When is a pole not a Pole?

The word ‘pole’ is unique in the English language in that it is the only word that refers both to a person from a particular country and an inanimate object, or rather several different inanimate objects. “Swede” comes close since it is the word for a person from Sweden as well as a delicious root vegetable, but only in British English (apologies to Scots readers for whom they are neeps) . “Turkey” is an excellent word that manages to encompass an entire West Asian nation and a flightless bird that goes rather well with cranberry sauce, but that’s not quite the same thing.

In written English there is little opportunity for humorous misunderstanding since the person has a capital ‘P,’ but in spoken English the possibilities for infantile punning are endless. As a black-belt in infantile punning I can do little to resist the temptation to put together an entire post taking full advantage of this linguistic quirk.

The many meanings of ‘pole’

Noun 1. A long slender usually cylindrical object.

In a sentence: “Adam used a metal pole to get the polecat out of the tree”


A pole. Rather a nice oak one at that.

Noun 2. An historical unit of length or area.

In a sentence: “Adam’s pole was a least two poles long”


A pole vaulter. One of multiple opportunities in this post to show images of women gripping stiff elongated objects.

Noun 3. The inside front row position on the starting line of a race.

In a sentence: “Adam would have been in pole position if the Pole hadn’t beat him to pole in the qualifying lap.”


A pole dancer who could, conceivably, also be a Pole.

Noun 4. Either end of the axis of a sphere.

In a sentence: “Adam beat the Pole to the pole by a pole’s length.”


A fireman’s pole. I’m fairly sure that outfit represents a health and safety issue.

Noun 5. Either of two related opposites.

In a sentence: “Adam and the Pole were poles apart.”


Maypole dancers. Amazing what these pagans get away with.

Noun 6. Either of the two terminals of an electrical system.

In a sentence: “Each pole of a magnet is attracted to the opposite pole of another magnet” said Adam.


A switch rotary 75a s-pole, apparently.

Verb 1. To act upon with a pole.

In a sentence: “Adam poled the Pole to within an inch of his life following the pole position debacle.”


A polecat. We mentioned this already in noun 1.

Verb 2. To impel or push with a pole.

In a sentence: “Adam poled his way upriver to Poland from Germany.”


The North Pole. There is another one you know.

Verb 3. To use ski poles to increase speed.

In a sentence: “Adam poled himself to a last minute victory over the Pole in the downhill race.”


Storks on a telegraph pole. A Polish symbol that makes sense.

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26 thoughts on “When is a pole not a Pole?

  1. Gabriela says:

    Saludos desde Lima, Perú.

  2. Malcolm says:

    If people from Poland are called Poles, then why aren’t people from Holland called Holes?

  3. Scatts says:

    Or people from Moldova called Moles & Bolivia – Boles, Columbia – Coles?

  4. Alison says:

    And enough of these Pole-puns have been used as headlines in British tabloids in recent years (In Pole position; Poles apart; Pole to Pole, etc.).

  5. Pawel says:

    And people from Germany Germs?

  6. airam says:

    Makes me think why da Vinci’s Lady in Krakow holds an ermine, not a pole-cat…

  7. Ania says:

    and people from England would be Ings. They could also participate in ‘inging’.

    But seriously, good question. Can we be Polans instead? Sounds to my untrained ear like a name of human, rather than and item. German, Russian, Polan.

    That would almost be right, one of the tribes of Slovians or Sclaven in Latin, whichever, were Polanie. I definitely don’t want us to be Slavs – because it means nothing, while it should mean ‘word speakers’. And you associate it with slaves in English. Besides, slava (sława) is glory, so it makes only very nationalistic sense.

    And do you call people from Czechy Checks? I heard that their parliament voted over advertising tourism to Czechia, because they want to be a -ia like everybody else, instead of Sth Republic. And Russians voted on not calling themselves Russkiye, but Rossiyanie, to avoid being Russkies.

    So why not we. Let’s remove this tool of phallic wordplay from the hands of Island!!!

  8. adthelad says:

    What’s all this ‘Adam said this’ and ‘Adam said that’ business, eh?

    And if we’re going to try to be funny at least follow the rules i.e. replacing the ‘and’ bit of the countries name with ‘es’ (since we’re comparing with Poland – K!).

    So Angland (England) would be Angles (or Engles), Holland would be Holles, Swaziland would be Swaziles, Iceland would be Iceles, Ireland – Ireles, Scotland – Scotles, Finland – Finles, Switzerland – Switzerles, etc etc.

    MOre interesting might be the the adjective ending in ‘ish’ – as in Scotlish or Switzerlish.

    Mind you it is a bit of a trick word Poland (and Angland) since the L has a double function as the L in Pole (and Angle) and L in land. Not the same for other countries ending in land. So Scotles should perhaps be Scotes, and Finles should be Fines.

    Why do I have to do everything myself? :)

  9. Scatts says:

    I think the most appropriate word would be, or is, Polak. Problem is that this word has been seriously denigrated by all the jokes originating in the USA.

  10. Sylwia says:

    We used to be Polans. The OED says:

    Polan, n.

    Now hist. and rare.

    A native or inhabitant of Poland, a Pole.
    1502 in H. Ellis Orig. Lett. Eng. Hist. 1st Ser. I. 50 The Hungaries, Boyams, and the Polans. 1581 J. BELL tr. W. Haddon & J. Foxe Against Jerome Osorius III. f. 373, French men also, Germaynes, Dalnes, Switzers, Bohemyans, Polans, Rettes, Scottes & all other nations. 1604 T. WRIGHT Passions of Minde (new ed.) I. x. 44, I might discourse over..Italians, Polans, Germanes. 1665 B. GERBIER Subsidium Peregrinantibus ix. 117 The Polans well accustomed to Pump those forraigne Inquisitors, by setting close mouthed..Masters of Ceremonies on them. 1864 New Englander (New Haven, Connecticut) Apr. 276 Originally they were known as Polans, Masovians, Lenczycans, Kurjavians, [etc.]… A thousand years ago..they appeared in history under the name of the leading tribe, as Polans or Poles. 1873-6 Amer. Cycl. 644/1 The Polans..formed the most conspicuous group, and eventually gave their name to the whole nation.

    I vote for Polans and Germanes. :D

    It’s Czech, not Check. For some reason the English kept the Polish spelling for Czech. I doubt they know it, but I’ve seen native speakers baffled by it.

    Rossiyanie instead of Russkiye? That’s a change! For years Russkiye meant the better Russians, with genuine Slavic roots, as opposed to Rossiyanie that included the Asian inhabitants of the country. Of course the word Russkiye comes from Ruś (Belarus and Ukraine), while Russians should be Rossiyanie, and stop claiming their alleged ancient descent from our legend of Lech, Czech and Rus.

  11. Pawel says:

    Oh dear will Angole ever understand Polans?:) lol

  12. adthelad says:

    ‘Adam polished off the vodka and got totally polaxed’ ;)

  13. Kuba says:

    A Pole is not a Pole when it is a slup

  14. island1 says:

    “Polans” would sound weird, you would have to pronounce it like “pollens” which would be a plural of an uncountable noun.

    “Germanes” sounds too much like “germane.”

  15. island1 says:

    adthelad: Ah Adam (whose name was taken in vain here several times) I see you’ve touched on the whole “Polish” / “polish” area, which I was saving for a later date.

  16. Anglopole says:

    I would sin if I didn’t pop in with a comment here as the entry is, after all about (P)poles…. There are some Poles too that don’t exactly feel like Poles and are not poles either! Greetings from Anglopole – not to be confused with angled pole, mind you! ;-)

  17. Sylwia says:

    “Germanes” sounds too much like “germane.”

    Sure, that’s why it got my vote. Let’s them mean something else for a change. But I like Angles for the English too.

  18. guest says:

    let’s stick with Pole…

  19. richardlith says:

    You’ve forgotten the three most famous dyslexic Poles in the UK – Mori Pole, Gallup Pole and Independent Pole.

  20. pinolona says:

    You forgot Pole-zing http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/apr/24/healthandwellbeing.health1
    I’ve seen lots of (generally older, female) Poles with poles doing this recently nad Wisłą and around the Błonia on a Sunday afternoon.

  21. island1 says:

    pinolona: Nordic walking cracks me up every time, but this is comedy gold.

    richardlith: Suddenly a new contender for punning belt emerges :)

  22. guest says:

    BTW island1, the balloon is working already. Here are some photos.


  23. Ania says:

    Germanes eius domus… er… Romani ite domum…

  24. island1 says:

    guest: I’ve seen it in action.

    Ania: Bloody Romans.

  25. zarazek says:

    Polans – I like it!

  26. Ruben Pike says:

    I have been examinating out many of your articles and i can state pretty good stuff. I will make sure to bookmark your site.

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