Check out other posts in this series exploring proverbs in English, German, Russian, Italian, Japanese, Finnish, Romanian, Czech, Portuguese and Estonian.
Ever had a situation where someone was talking to you in Hungarian and you understood the words but didn’t quite know what they meant? They might have been using an idiom or proverb. These are terms or phrases used in certain situations that have a second, implied meaning which is usually a bit difficult to guess.
While successfully using idioms and proverbs in conversation is probably a task for the more advanced speakers, they can really help you sound like a native. And, even if you’re just starting out, learning a few of these turns of phrase can help you break the ice with mother-tongue speakers and provide you an insight into how their language has developed.
We’ve already covered the 25 essential idioms and colloquialisms for English and Italian, and today we’ll take a look into how to better understand Hungarian speakers who seem to say one thing while meaning another. You can use this list to either impress your friends with your unique knowledge of the language, or to start sounding more like a native Hungarian speaker.
1. A béka feneke/segge alatt van: ‘It is below the bottom/ass of a frog’, meaning that the quality of something is very bad.
2. Ajándék lónak ne nézd a fogát: ‘Don’t look at the tooth of a gift horse’ meaning don’t look for faults in a gift (appreciate the gesture). Very similar to the English saying ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’.
3. Bagoly mondja verébnek, hogy nagyfejű: ‘An owl says to a sparrow that they have a big head’, meaning someone sees fault in someone else while ignoring the same fault in themselves.
4. Bolond lyukból bolond szél fúj: ‘Foolish wind blows out of a foolish hole’, meaning a foolish person can only say foolish things; or a person can only say things that are according to their character/beliefs.
5. Ebcsont beforr: ‘A dog’s broken bone will soon be healed’, meaning the wound we’re talking about will soon be healed.
6. Ég és föld a különbség (köztük) / sometimes used as ‘Ég és föld’: ‘The difference between them is like that between sky and earth’, meaning there is a big difference between the two things.
7. Egyik kutya, másik eb: ‘One is a dog, the other is a hound’, meaning the two things are the same. You might recognise the similarity with the English sayin ‘pot-ah-to, po-tay-to’.
8. Emberére akadt: ‘One has found their man’, meaning that someone has found someone who is perfect for a task/worthy opponent.
9. Eső után köpönyeg: ‘After rain (comes) raincoat’, meaning a solution or advice is too late.
10. Ez nem az én asztalom: ‘This is not my table’, meaning this task/topic is not my responsibility/concern or I am not qualified/knowledgeable about something.
11. Ez van, ezt kell szeretni: ‘This is what it is (what we have/experience), this has to be liked’. Mostly used to remind someone to not complain.
12. Ha lúd, legyen kövér: ‘If it’s a goose, it should be fat’ meaning if you’re doing something, you should experience it to the fullest.
Also read: How Difficult Is It to Learn Hungarian?
13. Jobb félni, mint megijedni: ‘It is better to be afraid than to get scared’ the equivalent of the English idiom ‘Better safe than sorry’, meaning be cautious.
14. Két legyet egy csapásra: ‘Two flies with one hit’ the equivalent of the English proverb ‘Two birds with one stone’, meaning one solution solves two problems.
15. Ki éjjel legény, legyen nappal (az): ‘Who is a man at night should also be a man during the day’ used in a context if you were out partying last night, you should be able to do your tasks/duty the next day.
16. Ki korán kel, aranyat lel: ‘Who gets up early will find gold’ the equivalent of the English idiom ‘The early bird gets the worm’, meaning if you are diligent you will get rewarded.
17. Ki mint veti ágyát, úgy alussza álmát: ‘As one makes their bed, so they sleep/have their dreams’. Similar to the English saying ‘You made your bed, now you must lie in it’, meaning one’s actions have consequences and they should bear them.
18. Köti az ebet a karóhoz: ‘He/she ties the dog to the post’, meaning one sticks to their position/plan/idea.
19. Most ugrik a majom a vízbe: ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’, meaning now we will see what happens.
20. Ne szólj szám, nem fáj fejem: ‘Don’t speak, my lips, so my head doesn’t hurt’. This is similar to the English saying ‘What he/she doesn’t know, won’t hurt them’, meaning to keep information to one’s self to avoid conflict.
21. Nem esik messze az alma a fájától: Same as the English saying ‘The apple does not fall far from the tree’, meaning someone is similar to their parents/mentors.
22. Nem mind arany, ami fénylik: Same as the English saying ‘Not all that glitters is gold’, meaning first impressions can be deceiving. Not everything that looks valuable actually is.
23. Rend a lelke mindennek: ‘Order is the soul of everything’ said in a context when arguing for or being proud of having tidied up.
24. Többet ésszel, mint erővel: ‘One should do more by wisdom than by force’, this has a very similar meaning as “think before you act”.
25. Túl nagy fába vágta a fejszéjét: ‘He/she put their axe to too big of a tree’ the equivalent of the English proverb ‘Bite off more than you can chew’, meaning someone took on a bigger task than they can handle.
As you can see, there are quite a few similarities to sayings your might find in other languages. This just goes to show you that some wisdom is universal, but don’t forget that you can also always put your own twist to things.
This article was written by our teacher Sara V who tutors students in Hungarian in Budapest.