Thursday, July 08, 2010

Words don't come easy

When Bill Bryson moved back to the US (to live not far up the road from me, in fact) he wrote a book of his experiences as a long time expat returning to his home country, called "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (I think). Anyway, one of the most memorable bits for me was his comment that there were words that he wasn't sure of the American English for, having not needed those items when he was growing up (I think he left the US when he was 19). I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't vouch for this quote exactly, but the one that sticks in my mind was him going to a DIY shop (or Hardware store as it would have been) and asking "I need some of that stuff you fill holes in walls with. My wife's people call it Polyfilla". with the guy responding "Ah you mean spackle"

My problem is similar only at least Bryson had words which he knew in English, just in a different version of English. I have words which I only know in foreign languages. The first one of these to cross my consciousness was rucula, which was a delicious salad leaf I first encountered in Spain. Later I learned the Italian (rucola) and then arugula which I'm not even sure what language it is in. Finally I discovered that in English it is called "rocket", which frankly is a bloody stupid word. This comes about mostly because I am knocking on a bit and in my day fancy vegetables like rocket were not available in England. Salads had iceberg or cos lettuce in them, and that was your lot.

But there are also words which I still have no idea of in English. Yesterday we went out and picked some mushrooms and wild fruit, most of which I have no idea of what they are in English. The most commonly picked wild mushroom round here seems to be the rókagomba, which translates literally as "fox mushroom". I have no idea what it's called in English, though I am sure it's not fox mushroom. There are also the csirkelab gomba ("chicken leg mushroom" which to me looks a lot more like coral), the galambgomba (pigeon mushroom) and various other evocatively named edible mushrooms. Last night I had a delicious mushroom omelette made of fox and bear mushrooms (rokagomba and medvegomba).

We also picked a lot of szamoca - these are small wild fruits of the strawberry family. They may actually be known as wild strawberries in English, but I'm not sure. And a fair few afonya, which I do know because I used to pick then in England growing up (bilberries in case you're wondering. NOT blueberries as many dictionaries will tell you).

Away from food, like Bryson, I have some difficulty with some construction words too, mostly because I obviously have never done any construction/DIY work in England (I'd never done any anywhere to be honest until I moved here). However, for whatever reasons, it seems like most words used for such items here tend to be Romanian rather than Hungarian (I mean by everyone). So for example there is this material called gips carton (Everybody calls it that but it must be a Romanian word rather than a Hungarian one). I can't even describe what it is exactly, but it is a sort of board material that is not wood, but is strengthened in some way. The inner walls of our renovated barn are made of it. God only knows what the English is for it. There is also a kind of thin wood that you use for the walls of sheds and similar called (something like) lumberia (again that must be a Romanian word).

So if you ever see someone in a branch of Jewson or somewhere looking a bit lost and asking for some gips carton or lumberia, before idly speculating whether it would be possible to pick fox mushrooms in the woods over there, then it's probably me.

11 comments:

oanababy said...

Is gips carton a form of drywall or gyproc?

Florin said...

it's actually cement (gypsum) impregnated cardboard.
and that sort of wild strawberries might be called 'wood strawberries" - 'fragi' in Romanian

Pistefka said...

Ah yes, I know what you are on about - there are plenty of words which I know in foreign languages but had never used in English previously. I am always driven to find out what the word/concept is in English, because it is quite annoying when I have to say in English that I bought "some of those little green things" and so on.

Gipszkarton is a bona fide Hungarian word though. (Obviously not one of the most authentically Hungarian of words though.)
Its "plasterboard" in English English - dry wall in American English. In Hungary (and I think in Transylvani too) they often call it by the brand name - Rigips. Which is rather confusing, as Rigips actually make lots of other products as well as plasterboard.

While I am tend to try to find out what these things are, they often sound odd in English, as I never cooked with kohlrabi or sorrel in England, or ate "sour cherries".
I too have recently done building work for the first time, so was introduced to all sorts of Hungarian building terms, most of which sound very German (or perhaps Bavarian) and end in "..li" or .."ett"
spakli, smirgli, glett, gitt, and the great "sitt" (rubble, pronounced "shit" obviously)

Have enjoyed te blog for a while, but been put off commenting by having to either sign up for a google account or be an anonymous stalker type commenter.

Andy H said...

Thanks everyone.

I remembered another one - "pirosban" - when a house is finished on the outside but still has bare brick and is not done on the inside. Literally pirosban means "in red" and that's how it gets translated whenever someone says it to me "Our house is in red". Now I know what it means I don't even have to think about it. No idea what it is Romanian or English.

I've discovered that you can look things like mushrooms up by googling them, checking the latin name in Hungarian wikipedia and than regoogling that. "Fox mushrooms" are actually called chantarelles it turns out

lvl100 said...

""In Hungary (and I think in Transylvani too) they often call it by the brand name - Rigips. Which is rather confusing, as Rigips actually make lots of other products as well as plasterboard.""

Actually , all around Romania , its called Rigips too.

"Gipszkarton is a bona fide Hungarian word though. "

Gips carton its the Romanian term. ( from the French "carton"). But its becoming obsolete, Rigips its easier to spell)

As a side note , Romanians will call any copying machine a Xerox, and no matter how cool is your brand new Husqvarna chainsaw, it will still be called a Drujba (some Russian brand of chainsaws from around 1400s or some similar timeframe)

Anonymous said...

Jesus Andy, I'd give you a hug for your courage to live in a Hungarian environment, in the middle of Romania.
Languages that are so different and both difficult, sometimes mix up and borrow words from each other..
Huh. Funny.
You're sweet.

C.

Deák-Sala Hunor said...

Yes, "pistefka" has right, the so called "gips carton" or "gipszkarton" if you like ;-) is in fact the drywall.

The mixed "roka gomba" and "medve gomba" mushroom paprikás is the best!

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Anonymous said...

gipszkarton/gipscarton is BOTH in hungarian/romanian. it just lists the ingredients - karton (thick paper) and gipsz (gypsum), which is NOT cement.

they just pour this gipsz thing between karton sheets. You can see this at the edges.

I think the romanians and hungarians boh have taken these words from some third languages. Gipsz and karton are existing words all over hungary, and gips and carton are existing romanian words.

Rick Spurway said...

Actually, the Bryson family moved from New Hampshire back to the UK in 2003, and they are now living in Norfolk. He has since been appointed Chancellor of Durham University. We should invite him over to Transylvania sometime. I'm sure there's plenty of material for him to write about here - as indeed you have discovered yourself!
Szia, Rick.

Attila said...

lambéria (lumberia) is also commonly used in Hungary.