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  • Ilinca Stroe

Romanian Verbal Mannerisms - Why Do We Say "Dacă e"?

This jocular yet pragmatic series of posts focuses on verbal mannerisms in contemporary Romanian to give you a bit of a picture of where (on earth) they might come from, why they have come to be popular with Romanians today, and how exactly they might come in handy to you, too, at some point of your Romanian experience.

While scrutinising “hai, pa!” (Part I) and “nu-mi spune!...” (Part II), we were able to trace their Latin-hearted ancestry down to South American soap operas and/or Iberian Spanish contemporary usage. Well, our idiomatic star today is locally bred, locally spread and 100% autochthonous: it’s “dacă e…” Dots necessarily included.

This little item popped up in the early 2000s in colloquial spoken Romanian and has flourished steadily ever since, tiptoeing with determination into the territory of neutral (therefore also professional) Romanian. But let us make no mistake: just as it is concise and economical in getting across a tactful (or else ambiguous) message along the lines of “it’s not (quite) the case” (to do something), it is grammatically outrageous and metaphysically disturbing.

Here’s why: presumably agreeing that “to be” is the most important, crucial, vital verb in any language, this mannerism completely overthrows the status of “to be”. The verb is just not left hanging, in Romanian - it ought not to be (left hanging). Instead, it should normally be followed by some sort of nume predicativ, be it a noun or adjective. Normally, we say “dacă e cazul” (“if that’s the case”) or “dacă e nevoie” (“if it’s necessary”). We say “dacă e obosit” (“if he’s tired”) or “dacă e liberă” (“if she’s free”). But these:

“Să-i spunem şefului?”

“Îi putem spune, dacă e…”

“Avem destulă apă?”

“Mai cumpărăm, dacă e…”

“Aş vrea să vorbesc cu Ioana.”

“Nu-i aici, momentan. Te sună ea mai târziu, dacă e…”

These are quantum linguistics! Elliptic rhetoric and minimalist diplomacy. And we say that, too. To mean we’re non-committal, still considering, temporarily irresolute or indecisive, we do use “dacă e…”, usually at the end of a longer sentence meant to respond to a request or invitation. Elusive? For sure. Sneaky? Sometimes. But clearly a rather efficient way of signalling you’re not sure, you’re not very interested, or you simply want to be left alone, for now.

And so if you are… (a bit under the weather) or if it is… (too hot outside), and yet your workmates ask you to join them for a barbeque party, just say: “A, mulţumesc frumos pentru invitaţie! O să vin, dacă e…” And you can quite acceptably not. (Not show. Show up. They will. Know it.)

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