Despite being a modern country in every sense of the word Poland still retains very many of the vestiges of traditionalism. It's still staunchly catholic, particularly in the older generations, and still in touch with the great Eastern European, soft-spot for superstition. It should come as no surprise then, that a very many so called 'old wives tales', idioms and proverbs originate from this area of the world.
But traditional as they are, proverbs are proverbs because they have that eloquent ability to summarise the truth of a matter in just a few words, or a single sentence; at least, they did once, for somebody, somewhere.
Here's a selection of some Polish proverbs, with their closest English translation. Where it's needed, or perhaps when it’s interesting, I've given a little description of what it is they mean, or where they (supposedly) originate from.
'Swój ciągnie do swojego', meaning 'same kinds attract'. This one's a little odd, as in English the closest, and indeed a common saying is that 'opposites attract', which is much more in-line with the other Polish proverb Kto się czubi, ten się lubi, meaning 'those who argue, like each other'.
'W zdrowym ciele, zdrowy duch' , meaning literally 'healthy soul, healthy body'. It's pretty similar to the English 'healthy mind, healthy body'.
'Ręka rękę myje', meaning literally 'one hand washes the other', and has the English proverbial equivalent 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'.
'Co nagle, to po diable' which reads 'the devil dictates when you hurry'. This one's very similar to the English 'patience is a virtue', but with darker and perhaps, more convincing, language and imagery involved.
'Słowo się rzekło, kobyłka u płotu': Now, if you can already read Polish, I hope you have heard this in context spoken somewhere, because to be quite honest, it makes very little sense literally. In translation it would read something like, 'A word's said, by the fence stands a horse/pony'. However, it's worth seeing this one, because the story of its origin is a good one. Supposedly King Sobieski III of Poland made a wager with a man who didn't recognise him as the King, saying that someone of his rank would never be able to meet the current monarch. Knowing he would loose and that the man would accept the bet through pride, he reportedly uttered these words and simply pointed to one of his mares that was standing by a gate.
'Ładnemu we wszystkim ładnie', is a lovely sentiment, meaning 'someone pretty looks pretty in everything'. I suppose a good English equivalent is the saying 'A leopard can't change its spots', but granted, that’s got some more negative connotations.
'Komu pora, temu czas' , is a rather sinister reminder of the inevitability of death, meaning 'when it's your time to go, you must go'.
’Potrzeba jest matka wynalazków’, means ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and alludes to the fact that when people need something, the push to produce it is driven by greater tenacity and determination.
The proliferation of proverbs in Polish is an indicator the language's rich history and character. Using them in the right context is a high level skill, showing you not only understand the contextual associations of a conversation, but that you are engaged with the history and culture of Poland and the Polish people.