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  • Ilinca Stroe

One word and beyond: “Rost” in 9 Everyday Romanian Phrases

Rost: a Romanian noun which is essentially untranslatable. Although as part of some phrases it can be easily (and correctly) rendered as “point” or “sense” in English, there’s still an almost philosophical depth about it that eludes exhaustive translation. When, for example, you say in Romanian that someone has his or her own rost, it can mean they are established and/or autonomous, they have their own household, their own significance or destiny path in life. Funnily enough, this substantial notion comes from a Latin word, rostrum, which meant “beak”. The semantic leap – from “beak” to “meaning” and “a sense of destiny” – is probably tellingly indicative of the importance of making articulate sounds, hence speaking: one can only speculate that, over time, the beak used to produce sound came to mean the status acquired thanks to wise spoken words.

Be that as it may in the sometimes impenetrable history of semantics, the fact is that rost is nowadays part of some very popular phrases in contemporary Romanian. Let us review the most frequent of them, with their English translations and clarifying examples:

Ÿ a şti pe de rost = to know by heart

Vrei să îţi notezi numărul lui de telefon?” / “Will you write down his phone number?

Nu e nevoie, îl ştiu deja pe de rost.” / “I don’t need to, I already know it by heart.

Ÿ nu are niciun rost = it’s pointless/senseless

Vii cu mine la piaţă?” / “Are you coming with me to the market?

Nu are niciun rost. Poţi să cari şi singur cumpărăturile.” / “There’s no point. You can carry the shopping alone.”

Ÿ (a vorbi/a trăi/a se simţi) fără rost = (to speak/to live/to feel) pointless(ly)

De ce vrei să-ţi iei un câine?” / “Why do you want to get a dog?

Locuind singură, mă simt fără rost.” / “I feel pointless living alone.

Ÿ a şti/aînvăţa rostul/rosturile casei = to know/learn the know-how of the household

Cum se descurcă studentul care stă în gazdă la tine?” / “How’s the student who stays with you getting on?

OK. A învăţat rosturile casei şi ne înţelegem bine.” / “OK. He’s learnt the household know-how and we get on.

Ÿ a face rost de ceva = to get hold of something

Deci putem face pâine în casă?” / “So we can make home-baked bread?

Din păcate, nu. N-am putut face rost de drojdie.” / “Unfortunately, no. I couldn’t get hold of yeast.

Ÿ e rost de ceva = there’s a possibility of something

De ce-o fi venit Nelu aşa, din senin?” / “Why on earth has Nelu showed up unexpectedly?

Ei, a ştiut că-i ziua mea şi şi-a dat seama că-i rost de-un păhărel de vin...” / “Oh well, he knew it was my birthday and he sniffed the chance of getting some wine...

Ÿ a-şi pierde rostul = to lose one’s meaning/point

Mioara n-arată bine deloc.” / “Mioara looks awful.

Da, săraca de ea. De când cu accidentul soţului, parcă şi-a pierdut rostul în viaţă.” / “Yes, poor her. Because of her husband’s accident she seems to have lost her meaning in life.

Ÿ a nu-şi afla rostul = to feel/be restless

Ce se tot plimbă Marcel prin cameră şi nu-şi află rostul?” / “Why is Marcel walking around the room feeling so restless?

Aşteaptă rezultatul de la examen.” / “He’s waiting for his exam result.

Ÿ a lua la rost pe cineva = to rebuke someone, to take them to task

I-ai explicat mamei de ce ai întârziat atâta?” / “Did you explain to mother why you were so late?

N-am apucat. Cum am intrat în casă, m-a luat la rost!” / “I didn’t get to. As soon as I’d stepped in she took me to task!

As for sayings with rost, they tend to be old-fashioned, having perhaps fallen out of use over the past decades. However, they retain some charm, with their rhyming words. One goes, “Gospodina când e bună/Rostul casei merge strună” (“The housewife who’s bright/Sets the household right”) – an obvious (but not unamusing) piece of the antiquated patriarchal mind which made of house management the destiny and goal of a woman’s heart. Another saying points out that “Omul care-i prost n-are niciun rost” (“The man who is brainless is utterly pointless”) – no subtlety there... Finally, a word of wisdom: “Tăcerea este de mai mare folos decât vorba fără rost” (“Silence is more profitable than pointless words”) – meaning perhaps that sensible silence is worth a thousand senseless words. Nice food for the introspective mind.

International House Bucharest, through its Romanian Language Department, runs online and face-to-face Romanian courses and cultural integration workshops for foreigners living in Romania or interested in the country’s culture, language, history. For more information, click here. To enrol, contact

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