Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Hungarian book you have to read (in English): Love in a Bottle

One of my favorite classic Hungarian short story collections has recently been published in English!

Love in a Bottle by Antal Szerb

Antal Szerb (1901-1945) is one of my ever favorite Hungarian authors. His prose in sensitive, eloquent, and his stories are marvelous. He had a great sense of humor, and a great eye for beauty.
This volume contains some of his best works. The reason why I posted this review on the 24th of June is because one of the short stories (Ajándok's Bethrotal) takes place during Midsummer Night. In this tale a girl called Ajándok (Gift) falls in love with a mysterious stranger that appears in her village on Midsummer Eve. He turns out to be a traveling wizard (garabonciás), and their love takes a dark turn...
Beside one of my favorite love stories, the book also contains an Arthurian tale which gave the volume its title. Love in a Bottle tells us about the time Sir Lancelot grows tired of being in love with Guinevere, and asks a wizard to take Love out of his heart.
All the stories in the book are, simply put, gorgeous. They will make you laugh, cry, and sigh. Definitely read it if you have the chance.

Even The Guardian published a review for the book! Read it here.

(It's also available at Walmart.com?! Brownie points for Walmart.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

God's zoo is greater - More potentially useful phrases from Hungary

After round one of phrases you might want to learn and keep handy in case of a linguistic emergency, here is another little collection of the endless ingenuity of Hungarian vernacular.

First up, an updated version of "God's zoo is great," since many kind people reminded me after the post that you can always embellish more. With that in mind, I present to you:

Nagy az isten állatkertje, és alacsony a kerítés / mindig van benne üres ketrec.
Translation: God's zoo is great, and the fences are too low / but there is always room for more.
Meaning: I'm surrounded by idiots, and we have more of them incoming.

And now on to some new things:

Más farkával veri a csalánt.
Translation: H/she is beating the nettle with someone else's tail (or other similar, masculine, body parts)
Meaning: Making promises on someone else's account; promising things that will make someone else's life more complicated, and being blissfully oblivious about it, because it's not your appendage in the nettle.

Házinyúlra nem lövünk.
Translation: We don't shoot at pet bunnies. (literally: house bunnies)
Meaning: Workplace relationships are ALWAYS a bad idea.
Additionally: "We don't shoot at pet bunnies... unless they attack first." (Meaning: "Workplace relationships are STILL a bad idea, but I didn't start it.")

Ő sem egy harci delfin.
Translation: S/he is not exactly a combat dolphin.
Meaning: They are not smart. At all.

Annyi esze van mint egy talicska aprómajomnak.
Translation: S/he is as smart as a wheelbarrowful of tiny monkeys.
Meaning: A wheelbarrow full of tiny monkeys is not smart at all.

Lóg az eső lába.
Translation: The rain is dangling its legs.
Meaning: It's going to rain.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


It's the last week of school, and students are completely out of control. Doing some storytelling today at a high school I was reminded of a tradition that most schools follow this time of the year, and I thought I'd share.
Seven school days before the start of summer break, the class starts spelling out "VAKÁCIÓ" (vacation, summer break) on the blackboard. Backwards. You write one capital letter a day, starting with the last one (sometimes starting a day early with the exclamation point), and decorate it in some way. Sometimes A is two palm trees leaning together; O is a beach ball; things like that. This is usually the job of the artistically gifted members of the class to do their best.
As the last week progresses, the letters don't only help remind people that school is almost over, but they also have the added bonus of leaving increasingly less space on the board for useful school work. For this reason, students usually try to make the letters as big as possible, to slowly push the teachers out of business.
(Note: This really works a lot easier in a school system where a class owns the classroom, and the teachers are the ones moving around.)
I honestly don't know how the rising popularity of digital boards will affect this tradition.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

This is what happens when foreigners taste pálinka

This video has been going the Internet rounds for weeks. The last alcohol that gets tasted in it is Hungarian pálinka. For those of you who have not tried that liquor yet: The reaction you see in the video is completely appropriate.
(Note: Although it's very strong, high quality pálinka has a nice and fruity taste, so it's mostly my general dislike for hard liquor that's speaking)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crash Course in Creative Cursing

Want to wish something especially uncomfortable on your worst enemy?
Wish it in Hungarian!
Following up the previous post on traditional Hungarian sayings, this time let's look at some of our more elaborate and much beloved curses.
Prepare the brimstone.

Nőjön be az orra lika!
Translation: "May their nostrils grow in!"
Apply when: You are really out of all other options. Originally from the children's book about Süsü the Dragon.

Szopjon le a vacogó cápa!
Translation: "Get a blowjob from a shivering shark!"
Apply when: Arguing with men.

Szarjon sünt!
Translation: "May they shit a hedgehog."
Apply when: You really hate someone.
In case of greater aggravation: "May they shit a porcupine, ass first."

A hátad legyen elöl!
Translation: "May your back be your front!"
Apply when: You want to win a moment of confused silence.

Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly!
Translation: "May the Owl With the Copper Dick take you!"
Apply when: You want to display your knowledge of Hungarian folklore.

A bőr hűljön rád!
Translation: "May the skin cool on you!"
Apply when: Very frustrated.

A ló nyalja meg a meztelen szemedet!
Translation: "May a horse lick your naked eyeball!"
Apply when: In need of something brutally graphic.

Hogy a hetvenhétlábú, büdöstalpú marsi pillangó zuhanna rád!
Translation: "May the seventy-seven legged Martian butterfly with stinking feet fall on you!"
Apply when: You have a good lungful of air, and time to elaborate. Another gem of Internet love, originally featured in a fascinatingly vulgar YouTube re-dubbing of Pixie and Dixie. Yes, you read that right.

And finally, for advanced contestants:

Aki a mesémet meg nem hallgatja, hetvenhét holló vájja ki a szemét, hetvenhét sárkány vigye el a lelkét!
Translation: "Whoever doesn't listen to my story, may seventy-seven ravens cut out their eyes, and seventy-seven dragons take their soul!"
Apply when: About to start a storytelling performance. See if someone starts texting.