Pączki – Just how do you pronounce those jelly-filled doughnuts?
It is an old Polish tradition to eat pączki on Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), which is the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday. In America “Pączki Day” is celebrated five days later, on Tuesday. They have been made in Poland since at least the Middle Ages in order to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs, and fruit in the home before Lent started. Afterwards, these foods were not allowed to be eaten as part of the Catholic Church’s fasting requirements until the celebration of Easter.
Over the years we have been asked by guests exactly how to pronounce these beloved fruit or cream filled desserts. In America there seems to be several ways people say them, which causes confusion, and even frustration in Polish speaking areas that hear news reporters confidently pronouncing them wrong.
Undoubtedly the confusion begins with the letter “a” in pączki. This is not the same letter “a” as in the English alphabet, although we do have that letter also. In the Polish language, we have another “ą” and you will notice that it has a little tail, called an ogonek. This letter is most often pronounced like “on” as in the French words “bon” appetite. An English equivalent, although not exact, would be similar to the word bone. So the best way we can explain how to accurately pronounce “pączki” is “pone-chkey.”
Now that you know how to say them, did you know that the word “pączki” is actually plural, meaning it refers to more than one doughnut? “Pączek,” is singular, and refers to one doughnut, i.e. “pone-check.” However, when you have 5 or more of these tasty treats the word actually becomes “pączków” (pone-chkoov). Notice the special diacritical mark over the letter “o” which forms the sound “oo.” Perhaps this is the origin of why many Americans have mistakenly come to pronounce pączki as “poonch-key.”
Whether you enjoy your pączki filled with prunes, jam, marmalade, or custard, or topped with granulated sugar, powdered sugar, or icing, the important thing is that you remember your Polish heritage when you eat them. We invite you to Poland to Discover those Roots, and while here, we’ll be happy to help you pronounce these rich-flavored doughnuts, and eat them too.
If you are interested in making pączki, please click on this link for a traditional Polish recipe.