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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Language traps were everywhere

Language traps were everywhere

  • • "She'll be right" – Who is this "Sheila" and why will she be right?
  • • "Hot pies" – When I had three pennies to spare (which was seldom) and hungry (which was always), I would still avoid the hot pies shop – the word "pies" in Polish is "dog". We had enough of dog meat in the Siberian forced-labour camps (if we were lucky to get it).
  • • "Lively" – Some time later, with a better vocabulary, I complimented a mother on how "lively" her child was. I was surprised at her annoyance until I was told she had heard me say how "livery" her child was.
  • • Lawn mowing – The kind Mrs Parker says to me: "Time to mow the lawn Stan, before it gets wet." But I understand her to mean it is time to mow the lawn "because it is wet." What's the point of mowing wet grass when it's not even wet?
  • • Spelling – I thought my native tongue superior. In Poland, every child after the first year at school knew how to read every word without having to spell it first.