Király – The Hungarian “Cool”

Text: Király (királyi)

Transliteration: király → king / királyi → royal (king-ish)

Translation: That’s cool

Context: As a 20-year old Hungarian student, my informant explained to me that this is a phrase commonly used by the younger generations in Hungary to say something is “cool.” Király translates literally to “king,” and the more formal version of the slang, királyi, literally means “king-ish.” For Hungarians, “king-ish” or “king-ly” is their substitute for the American equivalent of “cool.” This is why the younger generations of Hungarians express that they like or think something is “cool,” like a car or a person’s behavior, which were both examples that my informant gave. 

Analysis: The association of “kingly” with cool may have its origins in the monarchy of the Austro-Hungary Empire. The Empire was a great political and economic force during its height in the late 19th century and was one of the major powers in Europe at the time (Spencer). I would speculate that after the Empire’s dissolution following World War I and Hungary’s subsequent economic downturn (Spencer), the phrase királyi emerged in colloquial discourse as a callback to the country’s former imperial greatness. It may have functioned as a form of nostalgia for the powerful monarchy that had once ruled over eastern Europe and was a formidable and revered political force: a reminder of Austro-Hungary’s glory days in strength and prosperity. Királyi may have well been a coping mechanism, a way to imbue the population with strength as they grappled with an unstable economy and an uncertain future. Thus, the association of királyi as a term of admiration became popular in Hungary as they weathered hardship through a strength rooted in the past. Granted, the country is in a much more prosperous position now, so the word must have then (if we were to accept this theory) become so rooted in Hungarian vernacular over time that it was never phased out. 

References for historical research:
Spencer, Michael G., and Peter M. Garber. “The Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire”. IMF Working Papers, vol. 1, no. 66, 1992.