The 17 Funniest Hungarian Expressions.

Yes, that’s a dumb title, but I’m a sucker for these things (as long as they’re true to the facts of the language, which this appears to be as far as I can tell). Colm FitzGerald created the listicle; my favorite:

3. Hungarians don’t ask little children “Why are you crying?”, they ask “Why are you giving drinks to the mice?” (Miért itatod az egereket?)


  1. ‘Horse dick!’ reminds me of ‘Great black horse’s cock!’ which is an expression of astonishment I read many years ago.

    ‘Behind God’s back’ is a good one. I wonder if it could imply that the sparrow falling behind the back would not be seen, whether far, far away or near.

  2. Taken from this pdf

    It’s in several (maybe mutually dependent) sources, but I wonder if #5: Hungarians don’t say “It’s not worth the effort”, they say “It’s worth as much as a kiss to a dead person” (Annyit ér, mint halottnak a csók). is mistaken in a subtle way. It seems more logical to have this phrase meaning “it won’t do any good” like in Russian expression Как мёртвому припарки = As poultice for the dead.

    “Your father wasn’t a glass-maker” is also known in Russian.

  3. marie-lucie says

    As poultice to the dead

    cf. French un cataplasme sur une jambe de bois ‘a poultice on a wooden leg”
    (about a useless act, already done rather than contemplated)

    Cat’s got your tongue?”

    cf. Je donne ma langue au chat ‘I give my tongue to the cat’ (it is useless to me = I can’t guess the answer)

  4. I say “your father wasn’t a glassmaker”. So did my foster sister, but she picked it up from some other source.

    I don’t think either of us has any Hungarian background, including “living with a Hungarian foster family or having a Hungarian roommate in a group home”, so….

  5. Modern Hebrew got from somewhere the expression “like cupping to the dead”, but I doubt it’s current anymore.

  6. Danish has Din far var ikke glarmester as well — where the procreational joke is lost since glarmester is the professional who mounts industrially manufactured glass in windows. (Denmark didn’t have independent master glassmakers after the 17th century, for reasons).

    But I think that’s the sort of joke that can be invented again and again.

  7. “Hey, you, the lobster there,” he called to an intervening soldier, “your dad worn’t no glazier. We can’t see through you.” (Patrick O’Brian, The Mauritius Command)

    I say ‘you make a better door than a window’, though.

  8. My father used to say “You make a good window”.

  9. 6. Hungarians don’t say “Far, far away”, they say “Behind God’s back” (“Az Isten háta mögött”).

    In Finnish if something is “behind God’s back” (Jumalan selän takana) it’s “out in the sticks” and not “far, far away” (which of course almost means the same thing).

  10. Example No. 14 (“Mi a faszomat csinálsz?”) is exactly the same in Romanian, a neighbouring but completely unrelated language: “Ce pula mea faci?” Could this be evidence of an obscenity Sprachbund?

  11. marie-lucie says

    behind God’s back = far, far away

    French: au diable (at the devil’s)

  12. Plieuthe, plieuthe, man p’tit:
    abrève tes p’tites souothis!

    Cry, cry, my little one:
    water your little mice!

    In Jèrriais to a crying child (souothis = mice, but also eyes in babytalk)

  13. Y: The Modern Hebrew expression is taken directly (not too surprisingly) from the Yiddish “vi a toytn bankes,” which is noteworthy for its unusual syntax, with the indirect object preceding the direct one. This is sometimes as an example of topicalization in Yiddish word order: the indirect object is more semantically important, so it comes first here. That said, I didn’t know about the Russian Как мёртвому припарки, to which the Yiddish is clearly analogous. Interesting that the word order is the same, although the more robust Russian inflection makes the word order less surprising. Could be that a Russian or other Slavic source/analog is as responsible for the word order of the Yiddish saying as topicalization is.

  14. @Y: “Es helft vi a toytn bankes,” was quite common in Yiddish, back when widespread Yiddish fluency and cupping were both things.

    I use, “as useful as cupping a corpse,” myself on occasion. I like it, because the meta joke is that cupping is never useful, whether the patient is alive or not.

  15. Another English version (evidently less known) of #12 is “Your father wasn’t a glass-blower.”

  16. “Að vatna músum” (to water mice) is also an Icelandic expression so one wonders where it originated.

  17. Hungarians don’t call you “gay”, they call you “warm” (Meleg).
    Also known in Germany – a deprecatory term for gay people is warmer Bruder “warm brother”. There is a well-known quote by the late Franz-Josef Strauß, a famous / notorious (depeding on your political position) right-wing politician Lieber ein kalter Krieger als ein warmer Bruder “Better (for me to be) a cold warrior than a warm brother (i.e. gay)” – said in 1970, a time when casual anti-gay statements were still just about socially acceptable in Germany.

  18. JorgeHoracio says

    In Spanish (or at least locally in the Río de la Plata region) we say “Te crees hijo de vidriero?” … Do you think you’re the son of a glassmaker?

  19. marie-lucie says

    French: au diable (at the devil’s)

    Correction: actually I should have used “out in the sticks”, like Tonii above. I read and wrote too fast.

    your father was not a glassblower

    I personally know a glass blower and have watched this very skilled, demanding work many times, but I am not sure I understand the phrase in the context discussed here. Is it meant to insult a man through suggesting his father was incompetent?

    Another French way of implying stupidity: il n’a pas inventé la poudre “He didn’t invent (gun)powder”.

  20. marie-lucie says

    JH: hijo de vidriero : your saying seems to confirm what I thought about a father “not being” a glassmaker, a highly skilled and rightly admired profession.

    I was forgetting that I am the great-granddaughter of a glassmaker! But not a glass blower: he made stained glass, at a time when it was very popular.

  21. Number 17 (“This is Chinese for me”) is also used in the same way in modern Greek. … Well, we’d obviously have to use another language than Greek in this case, wouldn’t we?

  22. marie-lucie: unless we’ve drifted off the topic (always possible), the glassmaker/glazier ones are saying that if your father *had* been one then he might have made you out of glass, and then we would be able to see through you – but since he wasn’t and didn’t, you’d better get out of the way and let us see!

  23. marie-lucie says

    Thanks Jen! I had not thought of that!

  24. As a Hungarian I can only say that all the seventeen expressions are correct, we use them daily. So if you are going to go to Hungary, you are advised to learn these instead of “where is Heroes’ Square” and stuff. You will have incomparably more success, and will be integrated in a twinkling of an eye in a “romkocsma” (“ruin pub”, the many stylish temporary pubs established in old downtown houses waiting for demolition, one of the main attraction of today’s downtown Budapest).

    Just some attempts of improvement.

    2. Instead of “Lófasz!”, say “Lófaszt, mama!” (Horse dick, mom!) It’s a reference to the famous saying of the previous socialist MP, still widely known. Ten out of ten!

    4. Mackó is “teddy bear”, just to understand it better (and so it is better to say “you’re as little as growling in Teddy Bear Cheese”). Mackósajt was the usual breakfast in the army, thence the saying.

    5. Here, D.O.’s translation is obviously more correct.

    11. Yes, saying “király!” (king) for “cool”, is cool. However, even cooler is to say “sirály!” (seagull) for “cool”, as a further development of “király”. Try it in a ruin pub and you will see.

    15. “The fence is not made from sausage” is ok. But not widely used. The widespread modern use is: “Több nap, mint kolbász” (More days than sausage).

    16. “Geci” (“jizz”) has an especially strong edge since last year, when chief oligarch Simicska called MP Orbán like this, starting a deep break within the right wing. So if you want to be sirály in a romkocsma, you should use it as he used: “Orbán? Az egy geci.” (“Orbán? He’s jizz.”) You will be the “ász” (“ace”) of the moment, and expect some beers being paid.

  25. 6. Hungarians don’t say “Far, far away”, they say “Behind God’s back” (“Az Isten háta mögött”).

    In Finnish if something is “behind God’s back” (Jumalan selän takana) it’s “out in the sticks” and not “far, far away” (which of course almost means the same thing).

    Same in Serbo-Croatian. Also behind God’s feet, which rhymes – Bogu iza nogu. The glassmaker one and warm (brothers) for gay men are also very common.

  26. David Eddyshaw says

    Mark LIberman (who else?) has the definitive cross-cultural account of the stereotypically incomprehensible language, complete with handy graphic:

  27. The graphic is wrong about Croatian. It’s Turkish around here.

  28. matematichica says

    With regards to the glass makers: my mom taught me the phrase “you’re a pain, but we can’t see through you!” for that situation. We basically only used it teasingly for family.

  29. David Marjanović says

    “Warm” meaning “gay” is all over German. Classical Viennese further developed it into “baked”, though I haven’t heard that myself.

  30. Well. My Hungarian father used to tell me “you’re watering the mice” when I was small, forty years ago, and I thought he was making fun of me. Which is still possible. His take on “we can’t see through you” was “I don’t know how to make glass”, which since he is my dad after all is equivalent to “your father isn’t a glassmaker”, but I thought it meant that he couldn’t stick a window in me, lol. For what I would call “where the satnav doesn’t show all the roads”, my dad used to say, “back of nowhere” instead of “back of God”, and I came to find out quite recently that he was an atheist so far in the closet that he should have been a king of Narnia. The rest, I think are mostly more recent than my father’s immigration to the US.

  31. Ude hvor kragerne vender = where (even) the crows turn back.

  32. Australians:

    1. Australians don’t “jump for joy”, they are “as happy as a dog with two tails” or “happy as pig in sh!t”.

    2. Australians don’t say “Bullshit!”, they say “He’s full of it”

    3. Australians don’t cry

    4. Australians don’t call you “useless”, they say “you’re as useful as a spare prick on a honeymoon”.

    5. Australians don’t say “It’s not worth the effort”, they say “It’s not worth a cracker” or a “brass razoo”.

    6. Australians don’t say “Far, far away”, they say “in woop woop” or “beyond the black stump”.

  33. David Marjanović says

    wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen = so remote that usual biology doesn’t hold and fox and hare say good night to each other.

    That’s the literary version. Less literary is the very simple expression am Arsch der Welt “at the ass[-end] of the world”.

    Hintertupfing, in contrast, is entirely innocent, not at all like East Bumfuck, Texas.

  34. Trond Engen says

    Hestkuk “horsedick” is the stereotypical Northern Norwegian expletive — to the point of being reduced to a sentence particle or something. There are famous court cases ruling it acceptable towards policemen in service as a regular part of colloquial speech. But that’s strictly local law. People in Southern Norway citing the cases from Northern Norway for presedence have been fined.

  35. “Happy as a pig in shit” is also Southern U.S. I wonder if it spread from there to Australia after the Civil War.

  36. God’s back: Portuguese has “where Judas lost his boots”, still current.

  37. @JorgeHoracio: equally common, and nastier in a characteristically childish way, is la carne de burro no es transparente

  38. @leoboiko: Spanish has donde el diablo perdió el poncho (‘where the devil lost his cloak’; LatAm) and donde Cristo perdió la alpargata (‘where Christ lost his sandals’; Spain), both current AFAIK

  39. Now that I think about it, the English “Were you born in a barn?” doesn’t make sense. Don’t people actually take care to close barn doors, so the horse from the other idiom doesn’t get out? On the other hand, the Modern Hebrew equivalent “Were you born on a bus?” works just fine for me.

  40. David Marjanović says

    auf der Nudelsuppe dahergeschwommen “swam here on the noodle soup and has no idea of anything”

  41. Now that I think about it, the English “Were you born in a barn?” doesn’t make sense.

    Its original meaning was simply that the person is as rude and uncultured as an animal, even a farm animal. The whole idea of leaving doors or windows open is, I think, just a narrowing of that meaning, and of relatively recent date at that (I don’t remember any such meaning when I was growing up).

  42. I’ve never heard “Were you born in a barn?” to mean anything to do with open doors or windows. I only know the older meaning.

  43. Same here.

  44. Were you born in a barn?

    I only know the “leaving the door open” meaning, and I am somewhat old.

  45. @David Marjanović

    Do people still say Hinterposemuckel for a really remote place?

    I remember Wo sich die Füchse Gute Nacht sagen as a way of calling a place really boring.

  46. David Marjanović says

    Do people still say Hinterposemuckel for a really remote place?

    Wouldn’t surprise me, but I didn’t know it at all, and have only encountered Posemuckel once (in reading). Probably all such terms are regional: Posemuckel with its /p/ can’t be too southern, Hintertupfing with its /pf/ can’t be too northern…

    a way of calling a place really boring

    C’est superbled, quoi !

  47. The variants in use in my family are Pusemuckel and Hintertupfingen; both designate an insignificant place, but the former has more connotations of “insignificant backwater”, while the latter more connotations of “out-of-the-way place”.

  48. The German version is “War dein Vater Glaser?”.

    For failing to close the door:

    “Habt Ihr Säcke vor den Türen?”

    I never understood how this was supposed to work – having sacks standing in front of the door?
    My very new theory is that it refers to sack-cloth hanging from the door frame – and some quick googling shows that others agree.

  49. “Were you born in a barn?” is also a way of mocking people with the (now highly recessive) NORTH-START merger, as opposed to the NORTH-FORCE merger. Such people pronounce born and barn identically.

  50. David Marjanović says

    “Habt Ihr Säcke vor den Türen?”

    Interesting. Habt ihr Vorhänge daheim? (“Do you have curtains [instead of doors] at home?” – never actually heard in the fully Standard version I’ve written down.)

  51. There’s a memoir by Carlo Levi called Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, meaning not that he stopped there to rest, but that in despair he went no further. Beyond God’s back (or front) indeed. The reference is to the poverty and despair of Basilicata, a region of Italy for which Eboli is the gateway.

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