13 Slovak Words For The Venerable Potato


Update: As of November 18, 2011, thanks to the help of the many people who did investigated this topic and wrote me about it, this article contains 31 Slovak words for potato.

Words for Potato

November 9, 2011

Allan Stevo

It may come as no surprise to many that potatoes play a special role in Slovak culture.  In some parts of the country a peasant meal of some potatoes, some fatty bacon, and some milk cooked together make for a comfort food on a cold wet, day. The “national dish” is aged sheep cheese mixed into potato dumplings with bacon and lard drizzled on top.  Where there aren’t potatoes, there’s at least bread, and sometimes rice, but often enough, I’ve been served a little rice AND a little potatoes on one plate.  Potatoes are a staple in these lands.

I believe potatoes are part of the reason I’ve felt a Slovak appreciation for the Irish.  The impoverished Irish had their potato famine and many ultimately ran to America to escape the turmoil of home.  How dire life would be if for years the potato crop were abysmal in Slovakia.  Some cultures can empathize with the Irish, Slovaks can sympathize with them.  They know how important a good harvest of potatoes can be to having a good year.

During the Cold War, the communists very effectively pointed out through a widespread propaganda campaign that Americans hated Slovaks and their strong potato harvests.  They hated Slovaks so much that the Americans dropped an insect called a mandelinka from the sky onto the fields in order to destroy the Czechoslovak potato crop and impoverish the people in order to thwart their march toward the great communist society of Marx’s, Engels’s, and Lenin’s dreams.  At least that what the propaganda campaigns said.

I am unable to say whether or not the U.S. government intentionally dropped these bugs in Europe, or if a “gift” of foreign aid contained these crop destroying pests, or if these bugs just magically appeared.  What I do know is that even today, in the year 2011, there are Slovaks who have accept it as fact that this event took place.  Reality or not, it is accepted as reality.

The bug has a variety of colorful names in former Czechoslovakia, including “the six legged ambassador of Wall Street”  according to this book, or the “American beetle” in order to help remind one of its capitalist origins in the event that he or she missed the propaganda campaign, or “potato bug.” Pasavka zemiakova is the official name of this bug in Slovak, but the word mandelinka is a more popular word for it, probably because of the resemblance of the creature to the mandolin.  “Colorado Potato Beetle” is what it is referred to in the U.S.  People got worked up into a frenzy over the arrival of this creature in Czechoslovakia – how could the Americans be so cruel?

If the potato bug being dropped on Czechoslovakia and East Germany by American planes is a lie, then the potato bug ordeal of the 1950s teaches all free people around the world an important lesson of questioning the received wisdom that happens across our ears.  The potato bug affair offers fascinating insight into the ways that the media was used to develop a lie among trusting people that then turned into a frenzy.  Establishing the veracity of this claim seems to have escaped that vital step that all should engage in before believing another person and working oneself into a frenzy – critical questioning.  The American government has surely done shameful things to other countries.  I’m not challenging that bad things happen from time to time. I just think it’s good to be critical before working oneself up into a frenzy over those bad things.

If it was only a propaganda campaign based on a lie, then the communists chose a great subject for it, since potatoes are loved by Slovaks.  Even today, many Slovaks have their fields in the hills behind their homes and harvest those potatoes toward the end of each summer, storing them carefully so that they will last throughout the winter and for the next 12 months until the next potato harvest.

Potatoes are such an important part of Slovak culture that the Slovak language has what I have identified as 13 31 distinct words or distinct regional pronunciations for the venerable potato.  Each of these words is used to describe the edible tuber that is referred to as “potato” in English.  On the land of the Slovak Republic, each of these may be thrown around in discussion and are likely be understood.

  • Zemiak, Zemiaky
  • Švabka
  • Švapka
  • Svapka
  • Bandurky
  • Bondurky
  • Repa
  • Brambor / Brambory
  • Krumple
  • Kromple
  • Krumpole
  • Krompele
  • Krompachy
  • Grumbir
  • Grombir
  • Krumpir
  • Kompere
  • Bandory
  • Bobale
  • Kartoška
  • Grule
  • Erteple
  • Ertekle
  • Erdeple
  • Zemčák
  • Bramboch
  • Grumbolec
  • Bombir
  • Budka
  • Šupák
  • Kartoffel

I’m guessing there are at least another dozen words out there that are understood by Slovaks, but it’s hard to just walk up to a random person and as “how many words for potato do you know” and expect results.  Collecting this list took some doing. Might you have any others to add to this list?  If so, please share with the group – drop a note in the comments sections below.

If you are interested in where some of these words come from and how they are related to other languages in the region, here’s a very quick sketch of what I’ve been able to come across.

Zemiak / Zemiaky – Ziemniak is used in Polish.  The Slovak word zem or “earth” is present in it.

Svapka – is from the Goral language / dialect of northern Slovakia / southern Poland.  Martin on Slovak World points out in response to this article: “The Slovak words for the “potato” show clearly that it was a relatively recent
arrival and that the potatoes traveled from west to east in Europe, they reached the Slovaks from the German speaking areas. S~vabka is from Swabian, part of north-eastern Germany. The Czech brambor is from Brandenburg, as above.”

Grule, Kompere, Bandory, Švabka,  & Švapka – I have nothing insightful to say about these interesting words.

Bandurky – Martin on Slovak World responded to this article: “Bandurky is probably from pandur, a noblemen’s guard (later also county policeman), among whose duties was to oversee people doing their compulsory work in the nobleman’s fields one or two days each week. The farmers may have started using it, pejoratively, for the new crop. But it’s just a possibility, there are several similar bandur- words with various meanings whose origin is unclear.”

Grumbir – Livia writes in the comments section below: “GRUMBIR is the term used in the region called Zahorie (close to the Czech border with Morava) where my paternal grandma lived. They have so many special words it’s almost a language of its own.”

Repa – is a general word for edible tubers, which can also be applied to potatoes specifically.

Burgonya – is a synonym for repa in Slovak, but is also used in Hungary to mean potato.  It is used in Slovakia to refer generally to tubers and bulbous roots growing in the ground.  Since I have never heard it used to refer to a potato in Slovak, I did not include it in the list above.

Brambor / Brambory – this term is used widely in Czech as well.

Bobale – Les writes below “In Myjava, Brezova pod Bradlom region the potatoes are called: Bobale.”  Ivan in the comments section below follows up on Les’s comment: “Both of my parents are from Brezova pod Bradlon and most of the time a potato was either “bobal” (singular), “bobale” (plural) or zemiak (singular) or zemiaky (plural).”

Krumple – Krumpli is a Hungarian term, кромпир (krompir) is used in Serbian, krompirja in Slovenian, krumpir in Croatian.

Kartoška – is from Russian – картошка

Erteple – the Dutch use aardappel and in Afrikans the same is used as well.  Erdapfel is used in Austria. The words are probably related, but the pronunciation differs in Slovak.  All three of these words seem to be the literal equivalent of “la pomme de terre” used in French “apple of the earth,” or in the case of the three words above, “earth apple” seems a better way to express the roots of this word.  Modern Hebrew is heavily influenced by European culture and in that language, the same way of thinking is borrowed “tapuach adama” literally translates as “apple of the earth.”

Martin on Slovak World, in response to this discussion points out “Similar to erteple, ertekle, as you describe them, Allan, the plurals grule, krumple, kromple, krumpole, krompele, kompere, krompachy, and the singulars grombir, grumbir, krumpir, are all from the German ‘ground pears’ (Grundbirne).”

Ertekle – Erteple is perhaps a corruption of the Germanic words mentioned, and Ertekle is probably a further corruption of the above Erteple.

Kartoffel – is used in German and is similar to the word used by Ukrainians – картопля (kartoplya) and Russians картофель (kartofelʹ). Kartofel can also be used in Polish, картоф (kartof) in Bulgarian. Romanians use cartof,  Latvians – kartupeļu, and Estonians kartul.  About the word kartoffel, Gustav points out below “Kartoffel is purely a German word, in Slovakia we use the derived version kartofel (singular) or kartofle (plural).”  Martin from Slovak World states “Kartofel did come via German, which it entered from Italian (a corruption of
tartuffolo, ‘truffle’).”

Belarussian uses a totally different word that most of the slavs in the area – бульба (buĺba). The word is also used in Lithuanian and Yiddish and might even be related to the Slovak phrase “Co si blby?”  “Are you stupid?”  While I know that comparing a person’s intelligence to that of a vegetable is a common insult in many languages and calling someone a “potato head” can’t be considered a distinction of intelligence,  I think that connection between blby and бульба (buĺba) is sort of a stretch.

Do you have any others to add? I am sure that with the extensive knowledge of the people who read this site, there will be lots of variations on the above and with the fact that so many readers had families that emigrated from Slovakia throughout Europe and into the U.S. and Canada, there will be some fascinating words from the version of the Slovak language that their families left with.  Please do share any of those interesting words for potatoes.   How about the “mandelinka,” the “six legged ambassador of Wall Street,” any insight there?  Did Americans really drop “bug bombs” on Czechoslovakia?

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com.  He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing.  You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com.  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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  • Eileen Backofen

    Nov 9th, 2011

    bandurky is the word I remember from my childhood, but I couldn’t find it in my Slovak dictionary. Finally, I learned it’s because it’s an “archaic” Rusyn word for potato. Makes sense since my grandma was born way back in 1882 and came to the USA in 1900. For her it was always bondurky.

  • Eileen and David,
    Thank you for the insight on Bandurky / Bondurky. I’m adding the alternate pronunciation to the list above.

  • David Kuchta

    Nov 9th, 2011

    Bondurky was a word for Potatoe from those Slovaks and Polish that came from Eastern Slovakia. In my home town in in the USA, we had two different dialects. They always said that Bondurky dialect was from a more poorer class of people. I don’t believe that, but there was a lot of, ” over the back fence,” arguments between the two divions.

  • Eileen Backofen

    Nov 9th, 2011

    David: From what I read about the history of my grandmother’s village, half the population left for the US within a decade or so. Obviously times were really hard and they probably were rather poor and desperate. I actually don’t mind that my ancestors were among the poorest. It’s quite remarkable what they managed to achieve once they got here.

    When visiting Slovakia, I remembered to say zemiaky when in a restaurant, but in my mind it will always be the bondurky that grandma (Baba) put in the pierogies.

  • Eileen,
    I totally agree with your observation of how amazing it was that immigrants to the U.S. were able to achieve so much, especially those who came with no knowledge of the language. It’s hard to imagine what it took to get all the way from Slovakia to the U.S. 100 or 150 years ago.

  • wow I have never heard of the american involvement with the bug other than, that potatoes came to Europe from America, and with them the bug, which has no natural enemy in Europe, therefore spreads faster, and it’s harder to get rid off. And I was born and raised there. But I do believe some folks might blame american government for that after all in Slovakia they like to blame americans for everything, without any particular reason.

  • Tatiana,
    Well put way to summarize the issue of the bug. Thank you for pointing out that it has no natural enemy. That’s an issue that I hadn’t thought about.

    Your poor mother. She must have hated the U.S. without potatoes. I know there must be at least a few places that serve mashed potatoes in the U.S., because I regularly remember the bad taste of mashed potatoes from some restaurants. I hope this Bojangles place at least served her tasty potatoes.

    Sometimes when I meet Asians who are travelling, they mention that they really need rice regularly in order to feel full. It’s interesting how each culture has its staples and how uncomfortable it can be when someone is forced to substitute them.

  • btw. great insight on Slovak’s number one vegetable. Potato was very popular because it was cheap and it doesn’t need anything to make it a meal, just a little bit of salt maybe butter, so back in the old days, boiled potatoes could feed big number in poor families. The love for potatoes remained to this day, it’s similar to love of rice in other cultures, basically the idea is, if you have bread or potatoes, you won’t go hungry. My mother is able to eat nothing but potatoes and be perfectly happy. I remember at her first visit to USA, she got out of the plane and said she is hungry, if she can get something to eat. When I asked her what she wants, she said something with potatoes (NOT french fries). I panicked for a second until my hubby came to the rescue. He said that Bojangles serves mashed potatoes. But she did argue with me quite a bit during the visit, that restaurants in the USA, only serve french fries.

  • GRUMBIR is the term used in the region called Zahorie (close to the Czech border with Morava) where my paternal grandma lived. They have so many special words it’s almost a language of its own. As a kid spending summers in gbely I remember hand picking mandelinky from the potatoe plants(pesticides were not used) and collecting them in a glass jar to be destroyed. I’ve never heard about the intented american drop of these creatures though.

  • Livia,
    Thank you for “Grumbir.” I’m adding it to the list above.

  • klednicki a zelli (dumplings with potatoes) is what I remember my brother-in-law asking for his favorite meal. My mother always called them bandurky.

  • Elaine Badnarik

    Nov 10th, 2011

    Drahi Allen:
    Both my Babas called potatoes bandurky. Slovak was my first language even though I was born in America. My father’s mother lived with us and I learned many traditions I cherish to this day. I probably keep the Christmas and Easter traditions more than some people in Slovakia! All my relatives were from the Zemplin area and were hard working, honest people. They taught me by example how to live life.
    I do NOT think Americans sent the potato bettle to Slovakia.
    I visited my grandparents villages and I felt like I was at home.

  • Elaine,
    I’ve heard this before about kids born in the U.S. learning Slovak and not knowing English when they showed up at school on the first day.

    That’s neat that you felt at home in Slovakia. When I visit my grandpa’s village in Orava I feel the same. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s the people, maybe it’s the place. Maybe there’s something that binds us to a place that we can’t entirely understand. That’s fantastic that you got to grow up in the same house with your grandma. How much wiser you must be from having that influence around you as a child.

    Thank you for writing.


  • Neato !! My Moravian grandparents used the terms, ‘erteple’ and ‘brambory.’ I’ve heard of ‘krumple.’ I learned ‘kartofeli’ in Russian. I think the term, ‘erteple’ is purely Moravian. I would bet that ‘krumple’ and ‘zemiak’ are the proper Slovakian terms for potato because of Slovakia’s extensive intercultural relationship with Hungary and Poland.

    I understand ‘repa’ to mean beet. I’ve never heard it used to refer to a simple, white potato. I wasn’t aware that the potato beetle was imported into Europe from America ?? Maybe Slovaks can export the beetle to China where they may have a culinary use for it. (ha, ha) !!

    Personally, I couldn’t eat boiled potatoes regularly. Instead, I eat potato chips and french fries because they fill me up. Mashed potatoes and gravy are only good with some kind of roasted meat, and I find those meals in the packaged or frozen section of the supermarket (Lord, help me) !!

    I make baked, steak fries when I bake chicken or pork chops. Ironically, just this week I bought a package of instant mashed potatoes ‘cuz they taste ok on their own and they won’t spoil if I don’t cook them immediately.

  • Cynthia,
    Have you ever eaten french fries in the Slovak style – with lots of tartar sauce? If you would have asked me 10 years ago, if I would ever like “french fries and tartar sauce” the answer would have been a definite no because my only experience with tartar sauce prior was on a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish, which makes the tartar sauce gross by association. The tartar sauce and french fries are an acquired taste, but I do crave them some times. And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit that.

    I was skeptical of adding “repa” to the list, but I was told enough times that it can include potatoes for me to feel like it wasn’t too much of a stretch. I’m still a little skeptical of it, to tell you the truth.

    I like your suggestion of exporting the beetle to China for culinary uses. You’re definitely looking at ways to make lemonade out of lemons. Slovakia could use a few more exports and a few more jobs. Maybe some enterprising young Slovak or Slovenka is reading this and will begin looking into that idea. A friend who lived in Niger once requested that her friends on a visit to Slovakia bring her a gift of deep fried bugs to snack on, so maybe that place would offer another market.

    As always, thank you, Cynthia.

  • Ben D. Morris

    Nov 10th, 2011

    Russia’s “official” word for potato, that is, “картофель” (pronounced, “kar-TOH-fel’) is a cognate of the German word, “kartoffel”. “Kартофель” is used much more often in literature language. In spoken language, however, “картошка” (pronounced, “kar-TOHSH-kah”) is preferred.

  • Ben,
    Thank you for the input from Russia on this one and for explaining the Kartoska / Kartofel division. It’s interesting that the German word is used in literature instead of the more Russian sounding word. I hope that Russia is continuing to treat you well!! It looks like you’re already pretty handy in typing with that Cyrillic keyboard.

  • My Grandma and whole family use kompere.

  • Michaela,
    KOMPERE?? I have learned two new words today Grumbir and Kompere. I’m going to be so cool walking around Bratislava using these words and not a darn person will know what I am trying to say. Thank you for sharing kompere. I’ll add it to the list above. Can you tell me any more about where people use kompere or anything about this word?
    Thanks again.

  • Katka,
    Cool link!! Thank you for sharing (http://slovnik.dovrecka.sk/narecovy-slovnik/grule). For everyone else, the link Katka sent includes the following info, a list of Slovak words for Slovak and regions where they are used:

    bandurky (spiš.) , bandurky (zemp.) , bandurky (zemp.) , erteple (záho.) , grumbir (záho.) , kompere (šari.) , kompere (abov.) , krumple (záho.) , krumple (tren.) , repa (orav.) , švábka (lipt.) , švapka (orav.) , zemáky (záho.) bandurky (spiš.) , bandurky (zemp.) , bandurky (zemp.) , erteple (záho.) , grumbir (záho.) , kompere (šari.) , kompere (abov.) , krumple (záho.) , krumple (tren.) , repa (orav.) , švábka (lipt.) , švapka (orav.) , zemáky (záho.) bandurky (spiš.) , bandurky (zemp.) , bandurky (zemp.) , erteple (záho.) , grumbir (záho.) , kompere (šari.) , kompere (abov.) , krumple (záho.) , krumple (tren.) , repa (orav.) , švábka (lipt.) , švapka (orav.) , zemáky (záho.)

    I must say, I feel must less original after reading this list. If I were better at searching Google in Slovak, I could have found this list on my own and wouldn’t have had to have spent all that time researching the list. But, honestly researching the list was more fun than sitting on the computer and googling it. Thank you again for the great link, Katka.

  • In Myjava, Brezova pod Bradlom region the potatoes are called:



  • Les,
    Thank you for the new word – Bobale. I’m adding it to the list above. That makes three new vocab words for the day.

  • Gustáv Kyselica

    Nov 10th, 2011

    Hi Allan,

    I never heard švapka, svapka or švabka before, but I guess it can be used for potatoes in some minor dialects..

    Repa (at least today) refers to turnip and beet exclusively. Since we have just one word for it (unlike in English) we make the distinction by using adjectives — biela repa (white turnip), červená repa (red turnip) and cukrová repa ( sugar beet).

    Kartoffel is purely German word, in Slovakia we use the derived version kartofel (singular) or kartofle (plural).

    In old Bratislava (Prešporok, Pressburg – Bratislava in times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) many languages were spoken simultaneously (German, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak) and most of the people living here knew all of them, or at least understood them, which led to the creation of many interesting words and derivations many of which are still used today either by the older generation or they were passed down to children. From my father’s side we had some German roots, my step grandfather has Hungarian origins, from my mother’s there were both Slovak and Czech origins, so I have heard and used: zemiaky, zemáky, kartofle, brambory, bandory, erteple and krumple)

    I have found out that grule is a term used mainly in the East Slovakia, in the cities of Košice, Poprad, Prešov, Šariš and in those areas.

  • Gustav,
    It’s great to hear from you. Thank you for the informative note. I’m adding Bandory to the list – I now have 4 news words for the day!

    I feel emboldened in my “repa” argument after reading the link left by Katka below – http://slovnik.dovrecka.sk/narecovy-slovnik/grule – I wasn’t sure of adding repa to the list, but now that some random person (who I don’t know and therefore shouldn’t really trust) on the internet now believes repa can mean potato, I’m feeling better for some reason.

    Thank you again Gustav for all the good information.


  • My grandfather came from Benadikovce. My wife and her family came from near Mihalovce. They all called potatoes “bandurky”. I believe this is the Zemplin dialect.

  • Joseph and Michael,
    Thank you for chiming in on the bandurky topic.

  • Alan,
    Great topic! I never heard about the “Mandolinka’s” USA story, however I hated the bug because my Dad and Grandmother made us kids to go pick them up off the potato leaves into small cups! Yuck! Than we had a privelege to destroy them by stomping them on a cement ground(must be cement not a soil)!The orange juice came out of it that stained our hands and than bottom of the shoe.

    Repa and Burgyna/Burgonya roots aren’t potatoes for sure, we fed it to the farm animals only.
    I was growing up in Kosice in Eastern Slovakia where word “Kompere” was used.

  • Ludmila,
    We have one more vote for “Kompere.”

    I love that memory about the bugs and the detail of needing to use the cement and not the soil, and the orange juice, and the stained hands! Great image. Double yuck!! I can imagine how much you hated picking those little guys.

    Thanks for writing, Ludmila.


  • William C. Wormuth

    Nov 10th, 2011

    I first visited Slovakia in 1971 and was often asked if the propaganda that the beetle was “dropped” by Americans. I always replied that it was not true. The bug was a blight, because the Government did not supply chemicals to destroy it. Many years ago I read that the Americans did bring the Potato Bug to Europe, when they supplied potatoes to to starving Europeans at the end of WWII. I can remember seeing a sidewalk, near a garden), completely covered with the bugs. People tried (and often succeeded), eliminating them, (yearly),k by picking them off by hand.

  • Vilo,

    The story seems to be confirmed – at least some people blamed the Americans for dropping them. Interesting point you raise about the gift of potatoes. I think this is the case with at least a few propaganda campaigns that I’ve come across from former Czechoslovakia – they are based on some truth, but then spun in such a manipulative way as to make the truth almost unrecognizable. When I see newspapers in other parts of the world using the same technique I think to myself “Who do you think you are, Pravda??”

    I wonder if you could have by chance been walking by the garden where little Ludmila (in her comment) and her brothers and sisters had just thrown the bugs onto the sidewalk and was about to dutifully jump all over them.

    Thank you Vilo, for writing about your experience with this little critters.


  • You can have “bandurky” and “grule” in Eastern Slovakia; my grandmother in Spisska Nova Ves and her “Rusnak” family uses the words, especially grule. I believe you can eat “kompere” in Roma communities and anywhere influenced by them. I’ve also heard “zemaky” used in Western Slovakia.

  • Michael Charnego (Cernega)

    Nov 11th, 2011

    I read somewhere on the internet, possibly “The Spectator”, that there are 38 Slovak words for potato.

  • I never heard of “mandolinka”, we always said “mandelinka” or as official “pasavka zemiakova”.

  • Iveta,
    Thank you for catching the Mandolinka / Mandelinka spelling mistake.

  • I was glad to find that someone else had heard the term “bobale”, thanks Les. Both of my parents are from Brezova pod Bradlon and most of the time a potato was either “bobal” (singular), “bobale” (plural) or zemiak (singular) or zemiaky (plural). It seems that the word “bobal” was more colloquial or Slovak slang.
    Although my father also like to impress me with the many variations of “potato” and then he would use: svabky, bandurky, brambory, krumple, erteple, and kartoffel. I think he learned the other terms while in the Slovak Army.

  • Ivan,
    I’m definitely learning words here that I have never heard. I’m going to be the coolest guy in Bratislava with a store of knowledge like this. I’ve heard that James Joyce as a party trick, used to name every storefront in the main street of Dublin, despite having been away from Dublin for years. Maybe I can borrow a page from your father’s playbook and 18 Slovak words for potato can be my party trick as well.
    Thank you for writing.

  • You therefore have imagination. Harmful beetle is commonly known as mandelinka zemiaková. Name beetle has nothing to do with a musical instrument mandolin … hahaha.
    Colorado potato

    Colorado potato
    jumped from an airplane
    D A
    she fell into the stew
    E A
    antennae stuck
    HMI and
    she fell into the stew
    D E A
    antennae stuck

    Mandelinka zemiaková

    Mandelinka zemiaková
    vyskočila z lietadla
    D A
    spadla ona do guľáša
    E A
    vystrčila tykadla
    Hmi A
    spadla ona do guľáša
    D E A
    vystrčila tykadla

  • Two interesting comment left on my Facebook page about the Mandelinka in a discussion about this article. – Allan

    “Also from what my Czech grandmother told me the people from where she was from did not take the story seriously at all. They all laughed at it since they regarded it as a stupid form of propaganda, but i don’t know perhaps some people believed it.”

    Another response read:

    “I am not sure who dropped The Beatles ,but sure thing is everyone blamed Americans.”

  • This comment was so insightful, I just wanted to post it here below the article as well. It was written on Slovak World in response to this article. – Allan

    Bandurky is probably from pandur, a noblemen’s guard (later also county policeman), among whose duties was to oversee people doing their compulsory work in the nobleman’s fields one or two days each week. The farmers may have started
    using it, pejoratively, for the new crop. But it’s just a possibility, there are several similar bandur- words with various meanings whose origin is unclear.

    The Slovak words for the “potato” show clearly that it was a relatively recent arrival and that the potatoes traveled from west to east in Europe, they reached the Slovaks from the German speaking areas.

    S~vabka is from Swabian, part of north-estern Germany.

    The Czech brambor is from Brandenburg, as above.

    Similar to erteple, ertekle, as you describe them, Alan, the plurals grule, krumple, kromple, krumpole, krompele, kompere, krompachy, and the singulars grombir, grumbir, krumpir, are all from the German “ground pears” (Grundbirne).

    Kartofel did come via German, which it entered from Italian (a corruption of tartuffolo, “truffle”).

    Other Slovak words for “potatoes” are (see also above): erdeple, zemc~a’k, bramboch, grumbolec, bombir, budka, s~upa’k…

    —– It’s a funny comment on the non-Slovak bulba (the same as the English “bulb”) and blby, but if they were to have anything to do with each other, the ancient Indo-European word “blby,” which predates the the advent of the potato
    by a few thousand years, would have to be applied to the new tuber, so no one would have been calling a dim person a “potato head,” they would have been calling the potato a “dumb” root.


  • […] the potato to a small Eastern European country like Slovakia, which, according, to the author has 31 different words for “potato.”  Finally, an interesting map of the spread of potatoes across Europe is […]

  • Dominick Kasmauskas

    Feb 27th, 2012

    “Bobal” is my mother’s maiden name. Her paternal grandparents came to PA from Slovakia in 1880s. In doing research on the name, “Bobal”…Slovaks I have met have stated that it is also a word that can be used for “bean” and sometimes “grape”. It is interesting that “Bobal” is a well known Spanish grape in wine making.

  • Dominick,
    Interesting about the name “Bobal.” Perhaps there is a Slovak-Spanish connection. I guess there are other words shared between Slovak culture and Basque culture. Wishing you well.

  • Hello! Great article/ And whole web, I’m really enjoying reading it. 😀

    I just want to say – majority of Slovaks take the “attack” of the USA government on our potato fields as a JOKE. I do not know anyone that would “take it as a reality”. Even back in 1950’s, many were aware that this is socialistic propaganda. But to say that openly at that time would mean a visit by StB (Štátna Bezpečnosť, “State Security, Slovak secret agency).

    And the propaganda about the poor bug was HUGE. It was in TV, newpaper, local broadcasting. Students from elementary and high schools were taken to the fields to collect the bugs, appeals were made to citizens to help fight against “western imperialists” by killing the bug, etc.

    The reason why not that many Slovaks bought it was – there were very few bugs in fields. 😀 The crop was destroyed by another illness. My mother was 8 at that time and remembers how the kids enjoyed it, because they got few days out of school to collect the bugs. Which they did in 10 minutes and then they had a free day.

    And now you know why some Slovaks refer to their country as Absurdistan. 😀

  • Lucia,
    Thank you for the input on the bug and on Absurdistan.

  • v tych nazvoch ti chyba “zemáky”, u nas sa inac ako zemáky ani nepovie (nove mesto n/v)

  • V regióne Stredný Gemer sa zemiaky povedia k r o m p e l e.

  • […] Together, these four very different terms – ‘potato’/’patata’, ‘kartoffel’, ‘erdapfel’, and ‘grundbirne’ – would haggle and disperse over Europe. In Sweden, for instance, ‘potatis’ is now used – but only after largely replacing the earlier ‘jordpäron’. In Icelandic, the word for potato is ‘kartafla’. While ‘kartoffel’ is standard in northern Germany and ‘grundbirne’ long fell out of use, ‘erdapfel’ remains the word for potato in Austria, and parts of southern Germany and Switzerland. The flowing of forms has become a torrent in Slovakia, where there are 31 distinct terms for the potato. […]

  • […] Click here to keep reading 13 Words for the Venerable Potato […]

  • Cynthia Zuber

    Sep 4th, 2015

    Great article !! I shared this article with other Slovaks here and they were impressed !! I, myself, grew up hearing Five of these names: Erteple, Brambory, Krumple, Krumpachy, and Zemiaky. I learned Kartoffel when I studied Russian in college. And I always laugh when I remember my grandmother saying, “Co, jsi blbá ??”

  • Hi there! Just wanted to add to the discussion by giving a bit of information about the word “grule,” since I noticed that you haven’t found any about it yet.
    I actually stumbled upon your article while looking for Polish words for potato — I know about 6 or 7 off the top of my head, and “grule” is one of them! It might help you to know that my Polish family came from the region in Southern Poland around the village of Grywałd (pronounced grih-vowt) and used this word exclusively to mean “potatoes” (singular would be “grula”). Whether it originally comes from Slovak or Polish, I’m not sure, since Grywałd is so close to Slovakia, but if you know that it is used in Slovak as well, you can probably bet that it is most common in the areas in and around Pieniny Spiskie, Pieniny Właściwe, and the Slovak side of Pieniny (which I think is called Malé Pieniny in Slovak). Also, my Babcia said that her neighbors would use “bandurki,” to mean “potatoes,” so perhaps that is another shared Polish/Slovak word as well.

    Here are the Polish words I know to mean “potato(es),” and the areas in which they’re used. Maybe you’ll find some new Slovak words out of it! (just remember that Polish W’s sound like Slovak V’s, Polish Ą’s sound like Slovak On’s, and Polish Ó’s sounds like Slovak U’s).

    Polish words for potato:

    Ziemniak — most common

    Kartofel — common in the west of Poland

    Burak — usually means beetroot

    Grule — Góralski (highlander) word

    Pyra — used in Poznań

    Swabka/Swapka/Szwabka/Szwapka — Góralski/Slovak word

    Bandurki/Bandórki/Bądurki/Bądórki (also, all of these ending with Ry or Ka, instead of a Ki) — Slovak/Góralski word

  • Ron Gaidos

    May 19th, 2016

    When I visited my Grandfathers village I got laughs from the
    residents. They told me I spoke 100 yr old Slovak.
    In my broken Slovak I used bondurky and words like Studenina(sp) gelatinous pigs feet. The accepted me as a distant cousin and were very warm people.

  • Eveline M Blanar

    Aug 19th, 2016

    I am a full-blooded Rusyn with family coming from Jakubjany, Bukovce/Bukivci, Hunkovce/Hunkivci, Krajna Bysztra, Ladomirova and Galicia. Just yesterday was trying to remember one of two Rusyn words for potatoe/s. Bundurky was more commonly used and the other was/is gruli. Spellings phonetic. I visited these areas three time but did not pay attention to their wordings 2001, 2003, 2005. Now since “Slovak” is the national language, when I go over next year will pay more attention. Z bohom.

  • miriam cohen

    Feb 10th, 2017

    My family came from Poland and I remember my Mom calling potatoes ‘jemicas’. They were a big staple in our home. I don’t
    know if her word was Yiddish or Polish for potato.

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