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.


Languagehat said...

Wow -- that was worth the wait!

Anonymous said...

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a... Sprachbund. Viennese, too, has "go into the ass" ([g̊ɛːːː(ɪ)noːːːɐ̯̯ʒ̊]), which is unknown in Linz (200 km to the west). Equally unknown there is the most common Viennese recommendation, "go shit".

"pička (HR/BiH)"

Not only. My dad, from Belgrade, uses pička ti materina as the rarest of four possibilities to start a tirade when he can't find something. At last I learn what it means!

bulbul said...

"pička (HR/BiH)"
*slaps forehead*
Correcting immediately.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a... Sprachbund.
I've been saying this for years! One only needs to examine certain semantic fields (household items, diseases, curses...) to see the obvious truth.

michael farris said...

"So what is it? Regional accent? Some sort of (suprasegmental) devoicing and derounding doesn't sound very likely..."

I thought the voiced/unvoiced distinction was pretty marginal in the clip so b and d didn't surprise me (though I was hearing p and t too).

As for the unrounding, I have a wild, wild guess that's probably wrong: Could it have something to do with e and ö doublets like fel/föl (up)
The folk-explanation I received was that Hungarians don't like the sound of too many e's (too bad since it's one of the most common vowels) and so some of them have alternate forms in ö (I think csend/csönd is another). I have no idea what the real explanation for this is.

Anyway, maybe this is that phenomenon in reverse? Unrounding ö to make Cartman sound even more plebian? That doesn't explain the ü but it's as close as I can come to a guess.

Piczka also exists in Polish but not used IME in the way described (and a distant third in actual use behind cipa and pizda, not taking pip(k)a into account since it's not so strong. This might be regional, where I live Prussian influence is many times stronger than that of Mitteleuropa, usage might be different in Krakow.

"do dupy" (in(to) X's ass) is widely used but the meaning is more like 'sucks'.

There's also 'mieć X w dupie' (have X in (one's) ass) which means (IMO rather counter-intuitively) 'don't give a shit about'.

Anonymous said...

That picture on the T-shirt is really worth clicking on the link for, unless you are likely to be scandalized by looking at a, well, copper dick.

Yes, I laughed too. Thanks Bulbul.

(This is the pitesz guy, who was more wrong than most.)

Anonymous said...

I've been saying this for years! One only needs to examine certain semantic fields (household items, diseases, curses...) to see the obvious truth.

The problem is that very few people except you can imagine any of these fields in all of the relevant languages.

Anonymous said...

Huh? Why did I write "imagine"? I meant "examine" of course.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you, that the copper-dicked owl can be delivered anywhere in the EU. If you want a t-shirt, just write a mail to "info @" and we can discuss how much the postage will be. It depends on how many t-shirts you order.
This way of ordering is a piece of sht, but as a good news I can tell, that hopefully in june we can start our international site shipping worldwide, using paypal as a payment method, all based in english.

Anonymous said...

Off topic

bulbul, I put a mini-review of Prothero's book up on my 'books I read this year' thread. I'm going to post it on slacktivist, too, but I imagine the traffic will quickly bury that link...

Anonymous said...

One last question. What diacritics did you put into the phonetic transcription of "Gyerünk, Eric!"? They don't display here (Internet Explorer 7). I just copied them into the character table input field, and what appears are two "dental" diacritics, one under the [n] of gyerünk and one under the [k] of Eric. Of course a dental [k] is impossible. What did you mean? And doesn't gyerünk have a [ŋ] in the first place?

bulbul said...

That dental [n] should be OK (or so my grammar of Hungarian insists), but what the dental mark is doing under the [k], I have no idea. Maybe it's Firefox screwing with Unicode, wouldn't be the first time.
I am not sure whether [n] becomes [ŋ] before a voiceless consonant. Voiced, sure, e.g. [bitɒŋg] "rascal", but I really don't hear it. I might be wrong.

Andrew said...

I'm American, with a stupid degree of Czech study (insofar as Americans are concerned) with a brother who moved to Slovakia on account of his girlfriend/current wife. He and I do Slovak translation on the side. Well, I do it on the side, he does it for a living.

Long story short, I met a housemate's stepmother from outside Miskolc tonight, and blew her (and by extension everyone at the party's) mind with "Vigyén el a rezfaszú bagoly". Thank you. XOXO

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