Brass monkeys flee Poland

Recently some moronic foreigners have been heard moaning about the feebleness of Polish winters these days. I won’t mention any names to save embarrassment. Fortunately the ill-informed rantings of these laughable fools have been silenced by what the locals like to call a ‘winter attack.’ Today I went outside and several important parts of my body immediately turned blue and dropped off. I scuttled round the corner to check the thermometer display outside my local shop but something had clearly gone wrong with it since there were altogether too many digits after the minus sign. I noticed a couple of babcie who had taken the precaution of wearing two fur coats at the same time thereby taking on the appearance of cube-shaped yetis.

Some time later, when electrical activity had restarted in my brain, I got to thinking about the language we use to describe cold – cold idioms if you prefer. It has come to my attention that a number of Polish people read this blog and I feel it is my duty to explain some of the weirder aspects of colloquial English that may have escaped their notice.

Here then are the top idioms and phrases with the word cold

1. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

The grandaddy of all idioms with the word cold. It can be handily translated into Polish as:

Cold enough to freeze the piłki off a mosiężna małpa


Cold enough to freeze the jajka off a mosiężna małpa

There is some confusion among English-speaking people as to which is the correct interpretation given the ambiguousness of the word ‘balls.’ Students of the English language and Americans are advised not to try and understand the phrase and just accept that it means ‘bloody cold.’ Often abbreviated to “Brass monkeys weather.”

For example:
Christ mate, it’s brass monkeys out there!

2. Cold turkey
The inevitable result of a foolish drunken resolution to give up smoking made on New Years’ Eve. Also the traditional meal eaten by English people in the seven days after Christmas

For example:
If I see one more cold turkey sandwich I’m going to start smoking again!

3. Cold fish
The traditional meal eaten by Polish people in the seven days after Christmas. Very similar to cold turkey but with a lot more bones in it.

For example:
If I see one more cold fish sandwich I’m going to start smoking turkey!

4. It’s too cold to snow
A traditional British phrase that must, by law, be used whenever the temperature drops below 5 degrees and somebody mentions the possibility of snow at Christmas.

For example:
I heard they never have white Christmases at the North Pole because it’s just too cold to snow.

5. The spy who came in from the cold
Nobody really knows what this means, but it sounds cool and makes you think of female KGB agents wearing fur coats with nothing underneath.

For example:
You look like the spy who came in from the cold.
What does that even mean?
I have no idea.

6. To get the cold shoulder
What happens when your duvet slips off in the middle of the night. Closely related to the phrases ‘to get the tepid buttock,’ ‘to get the nippy finger,’ and ‘to get the feverish knee.’

For example:
I got the cold shoulder from my girlfriend so I gave her the feverish knee and we’re off to the Caribbean on Tuesday.

7. Cold snap
A term favoured by British weather forecasters and headline writers that means cold weather at odd times of the year, such as the middle of January. According to the dictionary it implies that the cold is unexpected and short-lived, but this is universally ignored.

(Genuine) examples include:
Cold snap blamed on Arctic air
Britain braces for winter cold snap
Britain in grip of longest cold snap for 10 years
Cold snap ‘could kill a dozen pensioners every hour’

Example of Polish idioms to do with the cold will be gratefully received and lovingly archived in Polandians extensive data center.


32 thoughts on “Brass monkeys flee Poland

  1. Kathleen says:

    I would assume the spy who came in from the cold is a reference to the novel of the same name by John le Careé.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Creature wearing two fur coats is not strictly speaking a babcia – it’s a subspecies called “borostwór” – most frequently seen in buses taking 1,5 seat.

  3. scatts says:

    Kathleen, it is indeed (John le Carré). There was a pretty good film too, starring Richard Burton –

  4. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    I think it would be fair to say that borough-stfoor is more closely related to ciocia. Also, in the interest of public safety, it should be noted that borough-stforey are dangerous and agressive. Don’t approach, don’t engage in a conversation, avoid eye contact, and for God’s sake, don’t take a seat!

    As for idioms related to cold, some of them do involve balls, but they don’t involve monkeys, because men don’t like being called like that. However, most people just say “zimno jak” (it’s as cold as) followed by a noun. The exact amount of coldness is signified by the kind of noun used – the more vulgar, the colder it is. I think we’re beginning to approach the temperature called “zimno jak son-of-a-lady-of-negotiable-affection”.

    I would also like to point out that pro-snowist counter-revolutionists will be shot at first opportunity.

  5. guest says:

    piździ jak w dupie u mur****.

  6. Anna says:

    We used to say “colder than a witch’s tit.”

  7. Natalia says:

    “piździ jak w kieleckim/kielecczyźnie” – this phrase come from Rail Station in Kielce, where people waiting for a train could freeze do death :D or so I’ve heard

    “piździ” -> it’s f*cking cold

  8. Ewa says:

    We also say: Lepiej dmuchać na zimne…
    Which means…emm… Better to blow on cold (?) or something like that:)

  9. Ewa says:

    Or: Zimno jak w psiarni…
    Which means… Emm…Cold like in a kannel (?) or something like that:)

  10. Bob says:

    Cold as a well diggers ass

  11. Leopolis says:

    Colder’n a gut-shot bitch wolf sucklin’ nine pups caught in a leg trap on the north side of a mountain…

  12. Sylwia says:

    Ha! Some time ago I even wrote a post to explain to some puzzled foreigners why they shouldn’t expect winter in the middle of autumn. Feeling very smug now! :D

    Cold snap reminds me of zima zaskoczyła drogowców (the road service people have been surprised by winter). I’m not sure they still say it in the news, but it used to be said every winter, because the road service people (no idea what they’re called in English), unlike some foreigners, never expected winter to come at all, and so had nothing prepared. The roads would remain covered with snow for some weeks to let them catch up on the capricious and unpredictable January weather in Poland.

    One of the proper words to indicate a very cold weather is zimnica – a compound of zimno (cold) and kostnica (dead-house). One can also say zimno jak w kostnicy – cold like in a dead-house.

    Another idiom is zimno jak w psiarni – cold like in a doghouse. One can just say w domu jest jak w psiarni – at home it’s like in a doghouse.

    I laughed out loud at your going to start smoking turkey! Doesn’t cold fish mean a frigid, emotionless person?

    Guest, I think you confused cold with dark.

    piździć – literally a very vulgar word for vagina used as a verb – means the heaviest kind of wind and fall:

    it winds
    it pours
    it storms
    it hails

    Usually used with ale, analogically to ale leje! Not to be used in a polite company!

    The word ziąb – chill – denotes temperature colder than cold. So ale ziąb might be used as a politer, although not as expressive, version.

    Dzwonić zębami – to ring with one’s teeth – means that one is very cold.

    Być zimno is one of the passive activities. So one can’t say in Polish Jestem zimny in the same way as “I’m cold” in English, because it’s assumed that one doesn’t have any influence on the situation. It then doesn’t answer the question “Co robię?” (What am I doing?) only “Co się ze mną dzieje?” (What is happening to me?). One can only say Jest mi zimno (It’s cold to me). On the other hand Jestem zimny can be used in the meaning “I’m cold fish”.

    There’s also the entire spectrum of words coming from mróz and marznąć – frost and to freeze. Generally Poles take some kind of consolation from referring to various kinds of bloody cold with words that contain z, ź, rz (read separately, not as ż), or , and the more creative ones might come with new words every winter.

    Skrzypiący śnieg – creaking snow – when one walks on a frozen snow it creaks
    Trzaskający mróz – cracking frost – means that it’s so cold that water in trees freezes and one can hear how the trees crack open
    Skwierczący mróz is very similar; refers to the sound, not to greaves
    Mrozem malowane – pictures painted by frost on window panes – visible especially in non-heated buses
    Ani pary z ust – no vapour from one’s mouth – generally refers to keeping a secret, but the vapour is visible only when it’s very cold

    Na złość mamie odmrozić sobie uszy – To freeze one’s ears in order to vex one’s mum. That’s when you insist you don’t need a czapka.

  13. Ania says:

    I’ve got just one more to add: pizgawica, for when it was -19C

  14. Anonymous says:

    In Poznań and vicinity one says “berger/ale berger” when it’s cold. I find this word funny.

  15. expateek says:

    Wow, Sylwia — fantastic collection of phrases. I think creaking snow and cracking frost describe “cold” better than anything I’ve ever heard before. And I come from Chicago, which is no stranger to bitter cold. Brrrrrrr! That’s why so many Poles settled there, by the way. Winters feel just like home!

  16. Ania says:

    i think that Scatts wanted a translation of ‘W malinowym chruśniaku’: well, behold my miserably failed attempt – I did my best and can’t wait to brag.

    W malinowym chruśniaku, przed ciekawych wzrokiem
    In the raspberry grove, from all the wandering eyes
    Zapodziani po głowy, przez długie godziny
    Lost up to our heads, through long hours past
    Zrywaliśmy przybyłe tej nocy maliny.
    We picked the raspberries that arrived tonight
    Palce miałaś na oślep skrwawione ich sokiem.
    Your fingers were blindly blooded with their sap

    Bąk złośnik huczał basem, jakby straszył kwiaty,
    A dander fly booed bass, to frighten the blooms
    Rdzawe guzy na słońcu wygrzewał liść chory,
    Rusty tumors in the sun a sick leave basketed
    Złachmaniałych pajęczyn skrzyły się wisiory,
    Long tattered cobweb sparkled like necklaces
    I szedł tyłem na grzbiecie jakiś żuk kosmaty.
    And on his back backwards a furry beetle trooped

    Duszno było od malin, któreś, szepcząc, rwała,
    It was stuffy for all the berries, You, whispering, picked
    A szept nasz tylko wówczas nacichał w ich woni,
    And our whisper would only quiet In their tang
    Gdym wargami wygarniał z podanej mi dłoni
    When with your lips you sccoped them from my hand
    Owoce, przepojone wonią twego ciała.
    The fruit, so redolent with your flesh’s breath

    I stały się maliny narzędziem pieszczoty
    And so the raspberries became the tool of caress
    Tej pierwszej, tej zdziwionej, która w całym niebie
    The first one, the astonished, that In all the heavens
    Nie zna innych upojeń, oprócz samej siebie,
    Knows not other extases, than caress itself
    I chce się wciąż powtarzać dla własnej dziwoty.
    And always wills to repeat, for it’s own wondr’rment

    I nie wiem, jak się stało, w którym oka mgnieniu,
    And i know not how it came, In which blink of eye
    Żeś dotknęła mi wargą spoconego czoła,
    That you’ve touched your lip to my sweaty brow
    Porwałem twoje dłonie – oddałaś w skupieniu,
    I nabbed your palms – you’ve focusedly cast
    A chruśniak malinowy trwał wciąż dookoła.
    And the raspberry grove would still around last

  17. Pioro-Boncza says:

    In a previous life we used to use “Man, it’s a tit bit nipply out there”

    Translation? hmmm….

    “Stary, jest cyc…???”

  18. island1 says:

    Wow, a cornucopia of Polish idioms and phrases.Thanks to all, I’ll do my best to work them into everyday conversation. Top marks to Leopolis for creativity.

  19. scatts says:

    Ania, great stuff – thanks!

  20. anglopole says:

    Hahaha… Island, I sort of knew you wouldn’t be really that impressed if the real winter of old reappeared in Poland! So, are you all geared up to face the ‘cold snaps’? Btw. I’m not exactly happy to be experiencing ‘the coldest spell’ since 1996 here in the UK! But there you go, the global warming seems to be taking a break or something! ;-)

  21. adthelad says:

    Island – what a laugh – as usual. Looks like you’ve caught a rather uncommon cold bug.

    As for language idiosyncracies have a peek at this:,0,19311,klimatyczne_relacje_oficera_z_prezydentem,artykul.html

  22. MaterialGirl says:

    The nightmare (me) comes back! :-)


    you’ll be great translator or transformer or transplanter or whatever else beginning with trans-
    I thought only Chuck Norris can do sth with “W malinowym chruśniaku”, especially with rhymes and without halfturn. ;-)

    If it’s going about boys joy because of my disappearing = “baba z wozu, koniom lżej”. :-)

    More reflection soon (first I have to read what all you’d produced in Polandian during my absence).

  23. Ania says:

    Transformator, if I may choose. Or Transformata Laplace’a… Cant’s be a transformer, no head lights, sorry…

  24. MaterialGirl says:

    Nomen omen, yesterday I heard in radio a broadcast about Leśmian.

    The author of the book said, that he was very good man. He was lawyer working as a public notary, but he had no heart to this job, but poetry couldn’t feed his family.
    In the time of the Great Crisis he didn’t fire no-one. More, he feed his staff. Every day, every worker started with 2 sandwiches and sth hot, because he knew it’s very hard and some of the workers split LITERALLY 1 match for 4, so some of them eat only in job (like some of polish children now eat only in school). (Click on pajacyk/clown stomach to feed them:

    He died because of the worry. His business partner made big embezzlement.

    “W malinowym chruśniaku” made to his lover Dora. (Relish: he had an love affair first with his cousine. Next she presented him to his future wife and next to Dora). Dora even changed religion for him (probably to jewish?), but he didn’t decide to abandon his wife and daughters.

    To today live his granddaughter. Jillian Young (or sth similar) lives near to London, has more than 60, but looks as 40 (what can good photoshop and plastic surgeon! ;-))). She know only few words in polish. She has no children, only husband who is Scorpions’ manager.

    P.S. Head lights were divine!!! :-))) ;-)))

  25. MaterialGirl says:


    women wearing fur coats with nothing underneath is classical taken out from the novell of Leopold Sacher-Masoch “Mysterious women in the fur” (see masochism).

    Do you like to be hit with whip?
    Your thoughts circulates very often around naked female agent in fur. :-)

  26. Steven Woodruff says:

    Where is all this global warming I have been promised???

  27. MaterialGirl says:

    The film “The day after tomorrow” “Pojutrze” shows that global warming effect will be global freezing. Whole North including Europe, Scandinavia, North America, North Asia will be chained be frost. Survive only those ones who will be sitting in the washington’s library and burning fire from books (to the time, fire/policeman rescue them or they burned all the precious manuscripts and oldprints. Because the life can be possible only near to equator.

    But lately some of the polish clairvoyant said, that it will not happened, because earlier, after Obama sworn will be nuclear war and horde of Huns will be chasing through whole Europe.

  28. island1 says:

    MaterialGirl: “Venus in Furs” is the English title but good point, that does seem to be the origin of the meme. Strange because it always seems like a vulnerable situation, for the woman.

  29. MaterialGirl says:

    Meme (with kind of the roof on “e”) – is this another word stolen from french? In french meens ~ the same. In english – I don’t know. But if it’s stolen…

    For some women in this situation – certainly.
    But they are also dominatrice or exhibitionists or the women who thinks that they will be manipulate man by playing of their low instincts.

    I think for women = more than 21 y.o. (even for catholics too :-))) nakedness is natural thing, when sb have to go to a gynaecologist or have to give a birth…

  30. Anonymous says:

    After all you have your Lady Godiva, who shows that the true virtue is not afraid of criticism!

  31. MaterialGirl says:


    I was like always in hurry & I forgot to sign. Gall Anonymus it’s me. I plead without beating. Usually my computer did my signature automatically. I don’t know why, this time, it didn’t work this way.

    Today, with a clear eye I see – you asked about sth else.
    I thought you read that story. But now, I think differently.

    That’s the story which will delighted Freud, Jung and the all company connected with “id”, “ego”, influence of childhood & “did your mother feed you with breast or with bottle, did she spank you” and so on.

    The woman is naked (so seeming week), but in fur = animal, wild and primitive connection. But she has a power. The man is puting down. That’s why I’d asked the first question “Do you like to be whipped”?

    Average woman doesn’t like violence, because we don’t like to be tired and sweaty. :-)))

  32. Steven Woodruff says:

    Ania: The proper use of the term is “Colder than a witches’ tit wearing a brass bra”

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