Monday, May 08, 2006


English has, I’m told, 6 words which come to us from Hungarian. One or two of these words are only used to illustrate Hungarian concepts or things – like goulash for example. The English version of goulash is, I suspect, somewhat un-goulashy, which is reflected in the fact that we have interpreted the word poorly too – the Hungarian pronunciation of gúlyas is in fact goo-yash, since that “ly” combo in Hungarian does not contain any "l" sound. English is not the only language that manages to mangle the word in this way though – Romanian also makes it sound like goulash by spelling it gulaş. Having a quick look on the web, it seems that there is some controversy about what a goulash actually is. Here is one bloke's opinion, for example.

The next one on our list of 6, is another food. Paprika. Now we tend to use it to describe the powdered pepper used to flavour dishes (such as the goulash for example), but in Hungarian it is used for fresh peppers too. The powder is called piros paprika (red paprika) which may leave you wondering what a red fresh pepper would be called. This is solved by the fact that Hungary and Hungarian speaking areas have a bewildering array of peppers, such that “red pepper” would not be a very helpful description anyway. There is the round red pepper for example, which is known as the paradicsom parika – the tomato pepper, and the long one, the not quite as long one, the fatter one, and many others beside. I usually just point.

There are a couple of military ones – hussar and sabre. Not quite sure how they are spelled and pronounced in Hungarian, but I presume hussar is more like huszar. Why are hussars so often gay, by the way? I have no idea. You’d think being cavalry soldiers, they’d pretty much be cannon fodder, and not especially gay at all. But you never hear of the glum hussar do you?

Two left, and the first is coach. Not coach in the sense of trainer, but in the sense of vehicle. Apparently coaches (horse drawn ones I’m guessing) originated in the Hungarian town of Kocs (pronounced fairly similarly to coach). Thus in Hungarian a coach (and these days a car) is known as a kocsi (from Kocs), and a driver/coachman as Kocsis (hence Erika’s family name, and that of the ever-so-slightly more famous Kocsis, Sandor of the Magnificent Magyar 1950s football team).

Finally, biro. The humble ball point pen, named after its inventor Laszlo Biro, or more properly, Bíró László. Another Hungarian word we manage to mispronounce, since it should be more like beer-o. And that’s about it, as far as I know. If you know of any others, please let me know.

As far as I know there are no specifically Romanian words in English, but since Romanian is derived from Latin, there are an awful lot of words that exist in both languages.


Romerican said...

Paprika must be the only truely borrowed word.

Afterall, we can say with conviction that the Hungarians borrowed gulyas from the English language because during Soviet occupation no one could afford rubber goulashes to keep their feet warm, so they used hot potato soup instead.

And what else were they to name their gay warriors? They simply stole words from the Americans and subsequently tried to masculinize hussies into huszar.

Of course, sabre has been around for donkey years. The prehistoric sabre-toothed tiger was named by cavemen in Worcester.

Okay, so maybe there were two words because coach and kocs definitely seem to make sense the way you present it. But no more than two.

Biro? That's not a word. It's a brand name as far as I hazily recall (for cheap quality and therefore unpopular ball point pens, what else?). It doesn't qualify as a proper word, however.

So, they gave us two words and they stole three. Ha!

Oh, wait, they did give us kolache (kolacs) which is definitely served throughout the southern United States. I guess that evens out the score.

Andy H said...

Biro is a genuine word in British English. It may once have been a brand name (actually if you read that wikipedia article it was - from Argentina), but now is defintely a word, found in the dictionary and with a lower case "b".

Anonymous said...

It's the clothes of the Hussars. Just look at this pic:


Anonymous said...

biro acctually is a hungarian word , for judge, and the person who is the head of a village is also called stop with the nonnsense...

paprika = is a hungarian word also

to say that gulyas is an english word, and that we borrowed it from them, it is an absolute insult to the hungarians....gulyas has been around since our nation was roaming the no offense, but gulyas has nothing to do with english, or russian occupatin....haha..

huszar's weren't gay warriors, infact they were the best cavalry in the 18th-19th century, they were hungarian origin...but later on other nations copied the hungarian huszar's, their style...

huszar's have fought in the american civl war, hungarian huszar's that is...they were organised by officers, who escaped after the 1848-49 supressed freedom fight, an the majority of this huszar's who fought in your war, were hungarians...infact a lot of hungarians fough in the american civil war....

so now you know

Anonymous said...

I've found a Romanian word in English: pastrami

Looks like pastrami was brought to America by Romanian Jews.


Andy H said...

Thanks Lucian. Cool. I'll remember this fact, and drop it into my conversation somehow.

k.toth1 said...

One additional word the magyars gave the English language is "hello". Apparently Alexander G. Bell had a Hungarian assistant who answered the first telephone call. He proclaimed "Halom" which later was bastardized into the term we know today.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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