Sunday, January 11, 2009

Erről Van Szó!

Last week’s post got me thinking about some of the strange, beautiful, and funny Hungarian words I have come across. I have compiled a brief, but by no means comprehensive, list of my favorites, in no particular order. For a guide to Hungarian pronunciation check here.

megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért: means because of your holier-than-thou attitude, and allegedly the longest existing Hungarian word, though I seem to remember a word that has to do with cabbage that is similar in length. Anybody dare to count the suffixes here? Ten?

pitypang, pünkösdirózsa: flower names are great in Hungarian. Dandelion and peony respectively.

vízicsikó: means seahorse. Of course, when translating seahorse into Hungarian for two young new students, I made the mistake of calling it a vízicsikló, which roughly translates as a sea-clit.

csecsebecse: one of the first words I learned in Hungarian, and I still get a kick out of saying it. Csecsebecse is the collective term for knick-knacks. Say it out loud, it's fun!

link alak: lazybones, good-for-nothing. Well understood in these parts.

ölni: Hungarians have few homonyms, but the ones they have are very telling. This is the verb for killing as well as the noun for one's lap. Ölel means to hug or embrace: dangerously close to the verb for killing. In the same category is paradicsom, which means both paradise and tomato.

arcátlan, szemtelen: literally faceless and eyeless, but both mean obnoxious or insolent.

lurkó, rajkó: the first is a street urchin, the later a Gypsy street urchin.

palimadár: a sucker bird, or just a sucker. There is one hatched every minute, I’m told.

csaj, csávó: slang adopted from the Lovári Gypsy dialect. Girl and boy respectively.

házisárkány: literally, a house-dragon; figuratively, a woman who is overly dominant around the house. Also in this category is the papucsférj, or slipper husband, a man who is henpecked. The papucsférj is quite the opposite of the házisárkány, but somehow they get along well together.

smárolni: slang, means to make out.

kolbászolni, lekenyerezni: two verbs created from food-related base words. Kolbász is sausage, but to kolbász, means to wander around. Kenyér is bread, but to bread somebody down, is to bribe them.

Elefántcsontpart: Even the Hungarian announcers at the last World Cup got a kick out of the translation of the Ivory Coast: literally Elephant Bone Coast. Even better: elefántcsonttorony, which is an ivory tower, or, an elephant bone tower. If that is not evocative language, what is?

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.


Scarlett said...

I quite like your picks. Some of them are funny if you think about them.

Like 'kolbászolni' but it just sounds natural to Hungarians. I found its origin and apparently it comes from the pig killings (disznóvágás) when people didn't help out with the harder tasks because they claimed that they were stuffing the sausage.


Oh, and you were right about the cabbage, it goes like this:


Mokus said...

Thanks Scarlett! I am glad somebody bit regarding the cabbage word. I quite like that amongst my circle of expats, the phrase 'kolbász buli' is gaining currency. Nothing like a good sausage party.