The Secret Life of Words: Phonological Discord

img_0166If you live in Chicago, you know what a “pączki” is — the jelly-filled donut celebrated every year on Fat Tuesday. With a large Polish population, the pączki has become popularized throughout Chicagoland: available across supermarkets, shared with family, brought into the office. But how does “pączki” (Listenbecome “punchki”? (Yes! that’s how it’s commonly pronounced.) Year after year, as a “language person,” always categorizing origins, tracing meaning, I couldn’t enjoy the donut without getting over this roadblock. It didn’t quite add up.

My initial theory was that there was some cross-pollination with the Russian “ponchiki” (Listen), which comes close — transliteration possibly?

After some research, it turns out the little accent on the “ą” (often omitted in English) makes all the difference. This guy explains it quite well:

So as it seems, the quasi-transliteration into English as “paczki” is to blame. I feel much better now (and a little more schooled in Polish phonology 🙂 ).


For more history on the “pączki,” seeączki.