Polack

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The noun Polack (/ˈplɑːk/ or /-læk/; also Pollack, Pollock, Polock), in the contemporary English language, is a derogatory reference to a person of Polish descent.[1] It is an Anglicisation of the Polish language word Polak, which can mean a Polish male person or a person of Polish nationality (feminine being Polka), with a neutral connotation. However, the English loanword "Polack" (note the spelling difference which does not appear in Polish) is considered an ethnic slur in the United States and the United Kingdom, and therefore is considered insulting in nearly all modern usages.

  1. Slang: Disparaging and Offensive (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
  2. Offensive Slang used as a disparaging term for a person of Polish birth or descent (The American Heritage Dictionary)

History[edit]

According to Online Etymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper, "Polack" meant as "Polish immigrant, person of Polish descent" was used in American English until the late 19th century (1879) to describe a "Polish person" in a non-offensive way (1574).[2] Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) based on the Unabridged Dictionary by Random House claims that the word originated between 1590–1600. For example, Shakespeare uses the term Polacks in his tragedy Hamlet to refer to opponents of Hamlet's father. A quote is given below:

Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated:
So frowned he once, when in an angry parle
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice

In an Irish-published edition of Hamlet by the Educational Company, Patrick Murray noted: "Some editors, however, argue that Polacks should read as pole-axe, and that Horatio is remembering an angry Old Hamlet striking the ice with his battle-axe".[3]

Ethnonyms[edit]

The neutral English language alternative to the term "Polish person" (male or female) today is Pole (see also: Naming Poland in foreign languages). In some other languages such as Swedish or Norwegian, polack or polakk are inoffensive terms for a person from Poland.[4]

In Iberian languages, polaco is a mild slur for people from the Catalan-speaking countries,[5] though it is a completely neutral way of referencing Polish people in all Ibero-American countries except Brazil, where, much as galego (Galician), alemão (German) and russo (Russian), it became a politically incorrect term for a fair-skinned white person from a non-Romance-speaking, usually European, country, and the noun used for Polish people is polonês (such term is absent from Spanish and other Portuguese variants).

In Russian and Ukrainian the old exonym "лях" (lyakh, lyakhy) is now considered offensive,[6] and is replaced by the neutral "поляк" (polyak).

On July 26, 2008, The Times newspaper from the United Kingdom featured a comment piece by restaurant reviewer and columnist Giles Coren (known for his profanity-strewn complaints),[7] containing general anti-Polish sentiment.[8] In a piece, entitled "Two waves of immigration, Poles apart"[9] Coren used the racial slur 'Polack' to describe Polish immigrants who can "clear off". He went on to articulate his views about the role of Poles in the Holocaust in Poland. The piece prompted a letter of complaint to The Times from the Polish ambassador to the UK, Barbara Tuge-Erecinska. She wrote that "the issue of Polish-Jewish relations has been unfairly and deeply falsified" by his "aggressive remarks" and "contempt".[10] Coren's comments caused the Federation of Poles in Great Britain to demand a published apology from The Times under threat of an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, which has the power to force an apology.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]