16 December 2010

Polish Grandmother: Babcia, Busia, Buzia, Busza, Babusza, Babusia, Babunia, Bubi, Mamie, Baba, Babci, Buba, Busha, Booboo

This is a continuation of a series about Polish words.

Today, I want to focus on the word for "Grandmother" in the Polish language.  The way to say "Grandmother" is "Babcia" (pronounced bahp-CHAH, with the "a" sounding like the "a" in "father" and the "ci" sounding like "ch" in "chicken").  That is how every Pole in Poland says it.  Every single one of them.

That is not to say that the word "Babciu" (pronounced bahp-CHOoh with the "ci" sounding like the "ch" in "chicken") is incorrect.  It is merely an endearing way to say it to your Grandmother, if you are close to her and speaking to her directly.  This is similar to the usage of Dziadziusu discussed in this previous post  http://polishmamaontheprairie.blogspot.com/2010/12/polish-grandfather-dziadek-dziadziu.html

Also, "Babunia" (pronounced bahb-OO-niah with the "ni" sound like a double "n" in spanish) is another complicated word for Grandmother.  "Babunia" is only ever used when speaking to children about their beloved Babcia in an endearing manner, however, that is not her title.  Grandmother's title is still "Babcia", it is only used in a sentence like "Your babunia is coming over today for dinner".

"Babcia", in the meantime, is always used when speaking about a Grandmother.  But for all intends and purposes, because it is actually and very subtly more complicated than that, just like the acceptable variations of Dziadek, if you don't know the different subtleties between all of them, you should just stick with "Babcia".

So, again, we have to ask the question "Why all the other versions"?  And, why in the Polish language, are they not all correct?  Let's find out... 

Busia (pronounced "Boo-sha") is probably a shortened version of Babusia (pronounced bah-BOO-shah with the "si" being a "sh" sound), which may be a variation of Babuska (pronounced bah-BOO-shkah).  Babuska is Russian for Grandmother.  I have actually heard many American men affectionately addressing their Russian or Polish wives this way and most cringe and correct them, because first of all, they are being called a "Grandmother" and second, if they are Polish, why would they want to be called a Russian word?  I have no experience in whether Busia is accepted in the Russian language as I am not Russian, but it is not a Polish word.

Buzia (pronounced booh-zah with the "zi" sound as in, well, I can't come up with any because I have never noticed it in the English language, but I guess you could say like the french sounding "j" sound in "juin") means "Mouth" or "Face", as in "Dai mi Buzi" (or Give me Kisses), that fabulous t-shirt phrase always sold at Polish-American festivals with the kiss print on it.

Busza, I think is a misspelling of Busia.  Again, Busia is short for Babusia, which is Russian.  Babusza, I don't know.  Babu, I don't know.  Bubi, Mamie, Baba, Babci, Buba, Busha, Booboo, again, I don't know.  Some of these are probably corrupted pronunciations of Jewish, Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, or other languages. 

Baba (pronounced bah-bah) means "Old Lady" but it is not used, because the old phrases it is used in are insults, which I don't want to share here.  Likewise with Baba and Babka, I think it is better to just stay away from, because if you use them incorrectly, you are being very rude.

So, to recap:
  • To say "Grandmother" in Polish, you say "Babcia" (pronounced bahp-cha, with the "ci" pronounced like the "ch" in "chicken")
  • If you are not completely familiar with the exact way to use "Babunia", or "Babciu", it is better to just say "Babcia"
  • The "ci" sound in Polish is always like the "ch" in "chicken"
  • Other ways of saying "Grandmother" either mean a rude word, something in another language like Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian, or other.

Some people are going to read this and adamantly argue that the words I stated above which were the correct way to say "Grandmother" are not true because in their Polish American families they use the other words which I explained were not the correct way.  However, there is another history and linguistics lesson in this.

First, I would encourage anyone to look in an English-Polish Dictionary to see what is written in the English section for "Grandmother", then try to find the other words in the Polish section. 

Second, Poland prior to WWII was not all completely Polish, actually it had a diverse ethnic populace, with Jews, Italians, Greeks, Russians, Germans, Ukrainians, etc. living within it's borders.  So, just because a family member came from Poland, does not always mean they were ethnically Polish.  I would encourage everyone to look into their family genealogy, we all have amazing surprises to discover.  Also, there was a time when some Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians were labeled as Polish when they came to America and the immigrant just went with that, for whatever reason.

Third, due to the Partitions in Polish history, there was for about 200 years a time when Poles spoke more than one language, usually Russian, Austrian (Austrian German), or Prussian (German).  In some areas and certain periods during that time, Polish was not allowed to be taught or used.  So, some Polish families who came to America, used Russian or German words for certain things or people.

Fourth, we Poles have lived in many places besides Poland for many centuries, just like all other nationalities, or ethnic groups.  Poles have lived in France, England, Germany, Ukraine, etc. and would have adopted certain words and other cultural habits from their host country, and therefor would have brought that with them when coming to America.

You might also be interested in the following post, at the end I briefly mention the words "Babcia" and "Busia" and explain why they are both used in my family...



Chrystal said...

This is funny in a way. We call my Grandmother in law Bouscha (how I figured it was spelled) now I see that is wrong. :( Her Mother came over from Poland.

cmhabibi said...

The Polish side of my family came to the USA 100 years ago. I never heard/saw "babcia" until I started taking Polish class. Language is not fixed or static. It is always changing. If everyone in a nation of the Polish diaspora is saying a word, it exists. It may not be Polish-Polish, but is part of the larger Polish family whether dictionary-makers in Warsaw like it or not.

Unknown said...

cmhabibi, I'm not sure which word it is that you are referencing to, but in the article I explain the possible origins of several Polish American words. In the end, it's what we want to use in our own families that matters. I wrote this article because I was very frustrated with being actually from Poland and hearing from Polish Americans that the word "Babcia" is not a real Polish word. I'm sure you can appreciate how frustrating, and almost insulting, that can be to hear that, as a native Polish speaker, you do not speak Polish correctly. I don't question their Polish ancestry or pride, what I'm saying is I wrote this in reaction to my Polish ancestry, pride, and knowledge of the Polish language being questioned repeatedly. Miło pani poznać i do widzenia! :) I hope to see you here again soon.

Julie said...

I just stumbled onto this blog during a search for the Polish word for Grandma. I'm kind of uncertain what to think about my ancestry right now because we always called my grandma - busia (or however you want to spell it). I really don't have any idea where my family immigrated from, but I might need to do some more digging now. My whole life I was told I was 50% Polish and now I'm suspicious ;) Thanks for all of the information!