In Harry Harrison's followup novel The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, criminal-turned-superspy James Bolivar DiGriz, also known as "The Stainless Steel Rat", infiltrates Cliaand, a grim world with an even grimmer society that I suppose is a parody of the Soviet Union.

When he arrives at the spaceport, we discover that he has been given a cover as an armaments salesman named "Pas Ratunkowy".

For years, I thought this was Polish for "Stainless Steel Rat", until I learned the truth in a very embarrassing way: on a Lot flight to Warsaw, I saw the words "pas ratunkowy" labeled right there of the back of the seat.

"Pas Ratunkowy" actually means "life vest"!

I half imagined the name to be something the ever-resourceful-but-facetious DiGriz could have made up on the spot. Now I wonder what Harry Harrison was thinking at the time. Was there a reason for this particular name, other than its containing the letters R-A-T in sequence?

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    This may very well require Word of God to resolve, but it is an interesting notion. Mar 2, 2019 at 22:58
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    Some of the SF writers I've known kept a notebook and jotted down things that might come in useful later. Harrison (whom I did not know) may well have flown on LOT and jotted down the words as something that seems alien to an English-speaker and sounds neat. (Coming up with names that 'feel' real is very hard.)
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 3, 2019 at 1:51
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    It seems unlikely to be a coincidence. It's possible that Harrison didn't know what the words meant, but I can't imagine he just happened to create an alias that matched an existing Polish phrase. Mar 3, 2019 at 9:40
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    @dmckee: Unfortunately, since Harrison passed away a year or so ago, it make take an actual Word of God...
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 3, 2019 at 19:16
  • @FuzzyBoots There may be a magazine interview somewhere, but I don't have access to that kind of stuff...
    – Spencer
    Mar 3, 2019 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


Harry Harrison loved to do language puns. He spoke several languages besides English, including Esperanto (of which he was a language ambassador), Danish, and likely Spanish, since he lived in Mexico for a while (IIRC).

Being Danish myself, I recognized several Danish puns, including the planet Skraldespand (Danish for garbage bin) and the strongest drink in the Universe, called Ladevandet (polite Danish for peeing).

I hence think it is fairly certain that the life vest pun is quite intentional.

  • Sorry, I should have checked the check mark back then.
    – Spencer
    Dec 23, 2020 at 17:10

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