Episode 60: With What This Oneself One Eats?

Czym to się je?

English Phonemes: “[cz]ihm toh shyeh yeh”

Literal Translation: With what this oneself one eats?

Elegant Translation: How does one eat this?

English Equivalent: What do I do? How does one handle this?

This phrase is a funny way to ask how to tackle a new and foreign task. It paints the mental picture of an elegant, elaborate table setting with countless spoons, forks, knives, and other cutlery for every different course or dish, and asks us to imagine a waiter bringing you a plate of food you’ve never seen before. What cutlery would you reach for?

This phrase uses that image as a metaphor for that initial confusion we all feel when faced with a new and unexpected challenge.

Google Translate fails so hard here. It thought that ‘je’ is ‘them’ from the Slovenian — which it is not. And czym was ‘and’, which it is not. I hardly ever bother, but it was so off the mark that I submitted edits to both these and I encourage other Polish speakers to do the same if a similar situation arises. It may feel like typing something into the void, but it might help the translation algorithm get it right next time if enough knowledgable polyglots submit enough edits. 

Bonus nerdy linguistic subtext:

It should be noted that “czym” by itself already means “with what”. However, as happens in language all the time, this phrase over time has sometimes been said incorrectly by adding the actual pronoun “z” in front, which means “with”. Don’t be that guy. You might hear this out in the wild, but know it’s incorrect. If you actually say “z czym to się je”, you’re actually saying “with with what does this get eaten”.

Czym = with what [object form of ‘co’, the ‘with’ is understood]
To = this
Się = itself, oneself, self [reflective helper word]
Je = he/she/it eats/is eating [3rd person singular, present tense]

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Julia Tutko