Every country, every city, and every village, back in the old days as well, had their own smart people whose intelligent sayings became well-known by their village, then the county, and finally, by the whole country, and even proceeded to be commonly used. In those days, when there were no phones to text our friends and families or internet and Instagram to upload what is currently happening to us, everything was said but not written down. Sayings and proverbs passed from generation to generation, so in most cases, it is impossible to say where and when they were first used.
Last week, we brought you a brief list of Hungarian sayings and proverbs, with the help of @hungariandictionary, to broaden your knowledge of the Hungarian language and its very commonly used expressions that, in many cases, sound strange and quite far from their literal meaning. We are now adding to this little list of sayings, but this time, solely concentrating on bears.
So to start off, let us talk about bears a bit. Probably every one of you has seen a bear before, if not in a zoo then in a picture or a movie, and hopefully, you have not had the chance to encounter one in person. Why hopefully? Well,
the scientific name of the brown bear, which is called grizzly bear in North America, is the following: ursus arctos horribilis. Ursus means bear in Latin while arctos means bear in Greek. And horribilis? I don’t think it requires any further explanation.
Then why do Hungarians have so many expressions with this huge and feared animal? The answer is quite easy. When these sayings and proverbs were born, Hungary had quite a lot of bears living on its territory, but fear not, since the 1850s and 1860s, only a few were spotted wandering near the borders without respect for the countries’ frontiers.
Without further ado, let us see Hungary’s old connections to bears.
Lássuk a medvét! – Let’s see the bear!
This saying practically means let’s see the truth or let’s see the outcome. It dates back to the times when in circuses, the biggest attraction was a dancing bear, and the peak was the ringmaster introducing the bear as the most awaited and popular performance. Today, we use it, for instance, when we have just finished cooking something new we have not prepared before, and we are waiting for the experience and the taste.
Előre iszik a medve bőrére. – He drinks to the bear’s skin in advance.
This saying is used in the context of when someone is being happy or cheerful about something that is not yet decided or sure, the outcome of which is not secure – when someone takes something for granted even before that thing would happen and become a reality.
Some versions of this expression exist in almost all European languages. There is no unilateral acceptance of the origin, but many say that it is a little story written down in the 15th century about 3 friends wanting to capture a bear. Before leaving for the forest, they had a huge feast in a tavern and promised the owner to pay the bill from the money they would get for selling the skin of the bear. When they actually encountered the animal, one of them ran away, another one climbed up a tree, and the third one got on the ground pretending to be dead. After the bear sniffed him and walked away uninterested, the man on the tree asked his friend what the bear had whispered in his ears, and he said: “Next time, we should not drink to his skin in advance, before capturing him.”
Kevés vagy, mint mackósajtban a brummogás. – You are as little as the growl in the bear cheese.
This is actually quite a recent saying and requires a little background of a cheese brand to understand. The brand Medve was founded by a Swiss family at the beginning of the 20th century on the then-territory of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. After the deprivatisation of the company in 1948, it became a Hungarian business. It has always been very popular among Hungarians since the very beginning, so naturally, everyone knew the name Medve. It has no hidden or old original meaning; we use it when we want to tell someone that they are not good enough for a task or they do not have what it takes. Just like the bear cheese, which does not growl.
Bedől, mint maci a málnásba. – He falls like a bear into the raspberry bush.
This saying originates from the fact that bears like raspberries very much, so any time they find a bush of this fruit, they would naturally hurry there and jump or fall into it, to eat as fast and as much as possible. The Hungarian expression, though, has very little to do either with the animal or the berry. It means to believe something, to fall for something quickly, even when it is not true, without first examining the circumstances and being precautious. Just like the bear who throws itself into a big bush of little branches and thorns.