Historical story

A hundred years ago these were forbidden words for the initiated. Everyone uses them today. What words are they talking about?

Last updated:2022-07-25

Secret terms used by thieves, bandits, marginalized people. At the end of the 19th century, an ingenious policeman from Lviv decided to collect them and publish them. Some of them sound… surprisingly familiar today!

Dictionary of thieving speech it came from the hands of Antoni Kurka in 1896. For many years he worked as an administrator of police arrests in Lviv. During all conversations with prisoners, he meticulously noted their peculiar dialect. So different from Polish that it almost sounds like a separate language.

The criminals were sure that as long as they used their secret speech, no one would understand what they were actually preparing. Kurka admitted that for a long time he had not been able to learn the meaning of even the most basic of their expressions, names and terms. Today, meanwhile, they belong to ... everyone's reference dictionary!

Arbitrate - to a thief, the word meant work. Yet even now we often mention from German that Arbyte is waiting for us.

Dycha - hard to believe, but at the turn of the 20th century only professional thieves knew that it was about the ten.

Fagas - this word has become very popular, but also its meaning has evolved. In Kurka's time, criminals called ... only butlers.

Title page of the second edition of Kurka's dictionary.

Money - again a word that is obvious to us, and for old Poles it sounds like Greek or Aramaic. Again, however, the term for whatever has expanded. Because according to the Polish-Thieves Dictionary the money meant nothing more than a… bribe.

Gull - a fool of course. But a hundred years ago it was not at all obvious.

Grab - to steal. And Kurka felt that he had to explain this to the readers.

Whistle - as above. Steal. Could this really be a secret?

Kiecka - dress. But a hundred years ago, apparently just a dress in a secret thieves speech ...

Kimać - to sleep. Said so that sometimes the keyboardist doesn't guess.

Keypad, keypad - a century ago, that was what a prison guard was called. Back then it was a secret, incomprehensible term. But today no one has to explain who the key is.

Klawy - because sometimes the criminal also had to praise his friend that he is a fellow man.

Kumać - understand. And it wasn't understood back then.

Mikrus - baby. But it was hard to guess.

Drink sweetheart - "a young man, also a man constantly amusing himself among prostitutes, even though he has no funds for it." Although I hope that the first version is closer to the truth. After all, I heard my brother-in-law being drank with a drink ...

Pukawka - a gun. Just in time for the very end. Or maybe some of these words were not so obvious to you?


Trivia is the essence of our website. Short materials devoted to interesting anecdotes, surprising details from the past, strange news from the old press. Reading that will take you no more than 3 minutes, based on single sources. This particular material is based on:

  • A. Kurka, Polish-Thieving Dictionary with Interviewers, Publisher CM , 2015 (new edition, based on the 1907 edition).