Words from my diaspora childhood which haven’t quite worked in Ukraine

Ukraine is a philologists dream. I can think of no other place where language issues play such a prominent role in political debate, personal identity, and culture. Although it isn’t my primary focus here, I can’t stop noticing. (See here, here.)

Here is a list of words which were a normal part of my childhood lexicon as I grew up in New York’s Ukrainian community. Unlike other immigrant communities, the Ukrainian one was separated from its origins by an iron curtain. This provided the language with a greater opportunity to evolve on its own.

None of these words worked as consistently or with the meaning I intended. I’ve gotten different and conflicting explanations for these words — some are attributed to regional dialect, some to antiquated language, and some were completely unknown to my Ukrainian acquaintances.

No doubt some of them are true Ukrainian words and my nationalistic friends will encourage me to continue speaking them until they are restored. Others, rukhanka, koshikivka, probably arose in the diaspora and never had much usage in Ukraine.

Comments are welcome, as I readily admit my lack of expertise for the explanation I give.

зимно – zymno – Cold. Probably regional and/or antiquated. Kholodno seems more common.

горнятко – horniatko – Cup.

грубий – hrubii – I posted about this one before. I thought it meant fat, and it does, but a much more common usage is crude.

кошиківка – koshikivka – The ridiculous term we used for basketball. Polish origin?

копаній мяч / копаного – kopani miach / kopanoho – Ditto for soccer.

зупа – zupa – soup. Commonly used in the west.

руханка – rukhanka – exercise. Literally, the word means movement. Mostly, I’ve been told it’s a ridiculous word. Others have told me it comes from Ternopil or Poland.

вуйко – vuiko – uncle. Slightly antiquated. In eastern Ukraine it seems to be a derogatory term for villagers from the Carpathian Mountains.

курить – kuryt’ – smokes. Not unheard of, but most people say “palyt'” which literally means burns.

папіроси – papyrosy – cigarettes. Most people just pronounce a Ukrainian version of the word cigarette.


Also, torba for bag. Paket is more common, though I think it’s Russian.

Edit 2:

Also, rover for bicycle. Velosoped is much more common.

Edit 3:

Also, Laznychka for bathroom. Toilet is common. One person told me that Laznychka refers to a shower room.

Edit 4:

Also, Naplechnyk for backpack. Ruksak is common.

Also Valiska for suitcase. Sumka is common.

Edit 5:

Words for strawberries and wild strawberries. Trewskavky / Polunytsi / Sunytsi

Edit 6:

Kuzin for cousin. Most people say dvoiu-ridni brat (second-related brother), or dvoiu-ridna sestra (second-related sister).

Sklep or Kramnytsia for store. Most people said Mahazyn.

Edit 7:

Maitsi for underpants. The world makes people laugh — especially after I tell them what it means.

Kupilevi Strij for bathing suit. Again, people have no idea.

Edit 8:

As mentioned in a previous post:
koshykivka” instead of “basketball”
kanapka” instead of “sandvich”
the arcane “lyshcheta” for skies instead of “lyji”


Edit 9: I am relieved to have discovered this comprehensive list on the wonder blog Shadows of a Forgotten World. The burden to capture this anomaly isn’t mine alone. :)


Edit 10: Oh, how could I forget, for “car,” we said “avto” instead of “mashyna.”


Edit 11: For “dishes” or “dinnerware,” we said “nachynnia” instead of the now-popular “posud.”

Also, “vuiko” and “teta” instead of “diad’ko” and “titka.”