Polka has a surprisingly contested word origin. We know that it was first written down in English in 1844, but we don't know whether that was borrowed from French or German. We know that, either way, the word derives from Czech polka, which referred to the dance, but we aren't a hundred percent sure where that came from. The most plausible explanation is that it traces to Polak, the demonym used to describe Polish people, because they were the people who came up with the tradition. This would be from Proto-Slavic poljaninak, which meant "field dweller", ultimately with roots in Proto-Indo-European pleh, or "flat" (because fields are flat). The second possibility, which still seems pretty credible, is that polka comes from the Czech word pulka, meaning "half" (ostensibly in reference to the short half-steps found in polka). Pulka would also have Proto-Slavic and then PIE reconstructions.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.