Episode 69: It Is Permitted To You, Tommy, In Own Home!

Wolnoć, Tomku, w swoim domku.

English Phonemes: “VOHL-nohch TOHM-koo v SFOH-yeem DOHM-koo”

Literal Translation: It is permitted to you, Tommy, in own home.

Elegant Translation: You’re allowed, Tommy, in your own home.

English Equivalent: A man’s house is his castle.

Shoutout to Ed from England, who sent in a question about this phrase. Ed asks if Google translate got it right, where this phrase comes from, and who this Tomek person was. Let’s dive right in!

Does Google Translate have it right?

First, Google Translate said “Freedom, Tomek, in your home.” That’s only partly right. The word “wolnoć” is NOT (as some might try to explain) a misspelled or cute-ified version of “wolność” which means “freedom”. It is actually a relic of old Polish, and is a contracted version of “wolno ci” which means “it is permitted (wolno) to you (ci - object form of ty)”. In Old Time-y Polish, it used to be common to add ć to the end of a word where we now in Polish use the separate word “ci”. So, example, where now we’d say something like “czego ci brak?” (literally: What to you is missing? elegant: What are you missing?) we’d have to say in Old Polish “czegoć brak?”. 

Where is this phrase from?

This phrase is from a children’s poem called “Paweł i Gaweł” by Alexander Fedro. I remember my mother reading this to me when I was very little. I’d forgotten until I bumped into it again just now when researching the phrase to reply to Ed. Thanks, Ed!

The story is that Paweł and Gaweł are neighbors. Gaweł lives on the bottom floor and is constantly loud with his games of hunting and shooting and general noisemaking. Finally, Paweł can’t take it anymore, and he comes downstairs to ask “Kind sir, it’s so noisy upstairs. The windows are shaking in their frames! Can’t you please have mercy and hunt a little more quietly?” Gaweł replies with this phrase. Basically saying, one can do what they please in their own home. That night, Gaweł wakes up when water starts dripping on his face. He runs upstairs and knocks on the door, but Paweł doesn’t answer. When Gaweł peeks through the keyhole, he sees the living room completely filled with water! And there’s Paweł, sitting on his credenza with a fishing pole! Gaweł shouts, “What are you doing, man?! There’s water pouring out of my ceiling!” And Paweł replies, “Wolnoć, Tomku, w swoim domku!” The moral of the story basically being, what goes around comes around, and you should treat others as you would want them to treat you.

Lastly, who’s Tom?

Most likely, it’s no one in particular and the name was chosen for the rhyme.  

A rhyme like “Wolnoć Wiktorze w swojej norze” or “Wolnoć Arturze w swojej dziurze” have the same functional meaning.

Poles love to use placeholder names in jokes and parables. We have some examples in English, like “Average Joe” and “Johnny Doogooder”. Johnny and Joe aren’t real people either. So here, I don’t think Tommy is anyone specific. But I can’t say with 100% certainty. If he was real, the historians didn’t jot it down for us. But that’s highly unlikely, because linguists and historians love that type of related trivia about settings and influences, especially when associated with such a popular and impactful cultural treasures.

This Wikipedia article is in Polish, but I think if you run it through Google Translate, you’ll get an interesting summary of what’s going on. 

https://pl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paweł_i_Gaweł

Here’s a blog entry by a Polish linguist, (it’s also in Polish), which tells you the whole poem itself (it’s short) and the blogger afterwards describes what’s being said in more detail. A fun read!

https://obcyjezykpolski.pl/wolnoc-tomku-w-swoim-domku/

Wolnoć = wolno ci 

Wolno = it is permitted 
Ci = to you [object form of ‘ty’, you, singular]
Tomku = affectionate/diminutive form of Tomek = Little Tom or Tommy 
W = in, inside
Swoim = one’s own [object form]
Domku = [object form] of Domek = diminutive form of Dom = house, home


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Julia Tutko