Friday, June 5, 2015

"Drinks like a whut?...": 5 familiar things Hungarians say differently

Continuing our tour into Hungarian linguistic weirdness, I gathered some things that Hungarians say just a little bit different than how they are said in English. In concept, I mean. Obviously, the pronunciation is vastly different...

1. It's all Chinese to me
I always wondered how people speaking English pinpointed Greek as the most confusing language. For Hungarians (claimed to speak one of the most difficult languages in the world), the epitome of confusion is Chinese. Go figure.
(Maybe it's about the writing. But still.)

2. Inventing Spanish wax
When someone comes up with an idea that already exists, they "re-invent the wheel." In Hungary, if someone is proud of such an achievement (or just overly boasting in general), we say "they think they invented the Spanish wax." Apparently wax was so common and so often used by everyone at one point that it could substitute the wheel in the ridiculousness of the claim.

3. Waiting for Prince Blonde
You have no idea how many fairy tale parodies and adaptations become untranslatable because of this. We don't have the concept of "Prince Charming" - we usually call them "the blond prince" (and even that not usually in fairy tales). Case in point: We were very lucky the prince in Shrek was actually blonde. They translated him as "Blonde."
(Hey, still makes more sense than the Spanish "el príncipe azul"! ;) )

4. Drinks like a pelican
One of the ways you can describe someone who drinks a lot is to compare them... not to fish, as in English, but to a pelican. We usually use a word of Turkish origin, "gödény" for it, even though in common speech almost everyone calls the birds "pelikán."
(I feel like there is an SCA joke in there somewhere)

5. Searching for money
A famous Hungarian writer, Jókai Mór (1825-1904), muses in one of his books about the words different cultures apply to making money. Case in point: In English, you either make money, or you earn it (both speak volumes about culture). In Hungarian, you "search" for money on the job. Funny, no one ever guarantees you'll find any...

Coming up on MopDog Monday: What does the Prime Minister of Hungary have to do with Duck Tales?...


  1. Enjoyed very much this look at our cultural differences as expressed in common (uncommon?) sayings!
    Life & Faith in Caneyhead

  2. Very interesting. I can see the first one as working.

  3. Searching and earning money are contrasts. However we do search for a job.
    I really enjoy these comparisons. Idioms are always a little fun to explore.

    What comes to mind is the phrase "low man on the totem pole"". Native Americans don't like its use. How would a Hungarian say the same thing. I can use it when I write.

  4. The pelican one made me giggle. I didn't even know there were pelicans in Hungary!

  5. That bit about Prince Blonde is very interesting indeed, I'd love the full history on that. :D

  6. Re: Number 1, "It's Greek to me," is a line from Shakespeare's 'Julius Ceasar'. (After the Roman conquest of Greece, they brought a lot of Greeks as slaves back to Rome.)