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Hey, Brussels: Learn Hungarian! by Mátyás Kohán

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Hey, Brussels: Learn Hungarian!

Woke High German requires attaching an asterisk and the feminine ending of a word to the masculine noun, leading to orthographic monstrosities like Verkäufer*in, Bürgermeister*innen, or even Studierende*r.

Photo: Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0.

Back when I was a ‘greenhorn’ in the noble business of journalism—in the times before the Great Lockdown—someone on my paper’s editorial team thought to send me to Strasbourg for a plenary session of the European Parliament. 

Strasbourg, as I eventually learned, is a city of many miraculous beings—but the most miraculous of them all was a German press officer who I’ll call Isabel. She worked in the office of German MEP Nico Semsrott, member of Die Partei, a joke or satirical party.

Semsrott gave me an interview, which I sent back to Isabel for review and approval. She had no objections: not a word of her boss’s fierce criticism of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was cut (even though her boss believed—and told me—that such content would never make it into my paper, which is supposedly Orbán’s propaganda outlet). The only comment she made was: “Ich habe ein paar Wörter gegendet, siehe Anhang”—in English, “I gendered some words, find attached.”

For the uninitiated, ‘gendering’ is a new phenomenon in Woke High German. It means attaching a horribly out-of-place asterisk and the feminine ending of a word to the masculine noun, which, in regular High German, has for several hundred years represented both genders. Woke High German leads to orthographic monstrosities like Verkäufer*in, Bürgermeister*innen, or even Studierende*r.

Isabel’s move was obviously Semsrott’s idea, since he has a reputation as a stand-up comic who instrumentalizes satire to further Green politics. He probably thought it was a great way to nip any pro-Orbán propaganda in the bud: the Gender Star of Enlightened Germans decorating an Orbán-praising pamphlet would certainly remind everyone who is really the boss in European politics!

Isabel’s efforts, however noble they may have been, were all in vain: there is no gender in Hungarian.

Of course, being a polite fellow, I wrote back promptly, saying: “Thanks, so nice of you—but both genders are included in Hungarian!” I simultaneously also downed a shot of Bulbash (a Belarusian vodka to die for!) for the greater glory of the new generation of European leaders—the ones who like to lecture Hungarians on gender without even knowing whether their backwater lingo has one or not. Zum Wohle, Isabel. Being a media outlet and not a propaganda unit, we ran the interview, of course.

And now, as I’m reading the European Commission’s guidelines on inclusive language, which were freshly suspended because of a media outcry, that old laughter is returning. Because to us, the lucky Uralic people, the Holy Creator who pieced our language together gave the only lesson in gender studies any sane man will ever need. The best response to gender insanity is—weirdly enough—to have none at all.

Neither couches nor garages, for example, need genders to lead healthy lives. The most important feature of a soldier, a preacher, or a teacher is, respectively, the ability to fight, preach, or teach. Each person’s gender identity is of exactly zero importance. There is, therefore, no reason to call these people soldiermen, preacheresses, or teacherettes. They are fine just being soldiers, preachers, and teachers.

Any language that embarks on the long and arduous path of gendering gets dragged into hell and never returns. Look at the Russians, for example: for them, ispanets is a Spanishman but ispanka is the Spanish flu. Vengr is a Hungarian, vengerka is a breed of plums. Bolgarin is a Bulgarian, bolgarka is a tool. Indeyets is an Indian, but indeyka is bird. Turok is a Turk, but turka is a coffee pot. Finn is a Finn, yet a finka is a dagger. They respect a koreyets as a Korean, but they eat koreyka, as it can’t help being a cut of meat. 

We haven’t even considered the most ridiculous school of lexical borrowing ever known to man: the Russians borrow sportsman, a word long banished from English on account of its ‘toxic masculinity.’ When the Russians realized they couldn’t possibly call their female athletes sportsmen, they stitched it together with a ‘womanizing suffix .’ Their Alyonas, Olgas, and Irinas are now sportsmenka—quite literally, sportsmenwomen. Never will Russian ever emerge from the labyrinth of genders, no matter how many new rules its liberal reformers come up with.

I am, in turn, quite proud to speak the nimble Hungarian language rather than those other languages that have bowed down and been crushed under the weight of gendering . This is why we—along with the Finns and Estonians—have the audacity to laugh in the face of the gender lobby. Our fathers Árpád, Väinämöinen, and Taara have demonstrated that the best way to get out of the gender labyrinth is to not get lost in it in the first place. In short, language needs politics like racing tires need potholes. 

So, dear Germans, Swedes, Belgians, Dutch, and French friends: we Hungarians are standing by to offer you a helping hand. When in the grip of gender anxiety, don’t dole out crazed political declarations. Instead, learn Hungarian! Therein you will find a cadre of genderless nouns, a pronoun system that—since it consists of only one gender-neutral variant—has never heard of either genders or any kind of preference, and professional titles that can evade any wave that feminists could ever launch. All of this could be yours—if only you would step onto the right linguistic path.

Inclusive speech is baloney. It is mendacity. It is pretence. A true European bureaucrat believes not only in words but also in actions. It is only right then that he switch at long last to a truly gender-inclusive language: Hungarian. This—and only this—would be a proper measure of one’s commitment to inclusiveness.

Mátyás Kohán is a foreign policy writer for the Hungarian weekly Mandiner. He has written extensively on the U.S., Russia, Germany, and Italy and appears regularly on national television.

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