April 09, 2004

It Ain't Potrzebie So

For a little while I've been using "Potrzebie bounces" as my in-class example of a nonsense sentence. I got it out of Mad Magazine, and I just realized it's a good idea to check Polish words you get from Mad Magazine to make sure that they're not nasty obscenities that could get you ad-boarded.


it's a Polish word - means something along the lines of "necessary" (needed/required/wanted) modulo losses in translation.... Mad publisher (in both senses) William Gaines encountered the word "potrzebie" on a the label of a bottle of Polish aspirin. Most Americans pronounce it potter-zeebie, but the Polish pronunciation is nearer poh-CHEB-yeh. If I recall correctly -- from a conversation with a Defense Language Institute translator some thirty-eight years ago -- it's the genitive form of a noun meaning need.

Who knew I was saying something of such profound philosophical import?

Speaking of Wikis, This page still seems to be the only place on the Web that you can find any appreciable chunk of the lyrics of Culture's fantastic song "See Dem A Come." The poster seems to be Croatian. You figure it out.

Posted by Matt Weiner at April 9, 2004 12:01 PM

FYI, in 1957 MAD magazine published the Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures. Despite the fact that it was entirely decimal and internally consistent (as I verified after careful calculation), it never caught on. The zero point for the Martin temperature scale (named after the great Don Martin) was the melting point of hal(a)vah. The basic unit of length was the Potrzebie, equal to the thickness of MAD issue #26. Larger units included the kilo-, mega-, and furshlugginer Potrzebie.

Posted by: Kent Bach at April 11, 2004 03:07 PM

Apparently the Potrzebie System was the first published paper by Don Knuth, who went on to become a well-known computer scientist. Who else has had such auspicious beginnings?

Posted by: Matt Weiner at April 12, 2004 12:16 PM