Polish–English translation competition #1 (closed)

Translation is fun, right? Okay, maybe not, but using startlingly unexpected idioms in a foreign language definitely is. We know our readers already have breathtakingly soft hair and twinkling eyes, but here’s your chance to complete the package by learning a few words and phrases that will have the locals falling over themselves to buy you drinks (even Cracowians and Glaswegians). Over to Bartek:

Last week I challenged Polandian readers by asking them to translate some peculiar Polish phrases into English. Jamie opined it would be a good idea to make such a competition a regular feature. The methodology is simple – during my long exploration of English I have come across many English colloquial words, phrases and idioms that have Polish equivalents hardly ever listed in dictionaries. These phrases, as an indispensable element of common parlance, surely come in handy for both English people, who will find it easier to understand Poles, and Polish readers, who will get the chance to find out how to express some Polish concepts in English. I also hope this column will help me discover some new nooks and crannies of English and Polish.

Time and ingenuity permitting, each competition will be made up of 10 phrases revolving around a certain topic. In the first round the common denominator is Alcohol and drinking. Here we go, good luck!

1. napruty – tanked up (Adthelad)
2. berbeluga – moonshine (Stefan)
3. menel – pisshead (Island1)
4. bełtać – to puke (Agnieszka)
5. biesiadować – to carouse (Island1)
6. iść w tango – to go on a (drinking) binge (-)
7. wpaść w ciąg – to fall off the wagon (Island1)
8. zaglądać do kieliszka – to hit the bottle (Stefan)
9. odwyk – rehab (Arturwarrior)
10. iść w miasto – to paint the town red (Wildphelps)

I can’t honestly say to go on a binge was not guessed. Agnieszka suggested it as a translation of wpaść w ciąg, sadly the match was uncorrect. Language note: in both languages the phrases do not necessarily refer to boozing.

I thank all contestants for their participation and congratulate the lucky winners. Those who were a bit down on their luck this time are bound to take part in next translation quiz, scheduled for 12 May.

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92 thoughts on “Polish–English translation competition #1 (closed)

  1. Jane says:

    I have to admit that i don’t know what berbeluga means :D

  2. Stefan says:

    You may also find an eastern version of ‘berbeluga’ which is ‘berbelucha’ ;)

  3. Stefan says:

    As for your selection of ‘the common denominator’, have a look at some statistics:

  4. zarazek says:

    napruty – stoned, trashed
    berbeluga – no idea what it is
    menel – dosser
    bełtać – to drink plonk
    biesiadować – to feast
    iść w tango – to go off a drinking spree :P
    wpaść w ciąg – what’s that? :D
    zaglądać do kieliszka – to like to booze
    odwyk – detox
    iść w miasto – to go into town

  5. Stefan says:

    berbeluga – muddy booze, poteen, moonshine
    napruty – soused
    menel – wino
    wpaść w ciąg – doesn’t occur in Anglo-Saxon culture because they drink every day anyway, so they are in a permanent ‘ciąg’ ;) :D

  6. Stefan says:

    Seriously, point 7. What about: ‘go on a two week bender’?

  7. Bartek says:

    or a word used in central and western Poland which is bimber

  8. Bartek says:

    I have to tell you explained the meanings of many of the phrases, but still didn’t get any of them right. It’s about finding more sophisticated, idiomatic translations. Keep on trying!

  9. Bartek says:

    here we have the first winner. I’ll be updating the post with correct translations and names of lucky winners.

  10. Agnieszka says:

    1. napruty – pissed
    2. berbeluga – no idea??
    3. menel – wino
    4. bełtać – spew, puke, retch, upchuck, barf, vomit etc :P often it’s puścić bełta
    5. biesiadować – doesn’t this just mean ‘feast’?
    6. iść w tango – go on a drinking spree / pub crawl
    7. wpaść w ciąg – go on a [drinking] binge
    8. zaglądać do kieliszka – euphemistic way of saying sb is fond of booze… perhaps ‘to partake’? ‘occasionally indulge’?
    9. odwyk – detox
    10. iść w miasto – go out on the piss

  11. Bartek says:

    pissed is more like zalany, I’m waiting for another one.

    menel is a person, as far as I know Polish ;)

    bełtać is indeed ‘to puke’

    it means ‘to feast’, though I’d translate it as ucztować, still looking for another verb.

    Agnieszka, think about swapping some of your suggestions.

    odwyk is not detox, at least not the word I’m angling for.

  12. Jarek says:

    1. wasted?
    3. a bum?
    10. hit the town?

  13. Jane says:

    Bimber! Now it’s clear! :D

  14. Jane says:

    We’re way behind ;)

  15. Stefan says:

    Well, ‘a wino’ is what Americans call the guys who drink plonk. ‘A bum’ or ‘a dosser’ suggest someone who’s homeless. A Polish menel isn’t necessarily homeless. He may have a family he lives with but prefers spending time with his mates in a park, at a gate of an old tenement house(“w bramie” in Łódź for example), or in a ‘melina’ (drinking den).

  16. Stefan says:

    ‘binge’ suggests just a party with booze. “Wpadać w ciąg” means desperate drinking (not necessarily partying) for several days.

  17. Stefan says:

    Huh! I thought I know everything about drinking but I’ve never heard ‘bełtać’ meaning ‘to puke’;)

  18. Stefan says:

    odwyk – drying out

  19. Bartek says:

    ‘wasted’ is slightly like sponiewierany or another Polish word which I have at the tip of my tongue. Somebody help me now!

    ‘town’ is a part of the idiom you are expected to guess.

  20. Bartek says:

    Thanks Stefan, I have to admit I didn’t know ‘a wino’ (as many other words typical for AmE). Good points regarding explanation of who menel is. Maybe that’ll make a good hint ;)

  21. Bartek says:

    Has the Polish language evolved so fast that you didn’t catch up with it? Haven’t you ever heard bełtać meaning wymiotować or rzygać? I thought about listing rzygać but I changed my mind because it would have been too easy – bełtać is more tricky.

    And not ‘drying out’ – my dictionary doesn’t offer the word I want to see. It was used a few weeks ago on Polandian (if it can serve as a hint).

  22. island1 says:

    Some guesses largely based on what others have said:

    1. napruty – If it’s not ‘pissed’ then how about ‘legless’ or ‘wasted’?

    2. berbeluga – moonshine (Stefan) – Note ‘moonshine’ is definitely AmE, ‘poteen’ would be closest in BrE but is specifically Irish; we don’t have a common word in England for illegally manufactured spirits because we just don’t do it: alcohol is cheap and we’re relatively rich.
 ‘Bimber’ I have heard of.

    3. menel – ‘pisshead’? (not sure about this one, I thought ‘dosser’ sounded right)

4. bełtać – to puke (Agnieszka) Can’t argue with that one, though ‘hurl’ is pretty common too.

5. biesiadować – don’t know, ‘feasting’ is about food.

6. iść w tango – don’t know: ‘pub crawl’?

    7. wpaść w ciąg – ‘go on a bender’?

8. zaglądać do kieliszka – ‘See the world through the bottom of a glass’ (complete guess)

    9. odwyk – ‘sober up’?

    10. iść w miasto – could be anything

  23. Stefan says:

    Jamie, ‘pisshead’ sounds the closest to my liking since most (all?) bums and dossers are pissheads but not all menels are homeless. ‘Hurl’ sounds more ‘slangish’ since even an intermediate students of English are familiar with ‘puke’. ‘Go on a bender’ is the result of my text to my London friend.
    As for ‘berbeluga’ or ‘berbelucha, you know, there is some scorn and at the same time warm feelings in it. ‘Bimber’ is emotionally neutral. When I first heard the world ‘berbelucha’ my first thought was ‘swill’, ‘muddy water’, but used for alcoholic drink the word has an air of ‘intimacy’ or homeliness. You know, something you know very well is horrible, but it’s ours and we’ll love it anyway ;) :D

  24. Stefan says:

    I’m afraid the task Bartek set for us goes far beyond pure linguistics and requires thorough cultural awareness. Here we can see serious differences between even varieties of English (American, English or Australian). An attempt at translating cultural idiosyncrasies seems infeasible (especially with ‘berbeluga’; as Jamie said ‘we don’t have a common word in England for illegally manufactured spirits because we just don’t do it’.

  25. Leopolis says:

    berbeluga – “moonshine” in AmE, but “hooch” implies that it is illicitly-made liquor. But both these terms are a bit 1920s given that not many people distill their own liquor any more in the US.

  26. odrzut says:

    I wanted to defend honour of “berbelucha” – when made by experienced and gifted producent it is often better than commercial mass produced Wódka.

    Some people drink it not because of price, but because it is ecological (no conservants:)), and when distiled with good aparature it is less hurting that normal Wódka.

  27. Pawel says:

    to feast? I’d advise speakers of Polish against using that one. you know we tend to het the vowels wrong…

  28. Stefan says:

    Huh! You’re right, I only described my first association with the signifier, not the referent! :)

  29. arturwarrior says:

    6. iść w tango

    go on a drinking bout

  30. arturwarrior says:

    9. odwyk – rehab

  31. arturwarrior says:

    10. iść w miasto – go out on the town

  32. arturwarrior says:

    3. menel – street drinker?

  33. Bartek says:

    3. menel is indeed a pisshead!

    7. I have to tell between ‘go on a bender’ and what is the right phrase is a slight difference, in what I came up with there’s a relapse of drinking.

  34. Bartek says:

    Four down, six to go! Congrats.

  35. Bartek says:

    I hope it is an enriching experience for everyone. We are playing with the language in the field where meanings of many words might be ambiguous. That’s why there must be some room for disagreement.

  36. Stefan says:

    That’s why just ‘go on a bender’ does not make much sense without adding ‘three day/week/two weeks/month’ before ‘bender’.

  37. island1 says:

    So: ‘fall off the wagon’ maybe?

  38. wildphelps says:

    Most of these come from the lovely Mrs. wildphelps

    1. napruty – bombed out of your head
    5. biesiadować – hootenanny
    6. iść w tango – to mix it up (fight)
    7. wpaść w ciąg – to go on a bender
    8. zaglądać do kieliszka – climbing into a bottle
    10. iść w miasto – paint the town red

  39. Bartek says:

    we’re still getting closer to the coveted answers.

    8. is a step in a good direction

    10. is the next unravelled one.

    Five phrases left, now it’s all downhill.

    PS. where’s Adthelad?

  40. Bartek says:

    I almost overlooked it. You got it right for the second time!

  41. Stefan says:

    8. hit the bottle

  42. Bartek says:

    The cleverness of our commenters is on the rise!

  43. arturwarrior says:

    1. napruty – zonked

    5. biesiadować – revel

  44. zarazek says:

    Eh? Why would you advise against using the word feast? What’s so tricky about it and what are the dangers?

  45. Bartek says:

    napruty means basically ‘drunk’, but there are plenty of English words to describe someone under the influence.

    ‘revel’ – something new, not yet the word I could update the post with, but after a few attempts a hint: this word starts with C.

  46. Em says:

    1 napruty – plastered, well-oiled?

  47. island1 says:

    5. biesiadować – carouse ?

  48. biesiadowanie could be ‘merrymaking’?

  49. Stefan says:

    Of course, Bartek’s meaning of ‘biesiadować’ is strictly connected with drinking alcohol. We shouldn’t forget, however, that this verb is derived from the noun ‘biesiada’ which is a Polish equivalent of classical Greek ‘symposion’ (symposium). As such this combines eating (feasting), drinking, singing and discussing quite ambitious questions. Today ‘biesiada’ and ‘biesiadować’ is connected with drinking and singing popular songs (but having nothing to do with karaoke ;) ).

  50. tandrasz says:

    “bełtać” means “to puke”? I’ve never heard it used this way in my time/place: 1980s/Warsaw.

    I knew “bełtać/zabełtać” to mean “to mix”, “to stir”, and also as a noun meaning “a drink” for example in phrase “wypić bełta”.

  51. Bartek says:

    in my time and place: 2000s/Warsaw bełtać means to vomit after drinking too much.

  52. Bartek says:

    well-oiled could be correct, but it’s not yet the only good one… It seems English has more words to describe a drunk person than Polish.

  53. Bartek says:

    finally. Competition drawing to a close.

  54. island1 says:

    I think the problem was that it’s an archaic word no longer in common use.

  55. island1 says:

    napruty – paralytic, trollied, hammered

  56. Peter says:

    6. Bar hopping

  57. adthelad says:

    1. sozzled, blotto, smashed, plastered, tight, pickled, legless, or maybe arseold? Stewed, wasted, out of his head, totaled, sloshed, or perhaps tanked up ?

  58. Anonymous says:

    I like ‘to fall off the wagon’, good call!

  59. 1) Napruty:

    To be [totally]

    [in more polite circles]
    a) legless
    b) in a state of extreme refreshment
    c) tired and emotional

  60. pinolona says:

    napruty: pissed, wasted, trashed, trolleyed, off your face, smashed (funny, we have a lot of words for this concept in English)
    berbeluga: don’t know this one but based on other comments I like ‘moonshine’ or maybe ‘hooch’ or ‘homebrew’
    menel: pisshead, lush, wino
    bełtać: to chunder, spew, hurl, puke,
    Biesiadować: to party (?!)
    iść w tango: to go out on the lash, to go on a bender, to go out on the piss
    wpaść w ciąg: I like ‘to fall off the wagon’ (but not on a school night)
    zaglądać w kieliszka: I love ‘to hit the bottle’, sounds spot on to me…
    odwyk: liking ‘rehab’ too.
    iść w miasto: to hit the town? go out on the lash (again?). Not sure about ‘painting the town red’ – doesn’t that have more romantic connotations (as in ‘let’s paint the town red baby’ etc)? Plus it’s a little bit archaic: sounds a bit like one of the prizes on Blind Date…

    (ps this – a PL-PL urban dictionary – is quite interesting: http://www.miejski.pl/)

  61. pinolona says:

    oh yes, ‘tired and emotional’ is great, my Dad uses that one!

    also ‘squiffy’ or ‘a bit squee’…

  62. pinolona says:

    do you already have specific phrases in mind then?

  63. Bartek says:

    me? Yes, you have to guess the English word I translated into Polish and I’m asking you to translate it into English!

  64. Bartek says:

    Not a problem but a challenge. And having got a hint you could guess it. No need to cry ;)

    Plus ‘carousal’ is a rare and useful English word, worth remembering in case you have to translate Polish word libracja

  65. Bartek says:

    You were lucky add the last one. Now I’m having second thoughts – wouldn’t ‘tanked up’ be a better equivalent of wstawiony? Never mind.

  66. Bartek says:

    My big thanks for the first three suggestions!

  67. Bartek says:

    Pinolona, I know English has a very wide range of adjectives to describe people under the influence.

    Paint the town red – just checked the definition to make sure I’m right and it’s an exact equaivalent of Polish iść w miasto, or…

    I popped in there, it’s not waste of time to find out how poorly I know my mother tongue. There are lots of Polish words I’ve never heard.

  68. Bartek says:

    Guys, now spell it out and I’m closing the competition – the translation of iść w tango has already been used in one of the comments. Just the match was uncorrect.

  69. pinolona says:

    ah – the urban slang dictionary was more for the other Anglophone commentators, but glad you liked it! I’m always on the lookout for odd dictionaries and glossaries, it’s all good fun! If I don’t know an expression in translation I prefer to check the meaning in a monolingual dictionary than check the bilingual one: I find out what native speakers understand by the expression and then choose my own equivalent in English. I don’t necessarily trust the people who edit the bilingual dictionaries, but maybe that’s just me ;)

    The comment about English having a lot of words for this concept was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek poke at our Anglo-Saxon drinking habits, not a criticism of your post :)

  70. pinolona says:

    Just one question: was the competition set with specific answers already in mind, or were you looking for the best suggestions?

  71. Bartek says:

    The former. I set out with English words, translated them into Polish and later asked readers to translate them back into English.

    In truth in most cases there is more than one good answer, but when I have only one in mind the task is more difficult.

  72. Bartek says:

    At least after some contributors showed me I knew just a few from the multitude of them.


    When translating PL->EN I check in PL->EN dict and then look up once again in English monolingual to make sure I get it right.

    But with EN->PL for myself I use a monolingual dict, for translations I rely on bilingual dicts – they are compiled by well-educated Poles, the good ones hardly ever are unreliable.

  73. pinolona says:

    wino is British too ;)

  74. pinolona says:

    it’s not that they’re not reliable, it’s just that translation depends so much on the context that in the case of expressions (eg here) it’s often a good idea to check the meaning and make your own judgement. And however well-educated the editors may be, meanings change (Stefan’s and Tandrusz’s comments on bełtać are a good example) and often the bilingual dictionary is misleading. This applies to all language combinations of course, not just PL-EN.

    I ‘spose what I’m trying to say is that in translation there aren’t any right and wrong answers, just good and bad variations :)

  75. island1 says:

    ‘Tired and emotional’ is a classic: I believe it’s in the Hansard style and usage guide.

  76. island1 says:

    Not going to happen. We have what is known in expert circles as a hanging translation.

  77. Bartek says:

    I agree and I’d also add that languages evolve bełtać usually means ‘to mix up’ or ‘to blend’, but in youngsters slang it used to describe vomiting after boozing (chlanie :)

  78. Bartek says:

    I bet someone will break away. The desire to see one’s name next to the correct translation will be stronger!

  79. Alston says:

    I’m a new student of the Polish language, however, here is link to my explanation of American English phrases.

  80. arturwarrior says:

    6. iść w tango – go on a bender

  81. Bartek says:

    Not this one, although very similar!

  82. adthelad says:

    I must say it’s actually quite nice to have a proper translation so that you know the ‘correct’ sense of a phrase. In some ways you could make the competition a bit less frustrating by giving us three options for each word – like the game ‘Call my Bluff’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6fX8WEtnb8 ;)

  83. Bartek says:

    Had it been that simple… Adam, I’d divide the phrases into two group. In the first one there might be only one answer and it’d be too easy, in the second all three answer could be correct (see the napruty example) – this would be even more frustrating.

    “Call my bluff” – watching this was frustrating as my connection refused to receive data at the spped higher than 400 kbps. But it’s about definitions and so at odds with my idea of finding direct equivalents…

  84. adthelad says:

    er – no you don’t understand – it’s for the person setting the quiz to give one right meaning and two wrong ones.


    1. napruty means – a) sown back together, b) stuffed to the gills, c) drunk as a lord

    2. iść w miasto – a) look for a job in the city, b) paint the town red, c) lose your way.

    This way doesn’t really make it easier, also makes it less frustrating and less drawn out. Just my personal view. It’s down to the puzzle setter to make it tricky.

    Call my Bluff is a game to guess the meaning of a word. That video, if it’s slow, best to pause it as soon as it starts playing and do something else till it downloads fully – then you can watch it with no interruptions. Recommend watching all the bits of this episode as well as the other with Graham Garden. You’ll be surprised what you learn :)

  85. Bartek says:

    I know it’s my task. On exam it’s also teacher’s task to compile a test with two wrong and one correct answer. But my teachers prefer to ask open questions. Why? Because for the students it would be too easy to choose one out of three answers. Similarly here, it wouldn’t be a translation quiz but “do you know the meaning of this Polish phrase” quiz.

    napruty vs rozpruty – nice pun.

    Adthelad – the competition lasts one week, I don’t want to close it after a few hours. In your formula one person could find correct answers to half of the puzzles, others should also get the chance, even if they visit Polandian a few days of the post is published.

  86. adthelad says:


    I see what you’re getting at regarding the time slot for the competition, but it would only last a few hours if you gave the answer/s after a few hours. If you give all the answers at the end of the week that’s when it would end and in the meantime everyone who wanted to could have a go.
    It also means you don’t have to keep popping up very few hours telling people if they guessed correctly or not. In it’s present form, if someone guessed all the answers in 5mins then that’s how long the competition would last anyway. Leaving the answers till the end of the week keeps everyone on tenterhooks. And it’s easier to follow what is going on as everyone can have a stab. The present way people guess or say the ones they think they know and omit the ones they don’t. A multiple answer method means everyone can guess (and they should be limited to one attempt) at each of the words. Presently the guesses are all chopped up, answers are given on a running basis and I for one get lost in all the rigmarole, having additionally to wade through which answers you’ve already accepted and which ones you haven’t. And you can arrive at an overall winner much more easily. At present there doesn’t seem to be one. I also suggest finding a sponsor who could donate a good Polish/ English dictionary to a winner of say three competitions. And you could run the comp. the other way round also – give a list of English words with us trying to guess the correct Polish.

    I suppose I’m too graphically minded but if you intend to keep the present format for the competition, then perhaps you could keep a live list of correct answers (like you have at the moment – was that a late addition?) highlighted at the start of the post so we don’t have to troll through all the guesses. Hope I’m not being too much of a pain in the arse;) A

  87. Bartek says:

    Alright. Now I’ll lay out why I want to stand up for this formula.

    1. It’s more challenging for the readers. The quiz is mostly aimed at English native speakers (but Poles are invited as well) and as I noticed, they often take Poles’ advice. With three options it’d be still too easy.

    2. I want to interact with the audience and I’m intent on popping over two or three times a day to check the suggestions and give some hints or respond to challenging comments.

    3. As a typical rat-racer I want to favour the ones who guess as first.

    4. And last but not least, I kept updating the post all week long. Thus I can keep the readers informed – they know the correct answers and know who’s the winner. Plus they are not kept in suspence whether their guess was right.

    5. Dictionary – a funny idea given that the main assumption behind the quiz is to highlight those words Pl->EN dictionaries are helpless with ;)

    6. Is there really too much mess about it? Looking at the comment thread I see a quaint order in this chaos and it distrubingly takes my fancy.

    Not a pain in the arse, I appreciate your ideas, but still you didn’t manage to persuade me.

  88. adthelad says:

    1., 2., 3., 4., 5.(?)- well shouldn’t it be called ‘Polandian translation competitions # 1’ then, since each word is a competition and you have a ‘lucky’ winner for each word. Or perhaps ‘translation quiz’? :)

    6. etc – Say no more :)

  89. aika says:

    I think the danger is that you could pronounce it as “fast”, which would be an opposite of “feast”.

  90. Bartek says:

    I think it would rather sound like “fist”…

  91. Bartek says:

    In caption competition and song competition there were respectively five and three items to suugest caption or guess a song. Here, each competition is made up of 10 phrases. If I take an exam and have to answer 10 questions, isn’t it still my exam. Plus in contests there might be winners in different categories, first, second, thrid places, etc.

    Translation quiz might sound slightly better.

    @ 6. – feeling unconvinced?

  92. island1 says:

    I am the winner! Hooray for me!

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