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Learn everyday Hungarian for an easier stay in Budapest. Lesson 2: Franc

Welcome back for more casual Hungarian tuition! This week, the word ‘franc’ is in the spotlight. It's a special one as many Hungarians would also be surprised to learn about the origins of this term. Its meaning has faded with time, no longer signifying the same as it did in the 15th century. Today, it serves mainly as a mild swear word to indicate anger or a slightly bad mood. This apart, franc (pronounced 'frantz') has no additional connotations, despite its serious roots. Here we reveal where this word comes from – and how it is used today.

‘Mi a franc van?’ ‘Hol a francban jársz?’ ‘Mi a francot akarsz itt?’‘What the hell is going on?’, ‘Where on Earth have you been?’, ‘What the hell do you want?’

These are some of the phrases you could easily overhear around Budapest. Whether it's two people yakking in a bar or someone barking into their mobile, franc is a fairly common noun to reach for whenever the speaker feels slightly annoyed for a whole range of reasons.

However, when the word first appeared, it meant a horrendous disease, and thus could be used in an extremely rude manner:  ‘A franc essen beléd!’, ‘May syphilis hit you so you die…’ As you see, the term originally signified syphilis, 'the French disease'. 

According to the Hungarian Etymological Dictionary, the term franc was possibly adopted into Hungarian during the 15th century, when the nasty disease was first discovered among the army of the French king, Charles VIII. From then on, all the European nations blamed France for spreading syphilis all over Europe.

Funnily enough, even in Latin, it’s called morbus Gallicus, the Gallic disease.

In the 1400s, France, the country, was referred to as Francia in Hungarian and franc was most probably the adjectival form of the noun at that time, so this is how it came about. Since then, franc is no longer used in that way, so that’s probably why most Hungarians won’t necessarily be familiar with its original meaning.

Hungarians casually learn this common expression from each other, of course. So, the next time you hear franc in a sentence, whether you speak a little Hungarian or not, be aware that it’s not just an innocent word, and should be handled with care...


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