Wednesday, May 23, 2007



And the correct answer to last week's puzzle is [drumroll]

büdös = IPA: [bydøʃ].

Of a total of 25 participants (both online and off-line), the correct answer was provided by [drumroll]

No one.

Which certainly does not surprise me, because there ain't no way in hell the first consonant is a voiced bilabial stop (and, accordingly, no participant identified it as such) and neither vowel is rounded (almost everybody heard [i] and [ɛ] / [e] respectively). Now I am familiar with the word büdös, but this particular phrase is one I had never heard before and had it not been for my buddy smiki who explained it to me, I would never have guessed. I wonder why. My initial suspicion, i.e. the 'cartoonish' voice quality which makes it sometimes hard to watch South Park even in English, was invalidated by the fact that I didn't have any comprehension problems with the rest of the episode. So what is it? Regional accent? Some sort of (suprasegmental) devoicing and derounding doesn't sound very likely...

But hey, everybody's a winner here and here is your prize. Let's start with the full transcript and the translation:

Cartman: Kis türelem [kiʃ tyrɛlɛm]
Teacher: Gyerünk, Eric! [ɟɛryn̪k ɛrik̪]
Cartman: Büdös picsába! [bydøʃ pitʃaːbɒ]
Kyle: Ha ha!
Cartman: Kus, Macesz! [kuʃ mats̻ɛs]

Cartman: Just a minute! (lit. A little patience!)
Teacher: Let's go, Eric!
Cartman: Aw fuck! (lit. Into the stinky cunt!)
Kyle: Ha ha!
Cartman: Shut up, dude!

The most interesting thing about this exchange - and the reason it attracted my attention - is the translator's choice. In the original English version, when prompted to step up, Cartman replied with his trademark "Goddammit". (A) picsába! is a common enough way of expressing dissatisfaction or disappointment in Hungarian, but it is also several degrees above "Goddammit" in strength and lack of social appropriateness. Knowing the Hungarian dubbing industry, I would expect A francba! "Dang it!" or something along those harmless lines.

Speaking of translation strategies, check out an excerpt from the episode 5x11, which also features the term picsa. This time as a translation of English "What the fuck was that?", i.e.

Mi a picsa volt ez? [mi ɒ pitʃɒ volt ɛz]
what DEF cunt was this

While not necessarily a bad translation, there is a slight difference in meaning here. In English, the "the fuck" part of WH- interrogative expressions acts as a modifier or intensifier (also see here). That would be best translated using the all-purpose expletive a picsába (see below). Asking Mi a picsa volt ez? in Hungarian amounts to inquiring as to the type of the thing or phenomenon encountered. Mi a picsa volt ez therefore means something like "What kind of a cunt was this?".

Another interesting thing is the use of the Illative (-ba/-be) indicating direction into an enclosed space. Both picsa "cunt" and fasz "dick, prick" often appear in Hungarian abuse language in the Illative. On their own or preceded by the definite article a they function as interjections and can be translated as "Fuck!" or "Fuck that!". Often, however, they appear preceded by verbs in the imperative, such as in the time tried recommendation Menj a picsába! "Go fuck yourself! (lit. Go into the cunt!)" and its anatomically impossible variety Menj a faszba "lit. Go into a prick!". This usage closely mirrors that of Czech and Slovak. In Slovak, the same structure (albeit expressed analytically by means of a preposition) and the same word are used: Do piči! or Do piče! as interjections, Choď do piči! or the more intensive Bež do piče! lit. "Run (in)to a cunt!" as full imperatives. Taboo words connected with reproduction are not that common in Czech. Instead, Czech relies on terms and expressions associated with excretion. A Czech would therefore say Do prdele! "lit. Into an ass!" or Do řiti! and Jdi do prdele! or (much less commonly) Jdi do řiti!

Growing up, I never heard the phrase büdös picsába, nor did I ever hear someone mutter or yell a faszba. It's not that my folks and neighbors are especially polite, far from it. They just opted for a different approach: the third member of the unholy trinity, the ancient verb bászni "fuck" (1st. pers. sg. ind. baszom) and a noun in the Accusative. Baszom az istenét (lit. "I fuck God") is, together with Baszom a Krisztus-Máriát / a Krisztusát, still my father's favorite. Baszom az anyád(at) ("... your mother"), baszom az apád(at) ("... your father") and baszom a világot ("... the world") are just a few other options for those not willing to sin against the Second Commandment. Softer versions can be obtained by omitting the verb - az anyád, az apád, a Krisztusát etc. Such forms have even been borrowed into Slovak as azapát, azaňát and kristušát. Readers of Jaroslav Hašek will surely find all of this familiar, though the author of Good Soldier Švejk might have gotten his case or possessive suffixes wrong. Even the Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian version Jebem ti majku! "I fuck your mother!" can be found mentioned in Švejk.

The similarities mentioned above raise many fascinating questions concerning linguistic contact, common inovations and area linguistics. The etymology of the word piča (SK)/picsa (HU) /pička (HR/BiH/SRB), for example, is a big unanswered question. Similarities such as the Illative structures mentioned are striking and even the differences, such as the aforementioned difference between reproduction based taboo vocabulary and excretion based taboo vocabulary, are truly fascinating. Someone ought to do a real study.

Speaking of comparative scatology and scatological language contact: even the ever popular imperative baszd meg "fuck you" was borrowed into Slovak and Czech as both an interjection bazmek! and a masculine noun bazmek meaning "thingie, device, gizmo". Just to give you an idea of the currency this borrowing from Hungarian enjoys all over the former Czechoslovakia: my hometown Košice is still jokingly referred to as Bazmek city. And check out and ctrl+f this Czech forum on overclocking and this hardware discussion board. Oranžovej bazmek, now that's a typical one.

And finally, here is a little gem smiki found while researching büdös picsába on the internet for me: a rézfaszú bagoly. This one deserves a full treatment:

réz = copper
fasz = dick, prick
= an adjective-forming suffix
bagoly = owl

A rézfaszú bagoly = A copper-dicked owl.

Dunno about you, but I laughed all day. And that was before I found out there is a t-shirt you can order with the full version, i.e. Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly = "May a copper-dicked owl take it". 2600 forints equals aproximately $14. Pity they only deliver to Hungary...

Now excuse me, I have to get back to the kibaszott work. Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly, indeed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Hey folks, anyone up for a little game?
Excellent! So here is the board and the pieces:

A - a brief excerpt from an episode of South Park dubbed into Hungarian.
B - a transcript in both standard Hungarian ortography and IPA:

Cartman: Kis türelem [kiʃ tyrɛlɛm]
Teacher: Gyerünk, Eric! [ɟɛryk ɛrik̪]
Cartman: (X) picsába! [(X) piaːbɒ]
Kyle: Ha ha!
Cartman: Kus, Macesz! [kuʃ mats̻es]

Now (X) marks the spot with the treasure we're after. It's a single word consisting of two syllables spoken between 00:00:03 and 00:00:04 and what I want from you, boys and girls, is to provide a transcription below in the comments using any transcription method you like. Everyone who provides the correct transcription, wins.
Warning: speakers of Hungarian need not apply and are asked not to spoil it for everybody else.
The lucky winner(s) will receive my eternal gratitude, a brief lesson in Hungarian and the knowledge that they succeeded where others (such as myself :o) had failed.

Good luck!