Falcon Reese | Tongues Tied
Sign on the dotted line
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 13:03
Over the past year, I’ve developed something of an interest in contracts. To be clear, in no way should that statement be taken to mean that I want to become a lawyer. Sure, becoming one would probably mean job security and a stable career and a decent salary and a direction in life other than backwards
Wait, why don’t I want to be a lawyer again?
No, I became interested in contracts because of my nightmarish landlords and how much grief signing one simple lease agreement has given me over the past nine months. Doing so has, unfortunately, led to an unnecessary number of hours spent contemplating responsibility to other people that goes beyond what’s explicitly enumerated in words. Phrases like “human decency” and “die in a ditch” have been muttered mutinously under my breath with increasing frequency. So when I came across a curious Polish word referring to a very specific type of contract, my interest was piqued.
“Dožywocie” has two oddly disparate yet related translations. The first means “life imprisonment.” The second translation is “annuity,” a financial term I had to look up that refers to a fixed series of payments, commonly terminating upon the annuitant’s death — usually a form of income after retirement. In practical usage, the first translation’s meaning is obvious. The second translation, though, is used in reference to a type of contract elucidated in the Civil Code of Poland under which property is transferred from one party to another in exchange for the recipient providing for lifetime maintenance of said property.
My knowledge of law and my interest in finance are both nonexistent, so these two definitions hold very little appeal for me. What captured my attention was a colloquial third definition — “dožywocie” refers to the unwritten contract that promises parents will give their children unconditional, lifelong support. I find it hilarious that the term for parental responsibility in Polish is conflated with a prison sentence — I wonder what the word for marriage is — but if you think about it, it makes sense. Being a parent should theoretically involve a lifelong term of service that includes “maintenance” and support. As to it being considered a punishment, I’ll leave that judgment to those on whom it’s self-inflicted.
I wish I had a joke to make here, but I honestly just kind of love this word. I do not currently want any children, but I would take the decision to raise a child exceptionally seriously, and I believe the gravity of that choice and the true depth of responsibility one owes their child is lost on an uncomfortably large proportion of people. And as funny as I find it that the Polish language is essentially equating raising a child to going to prison or signing a binding contract, I really do wish that more parents associated that sense of responsibility and consequence with childrearing. I have too many friends with daddy issues and a happily larger number with truly amazing parents that I can clearly see that just getting knocked up does not a mother or father make.
I’ll toss my cardboard soapbox in the recycling bin now.
Now back to my landlords. I’d hardly put them on the same level as my parents, but they should be responsible for their tenants to a reasonable degree, so I’ll joke about them instead. Ready? “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Your landlords!” “Really? Couldn’t be. You two live in Florida and never answer the phone and owe the oil company money, which is interfering with our utilities bill, and rent us a house with falling ceiling tiles and broken radiators and a front door that doesn’t lock properly.” “[crickets chirping]” “You guys still there? I have a Polish dictionary with a word you might be interested in!”
Falcon Reese is a junior majoring in sociology. He can be reached at Falcon.Reese@tufts.edu.