red ears

Discussion in 'Polski (Polish)' started by perpend, Jan 24, 2014.

  1. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    I heard from a Polish woman talking about her one! red ear, that maybe someone is talking about her. She speaks broken English, but I immediately associated it with "my ears are burning", i.e., "someone is talking about you".

    Is it common to use "I have red ears" in Polish to mean "my ears are burning" in English?

    I know this is a weird question. Sorry. :eek:
  2. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    The question is not weird at all, but I have never heard the expression before, maybe it is a bad translation from Polish to English, or maybe it is a new calque from English. There is, however an expression "to redden up to one's ears from shame".
  3. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    So, if her ear (ears) were red, she might be being shamed? Gosh, this is confusing.
  4. DW

    DW Banned

    Well, in some parts of Poland it's said by some that if your ears turn red, somebody backbites you.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2014
  5. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    It seems to me that I've come across a little bit different version, closer to the English one. If your ears/cheeks burn (uszy/policzki mnie pieką), someone is running you down. I believe that same people think the same when their nose is itchy (nos mnie swędzi).
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2014
  6. dn88 Senior Member

    If someone told me that their ear(s) was/were red in Polish, I think I would be baffled as to the intended meaning—unless their ears were literally red.

    "Uszy mnie pieką" (my ears are burning), on the other hand, makes sense and can imply that the speaker suspects someone is talking about him/her (usually in a spiteful manner, ie. backbiting).
  7. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Perhpas the woman said "red" because she didn't know the word for "burn" in English, and the singular was a mistake?
  8. jasio Senior Member

    Actually, there may be several nuances.

    Using single number ('red ear'/'czerwone ucho') looks for me, like a translation error (credit to Thomas1 :) ), although, in fact, it can be taken literally as well (as if you have been sleeping on a side).

    The spectrum is, however, much wider. The ears can be red ('mieć czerwone uszy'), can be becoming red ('czerwienić się'), blush ('rumienić się'), can have even become pink ('zaróżowić się') - although I haven't heard anyone saying to have pink ears ('różowe uszy'). For obvious resons, a person can rarely actually SEE his or her ears, so the colours are naturally used with 'feel' (like 'czuję, że czerwienią mi się uszy' - 'I feel that my ears are becoming red'). The ears can also become blue or rather livid ('sine' - in Polish this word is typically used only to name a colour of a human body under some circumstances, typically cold, or perhaps a colour of a sea surface in bad weather). The ears can also burn ('uszy kogoś pieką'), and even flame ('płoną mu uszy' - 'his ears are flaming'), which you can also feel ('I feel that my ears are flaming': 'czuję, że płoną mi uszy') - although I can only recall the two latter in the old literature, so perhaps it's outdated nowadays.

    To add insult to injury, some words can probably be used only under certain circumstances. As far, as I can recall, 'becoming pink' is used to describe someone else's skin colour (and more often of a woman then of a man), but rarely or never of oneself. 'Red' typically means really red, or even purple, like in a frost. 'Becoming red' usually refers to a light red or a pink shade. So it's complex, and you might probably write a thesis about it. ;)
  9. franknagy

    franknagy Senior Member

    I think Jasio has right. The lady expressed the physical state of her own ears - maybe she had ben walking along a cold street for a long time or she had fever.
  10. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    It's just occured to me that if someone's one ear is burning, it's also possible to say "ucho mnie piecze", and add the part "ktoś mnie/cię obgaduje".
  11. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    Thanks very much, everyone. I think it was the "backbiting" meaning. She did mention "czerwony", when I asked her what she meant with red. She was aware of the redness and had looked into a mirror before telling the story.

    There really was just ONE red ear. I watched her show me.

    But, I think there are still two meanings:
    A) Backbiting (is this vindictive)?
    B) Someone is talking about you.

    Gosh, it's still confusing.

    Thanks again.
  12. jasio Senior Member

    So she probably meant it literally, and decided to turn it into a sort of a pun rather than to complain on the bad weather, or anything else that caused the situation. A very common reaction, in fact, almost automatic.

    Actually, I doubt if this superstition is really taken seriously by anybody, regardless of the specific meaning or wording. It may just be a way to talk down an uncomfortable situation. Another common example is when someone drops a piece of cutlery during the meal. A reaction - often by an offender him/herself - would be saying something like "perhaps someone hungry is coming to join us" ("pewnie jakiś głodny do nas idzie"). So it's more a cultural than a language issue.

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