The Hungarian language is full of creative idioms, turns of speech and other witty proverbs and phrases. Mastering them is the hallmark of a truly gifted polyglot, but even the beginner can keep a few trusty phrases in their back pocket, to save for a rainy day (and to impress their Hungarian houseguests!).

Today with joy, tomorrow with fingernails

Ma örömmel, holnap körömmel
In English we have the old adage to clean as you go when cooking, to prevent a mountain of mess from accumulating at the end. The Hungarians are even more pointed in their warnings. Clean today and it’s with joy, wait until tomorrow and suffer the result! Mothers everywhere will love to scold their children with this one.

I need that like a goat needs a knife

Úgy hiányzik, mint kecskének a kés
My father used to always say, 'I need that like I need another hole in my head!' and this Hungarian phrase has much the same meaning. Used to express the want or need of something undesirable, it’s a little bit of morbid humour to throw into daily conversation.

After rain comes the raincoat

Eső után köpönyeg
This phrase expresses that a solution or advice has come too late. Once the shower has already lifted, what good is a raincoat?

It’s better to be afraid than to get scared

Jobb félni, mint megijedni
This is the Hungarian equivalent of the English proverb: Better safe than sorry. It urges the listener to be cautious in whatever adventure they’re embarking upon.

They put their axe in too big a tree

Túl nagy fába vágta a fejszéjét
This Hungarian proverb echoes the English saying 'To bite off more than you can chew'. In short, it means someone took on a bigger task than they can quite handle.

This is not my table

Ez nem az én asztalom
When someone asks you to do something, or speak about a task or topic you don’t know much about, this phrase is a quick way to say sorry, it’s not my responsibility – ask someone else to do it!

The fence is not made of sausage

Nem kolbászból van a kerítés
In short, it’s not as good as you think!

Why are you making the mice drink?

Miért itatod az egereket?
This is a cute way in which Hungarians ask – especially to children – why are you crying? Why are you giving the mice drinks from your tears?

Your dad wasn’t a glazier!

Apád nem volt üveges!
You might hear this shouted at you when standing in a crowded area. The person is telling you in no short order that you’re blocking their view!