Pathetic does not mean ‘patetyczny’

  • Pathetic does not mean ‘patetyczny’

    Pathetic does not mean ‘patetyczny’

    In this post, I will write about another pair of false friends in English and Polish i.e. pathetic and patetyczny because it seems that Polish people (yes, and some translators too!) still have problems with these two words.


    Used in in various sentences pathetic can mean different things. For example:

    1)  pitifully inferior or inadequate: They were brave, and bravely she served them a pathetic meal of nothing but limitless bowls of little potatoes boiled in their jackets … —M.F.K. Fisher, With Bold Knife and Fork, 1969 (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

    2)  informal Brit ludicrously or contemptibly uninteresting or worthless: the standard of goalkeeping in amateur football today is pathetic. (

    But the main problem, I think, that foreigners have with this word is that you can actually express your pity, either sympathetically or contemptibly like in the sentences below:

    1)  The blind, old dog was a pathetic sight. = sad, evoking pity; Polish: smutny, żałosny (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

    2) a pathetic tone of voice. = sad; sorrowful; mournful; Polish: smutny, pełen żałości (

    3) The team was pretty bad last year, but this year they’re downright pathetic. = pitifully inferior; Polish: beznadziejna, żałosna


    Patetyczny, on the other hand, means pompous or full of pathos, bombastic. This is why it’s a mistake to translate it as pathetic into English or the other way round, to translate pathetic as patetyczny into Polish. Here are some examples of use of the word patetyczny in Polish language:

    1) “na całe życie!” – chrząkał z dezaprobatą i nieufnym wzrokiem oprowadzał patetyczne gesty tenora. = pompous

    2) … możliwości efektów inscenizacyjnych, obrazu, muzyki, ruchu, słowa – spójnie wszystko współtworzy patetyczną wizję upadku armii i potęgi wielbionego cesarza.= grandiloquent

    3)  karierowiczostwa, oportunizmu i koniunkturalizmu, uznał po prostu, że – proszę wybaczyć patetyczne słowo – Polska przede wszystkim. = grandiloquent

    4) (Tu zakończyłem mą metaforę z tlenem. Dalej następowało wezwanie patetyczne.)
    RodacyRysuje się przed wami zupełnie wyjątkowa szansa! Wszystko legło… = solemn


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    Hanna Gembus

    Hanna Gembus is a professional Polish English and Polish German translator and communication specialist based in the United Kingdom providing translation, content, interpreting and market research services to small, medium-sized and large companies and organisations. She specialises in business, marketing and e-commerce, using linguistic and cultural knowledge to help both start-ups and established companies improve their presence on the market and increase sales.

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