Polka (etymology)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed May 30 08:37:58 UTC 2001

>It seems that English dictionaries usually give the Czech word "polka"
>(meaning Polish) as the origin.
>My Swedish Music dictionary (Gereon Brodin, Musikordboken) as well as the
>French Petit Robert give another Czech word as the origin: "pulka",
>meaning "half-step". If you think of how you dance the polka this seems
>rather plausible, especially as the dance itself seems to be of Chech
>origin, not Polish.

The origin of the word apparently is uncertain. One summary can be found at


-- but note that "Neruda" is misspelled "Neruba" here.

The Czech "pulka" = "half" is mentioned here as one of the etymology stories.

It is also claimed here that an earlier identical dance was called the
"cracoviacs"; I suppose this refers to the Polish city Kraków?

Another summary is at


The OED shows both etymology stories. It may be that "pulka" was
misunderstood as "polka" (= "Polish" [feminine] or so) and the dance so
named in French, German, English (cf. "polonaise", "mazurka").

A very similar thing happened with "baloney" (sausage), originally
apparently named after the Italian city Bologna but later rendered
sometimes "polony" as if it meant "Polish [sausage]" -- this also is in the
OED, I think.

-- Doug Wilson

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