Two days ago the internet news site vs.hu got hold of a 13-page list of words that are deemed unsuitable for use by the management of the Ministry of Human Resources. The list covers all the fields this mammoth ministry is responsible for, from education to culture and health as well as religious and family matters. The initial response was hilarity, but those people who found this list funny may have forgotten about George Orwell’s Newspeak in 1984, the purpose of which was “to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.” The main purpose of this list was to banish concepts by eliminating the words that refer to them.
Obviously, the political leaders of Hungary are not bothered by the striking resemblance between their list and the notorious Newspeak of Orwell. Actually, I would be surprised if Zoltán Balog, head of the ministry, ever read the book. He is old enough to have received his education during the Kádár regime, when Orwell’s works were on the list of forbidden books.
Since we are talking about language, specifically about semantics, on occasion I will have a difficult time explaining the subtle or not so subtle differences between the original word for a concept and its suggested replacement. Let’s start with the easy ones. “Tuition” does not exist. There is no suggested alternative. Employees of the ministry are simply supposed to repeat: Hungary has “tuition-free higher education.” Of course, this is an outright lie. About half of the university and college students pay a steep tuition fee. Or, here is another easy task: “reform” is out. In its place they suggest “structural reconstruction, “fine tuning,” or simply “implementations.” The word “szegény” (poor) is a word this regime does not want to see anywhere. “Poor settlement” is out, and instead ministry employees are supposed to say “underdeveloped settlement.” And now we come to a concept change that will be difficult to explain. A “poor person” is no longer poor but needy (rászorult). Why “rászorult” is better than “szegény” I’m not quite sure. Perhaps because “szegény” indicates a level of permanence whereas a needy person’s situation might be temporary? Instead of “szegénység” (poverty) there is another suggestion besides “rászorultság” (in need)–“nélkülözés,” which literally means something like going without; the dictionary definition is privation, indigence, need. Instead of saying “to decrease poverty,” from here on we should talk about “societal convergence.”
The word “segregated” is to be avoided by all means possible, although we know that most Gypsy children attend segregated schools and that most Roma live in villages which for all practical purposes are segregated. To get rid of this word/concept was too great a task for the wordsmiths of Balog’s staff. The best they could come up with was “peripheral,” as in “peripheral settlement,” or even better “kiszorult,” which means superseded, driven out, supplanted. What these words have to do with “segregation” or “segregated” is beyond me.
Interestingly enough, the word “work” (munka) is not a favorite of the regime despite its claim to be building a society based on work. “Voluntary work” becomes “voluntary activity.” Well, perhaps work must always be something you are paid to do, but then what about the work women do in the home? Do they no longer have to work, just be active? The word for domestic violence, which in Hungarian is family (családi) violence, is out. Instead, they are to talk about violence among people who know each other (kapcsolati erőszak). A “sokgyermekes család” (a family with many children) should be called “többgyermekes család” (a family with more children), I guess because there can never be too many children in a family.
Instead of “Kulturkampf” we ought to use “discussion of values.” Why “idősödés” is better than “öregedés” I wouldn’t know. Both mean “aging.” “Equal opportunity” seems to be a dirty word too. The government is offering only an “opportunity for equality” (esélyteremtés). Some will presumably have more of an opportunity than others. “Equality” in general is troublesome in their eyes. “Equality of the sexes” is frowned upon. One should say “societal equality of women and men” or “more harmonic cooperation between women and men.” For these politicians the ideal is still a woman who stays at home and looks after her husband and children. Sexual differences for them override any abstract notion of equality.
Instead of “people” in the sense of “Hungarian people,” we should always talk about the Hungarian nation (nemzet). Instead of “society” (társadalom) we should use “community” (közösség). The difference between these two concepts is obvious. A community is tied together by a special fellowship and identity while members of a society are not so linked. Perhaps this is a more explicit way of banishing people who are not like-minded from the community or, at best, relegating them to the periphery.
Let me mention a few real oddities. One is the word “vak,” which should be used instead of “világtalan.” I don’t know what will happen to the saying: “Vak vezet világtalant,” meaning “blind leads blind.” We also learned that “stadium” is a word to avoid. Instead it should be called a “sports complex” or “sportcsarnok used for many functions.” Oh, yes, let’s stop calling the nation’s attention to the fact that the prime minister of the country has been spending taxpayer money, a lot of it, on football stadiums.
Perhaps the most surprising suggestion is to avoid the word “Jew, Jewish” (zsidó). The ministry suggests that we go back about a hundred years when, as I mentioned in one of my comments on the 1910 Hungarian census this morning, the followers of Judaism were described as “izrealiták.” This is an old-fashioned and nowadays never used word. It denotes only religion, not ethnicity. There are few practicing Jews in Hungary, so I assume the rest of the Jewish community has just lost its identity.
There are so many Hungarian literary allusions to poverty and poor people in both concrete and figurative terms that bloggers couldn’t help making fun of the suggestion to rid the language of the word ” szegény.” Yes, perhaps if we banish the words for “poor” and “poverty” all those poor people, all four million of them who live in “underdeveloped settlements” and attend “peripheral schools,” will simply disappear. And, by the way, Hungary will no longer have a Roma “minority” (kisebbség). It will have a “Roma nationality” (Roma nemzetiség), which I don’t think will make their situation any better. For example, they will no longer get “compensation” (kártérítés), as in the case of the victims of the serial murders, but will receive only “mitigation of damages” (kárenyhítés).
I think other ministries should get on board. Just think of all the words that could be eliminated–words like corruption and lying on the one hand and democracy and free speech on the other.