Political scientists in Hungary

Hungarian vocabulary is changing rapidly, mostly as a result of technological innovation. Sometimes Hungarians translate a foreign word into Hungarian, sometimes they give a Hungarian word another meaning, and sometimes they simply import a foreign word into the language. A few examples. The "mouse," not the animal but the instrument we use when navigating our computers, was translated (a mirror translation) into Hungarian. It is known as "egér." If a concept was totally unknown, such as "@ = at," Hungarians used their imagination. They call it: "kukac," which means "worm." And many words, both English and German, were taken into the language unchanged but, of course, with a Hungarian pronunciation. For example, blog.

This mini-linguistic foray takes me to another variation of linguistic borrowing–the cheapening of a concept. We arrive at the so-called political scientists. Wow, how they irritate me!  Hungarians borrowed the German word for political science ("Politologie") and transformed it into "politológia" and, by extension, "politológus" for "political scientist." The problem is that a person whom we consider to be a political scientist is not the same as a "politológus" in Hungarian. The word "political science" is described in Webster’s as "a social science concerned chiefly with description and analysis of political and especially governmental institutions and processes." The "logie" suffix in German reinforces the notion of scholarly, analytical research. So, in brief, a political scientist is a serious scholar who teaches at a college or university and writes articles in scholarly publications and books for (usually) a few hundred interested scholars.

Not in Hungary! These so-called political scientists are basically political commentators, the kind whose articles appear once a week or once a month in major newspapers. In the New York Times they are described as op-ed columnists (mind you, these pundits normally have extraordinary credentials; otherwise they could write op-ed pieces for the local free newspaper). Well, in Hungary ordinary political commentators are called political scientists. The really good ones are satisfied with the simple "journalist" title, but the younger ones (in their late twenties or early thirties) are proudly called political scientists. What makes them political scientists I can’t figure. Most of the ones I have encountered don’t know more than an ordinary, attentive observer of politics. Sometimes less. Some of them are simply propagandists like Tamás Fritz, who doesn’t even seem to be familiar with the Hungarian constitution and has twice already called on President László Sólyom to dissolve the current parliament when he has no such authority in the Hungarian system. And (oh, dear, contrary to my rant of the day) he is allegedly a real political scientist. At least he is a senior fellow at the Academy’s Political Science Institute. Then there is the young political scientist who never struck me as a man of great political insight, Ferenc Kumin, who is now President’s Sólyom’s "famulus," as his not so fawning admirers call him. In case someone didn’t read an earlier blog of mine, "famulus" in Latin means "house servant," but it exists in the English dictionary too, in a somewhat kinder version: servant, assistant of a scholar. Another "politológus" just became the spokesman for the prime minister. And yet another politológus who began his career in the Department of Marxism-Leninism became head of the prime minister’s office under Viktor Orbán, a very important position.

And, of course, what goes around comes around. A political scientist becomes a politician and then becomes a political scientist again. Orbán’s minister, István Stumpf, is now being interviewed right and left as a political scientist. One can imagine what predictions he makes. Kumin, being a young man, most likely will be a "political scientist" again.

Then, there are the "political scientists" who turn out to be successful businessmen. A couple of enterprising political scientists got together and established a business, called "Political Capital."  Although nobody in Hungary can pronounce these two words properly, never mind. The business obviously spreads its political wisdom for compensation, and it must be doing quite well because more and more "political scientists" appear on the rostrum. They also specialize in political advice. I believe, for example, that they are advisers to MDF (Magyar Demokrata Fórum) and, if I remember correctly, they are becoming international, having established a similar political science business in Bulgaria.

And meanwhile there are the really good political commentators, the ones who call themselves journalists or publicists. There are not too many but one can read their pieces with interest. In foreign affairs Endre Aczél, in internal politics, Tamás Mészáros, Gyögy Bolgár, János Avar, József Debreczeni, just to mention a few. But, bless their hearts, they are not political scientists.

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[…] let me call your attention to a very old post of mine from September 2007. I vented my frustration over the so-called “political […]