I was about seven years old when I first realized that not all families speak the same language. I was on the back of a bicycle driven by a girl who lived up the street. The “driver” would stand up to pedal while the “rider” sat on the seat and held on to the driver’s waist. As we drove down the street, I started laughing. “What’s so funny?” she asked.
“Your dupa is right in my face!”
“My what?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.
“You know,” I said, pointing to her butt, “Your dupa!”
We came to a stop. She turned around, looking bewildered. “You mean my heiney?”
Now it was my turn to be perplexed. “What’s a heiney?”
Truly a lesson for the ages – language, which either brings cultures together or separates them, learned by two children as they argued over the “correct” word for their buttocks.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Dupa and many of the other “odd” words I heard growing up came from my grandmother, who lived with us. Although she was a first generation American who was born in Philadelphia, she learned Polish as a child from her immigrant parents. Her husband, also U.S.-born to Polish parents, did the same, and they used Polish to communicate in front of their own children when they didn’t want them to understand what they were saying.
This explains why several Polish words crept from my grandmother’s vocabulary to ours, such as dupa. The Polish-English dictionary defines it as: dupa ["doo-pa"], ass (vulg.). Because it’s a vulgar term, its true meaning leans more towards a derogatory term about how someone behaves rather than a person’s rear anatomy. But my brother and I used it as kids for the latter term, and fortunately we did not live in a neighborhood with others who spoke Polish!
We adopted some other normal Polish words like zupa ["zoo-pa"], the Polish word for soup, and shmata [shmah-tah], which is a Yiddish word for rag that my grandmother used to refer to a “housedress”. We also frequently used the Polish word dudek ["doo-dek"], which means fool or dummy. We pronounced it as “duh-dek” instead of the correct pronunciation.
Another word in use by my grandmother was plut. I can’t find this in the Polish dictionary, but it likely comes from the word plutokracja, meaning plutocracy or of the wealthy. As “plut” was applied to someone with no sense of humor or someone who looked down on others, usually in reference to the expression on their faces, it seems that this might be where she coined the term.
My grandmother also had a cascade of nicknames. My mom was always “Chick” and my aunt was “Jub” or “Jubie”. My brother didn’t have a moniker, but sometimes she called me “Dora”. Now my mother is the only one still living from her immediate family, and there’s no one left to call her Chick (and she is glad about that!). Of course, it should be taken into context…my grandmother had a nickname, too, given by my grandfather. She was called “Killer” – and she loved it!
From my father’s side of the family, his Bavarian aunt told the story that her mother used to call the father “Zeff”, a nickname for his proper name, Joseph. My aunt, who is eight years younger than my father, called him “Brub”, which was as close as she could get to “Brother” at a young age. Even today, my 3-year-old niece calls her same-age cousin “Bibbias”. Even though she can properly say “Olivia” now, she still insists on calling “Bibs” by her nickname.
Our family language and propensity towards nicknames expanded considerably when I was 14 years old. I became friends with Louie; he became my adopted brother and one of the family. Consequently, the word “dudek” took on a new life. I can’t remember if he was familiar with the term or not – he also had Polish grandparents. But, if he hadn’t heard it before, he certainly adopted it. In addition to that term, there was one other that my grandmother used, origin unknown: gazeutch. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll understand with examples. It’s a very flexible word and can be an adverb, as in “Don’t get all gazeutch about it” or as a noun with “You’re acting gazeutch.”
For four years – and even continuing today, everyone was a dudek and we were usually gazeutched as a result.
We also called our then-favorite poison, Mt. Dew, swill. Louie had a habit of re-naming most of the adults in our lives with nicknames; he was the king of names. The adults who frequented our church were Bluegown, Dead Dog, Hubachi, the Russian Empress, Mad Dog (no relation to Dead Dog), and Abendego. Even our much beloved pastor was “the Wiz”, and I think he’d have probably laughed in secret had he known then. Lou’s father was known throughout the neighborhood as “C.L.” – short for “Communist Leader”. My father became “What the hell” since it was usually the first three words he uttered upon seeing us. “What the hell is this mess?” “What the hell is all the noise down there?” You get the idea.
So, when someone is being a dudek and has you all gazeutch, don’t act like a plut – just share some swill and just remember that he’s probably just a dupa because he doesn’t speak your family’s language.
[Written for the 54th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Family Language]