up with the term make-up to talk about what we use to color our faces (such as foundation, lipstick, etc). He only started using the term make-up in the early 1900s, so this term is much newer than I thought it was!

For example:

  • No matter what, she always does her make-up in the morning. She feels better with some foundation and mascara on.
  • I don’t wear much make-up, but I always put some on for fancy (special) occasions. It feels like playing dress-up sometimes!

Pierogi (pɚˈroʊɡɪ)

One of my favorite foods are dumplings. I don’t care what kind of dumplings (meat or vegetables wrapped in dough). Just give me some dumplings, and I’m happy. The Polish version of dumplings are called pierogis, and they’re delicious! Pierogis can be fried (cooked in a pan with oil), put in a soup, or steamed (cooked in water vapor), and they can have many different kinds of fillings. Pierogis have made their way to the U.S. through Polish immigrants, and are a great comfort food (food that makes you feel good) on cold winter nights. What’s your favorite pierogi filling?

For example:

  • Her boyfriend’s family is Polish and always makes pierogis from scratch for the holidays.
  • Do you want to get some pierogis to share? I can’t eat a whole serving by myself, but I want to try them! I’ve heard they’re good here.

Spruce (ˈspruːs)

You may know spruce trees as Christmas trees, but did you know that spruce is a Polish loan word? Spruce trees are a kind of pine tree, and the original Polish word is z Prus, which means “from Prussia” (a region that used to be part of Germany, and is now part of Poland). In English, this phrase sounds pretty close to spruce! It is thought that the spruce tree might have originated (come from) in Prussia.

For example:

  • Which type of Christmas tree should we get this year? Should we get a spruce tree, or a fir tree? Which one do you think would look better in the house?
  • Spruce shoots, or the new growth of a spruce shoots, are edible (able to be eaten), and her favorite spring activity was walking through the woods collecting spruce shoots to pickle (preserve in vinegar to be eaten later).

Vodka (ˈvɑdkə)

Perhaps the most well-known Polish loan word is vodka. Vodka is a clear, alcoholic drink that was invented in Poland and comes from the diminutive for woda, or water. This is probably because vodka looks like water! Vodka is a popular alcohol to use for mixed drinks, and can even be drunk on its own. I don’t really like drinking vodka that much, but I know people who do. At the very least, it’s great in a Bloody Mary (an alcoholic drink with tomato juice and vodka).

For example:

  • One of his favorite pasta dishes is penne alla vodka, which is a creamy tomato sauce with vodka in it.
  • Whenever she smelled vodka it reminded her of college, since it was the only kind of alcohol they could afford then!

Did you find any of these Polish loan words surprising? Do you know of any others? Share with us in the comments below!

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Check out these other popular blogs: Furniture Vocabulary in EnglishCommon Vacation Phrases in EnglishPassive vs Active Voice in English, or these Portuguese Loan Words used in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and can’t get enough pierogis!

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