Romanian Moods: The Legacy of the Phanar in 8 Colloquial Words
Out of the quarter of Phanar in old Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) came intricate decision-making chains tipping the fate of the Ottoman Empire, and just over a century of rule which left a distinctive imprint on the ethos, psyche and lifestyle of the Romanians.
The quarter accommodated rich Greek families whose heads were usually dragomans (translators and interpreters) that worked closely with ambassadors of all the major powers and, therefore, pulled quite a few strings at the Ottoman Porte. Partly because of their influence, partly because the Porte was sick and tired of local princes rebelling all the time in the Romanian principalities, the Phanariotes were assigned leading positions between 1711 and 1821 in the governing of those vassal states.
While some Phanariot princes had a civilising influence (for example, abolishing serfdom or organising the civil service), others went down in history as eccentric rulers who mixed politics and personal business, and indulged in extravagant lifestyles at the expense of the tax payer. Indeed, the linguistic legacy of that age reflects quite accurately its spirit: the successive short-termed reigns, the fragmented, inconsistent social projects, and a record of arbitrary, accidental achievements. These words of Neo-Greek origin can be circumscribed to the area of moods, attitudes and dispositions, and today they are all used in the family environment or with close friends.
1. Ţâfnos. This adjective comes from ţâfnă, a noun originating in τσίφνα. Initially, it referred to a disease of hens consisting of a cartilaginous excrescence on the tip of the tongue or under it. The semantic leap turned ţâfnă into ill humour. Someone who is ţâfnos is very irritable and can go up the wall at the faintest stimulus. Interestingly, the excrescence on the tongue in the original meaning seems to have grown into an irrepressible impulse to pour your anger out verbally on whoever happens to be nearby.
2. A se fandosi is a reflexive verb based on φανδάζομε and it means to act artificially or pretentiously, to fake being sensitive or emotional, to put on airs or even put on an act. For instance, someone who plays shy at helping themselves to a delicious cake because it is fattening can be told, “Nu te mai fandosi atâta! Ia o bucată şi savureaz-o!” (“Stop acting so guarded! Just take a piece and enjoy it!”)
3. Pandalii is a plural noun originating in pantolmia, which apparently meant “mad courage”. In contemporary Romanian, it is commonly used in the colloquial expression “l-au apucat pandaliile”, to describe someone who is seized by fury and perhaps raging uncontrollably. The phrase does have a humorous tint, expressing pretense surprise or protestation at the other’s tantrum.
4. Sastisit comes from sástisa and is an adjective which captures a kind of boredom. Although its older meaning was “confused”, “bewildered”, it currently refers to a state of mind not far from the archaic English “spleen”. If you are “sastisit”, you feel fed up without having a specific reason for it, bored and melancholy without a cause, as it were. And, of course, you feel like doing nothing in particular, apart from lazing around.
5. Farafastâc stemmed from φαραφάς, which apparently meant “humbug”. Originally, the word referred to some fancy but unnecessary (and possibly ridiculous) decoration or embellishment, but also a whim. Today it’s mainly used in the plural and in a negative expression: “fără (alte) farafastâcuri”, which could be reasonably rendered as “no frills”.
6. A bibili, a verb which carries the stress on its last syllable, comes from bibíla, a specific kind of stitch used for sewing collars and sleeves. It has to do with painstakingly, meticulously doing something to finish or complete it to perfection. And it can express impatience in certain contexts: “Ce tot biblieşti tortul ăla? Doar nu e operă de artă!” (“Why do you keep on trimming that birthday cake? It’s not a work of art!”
7. Hachiţos, while of unknown origin, according to the dictionary, stands a good chance to belong to the same Neo-Greek-root group of words, as its suffix, –os, accompanies many other Greek-origin adjectives. It is based on hachiţă, a noun translatable as “whim” or “moodiness”, and someone who is hachiţos can hardly ever be pleased, is moody and capricious, even fussy or finicky.
8. A se fâstâci has had a chromatic route: coming from φιστίϰι (pistachio, which is fistic in Romanian), it went through turning greenish yellow, the colour of the said nut, only to end up meaning “to lose your bearings”, not to be able to keep your head on anymore, or even “to feel out of your depth”. An example: “La examen, era atât de emoţionată, încât s-a fâstâcit şi n-a mai ştiut ce să răspundă” (“At the exam, she was so nervous that she lost her bearings and didn’t know what to answer”).
While some of these words trigger smiles just because of their cultural connotations (the Phanariote rule was taken lightly in the Romanian principalities, precisely because of the rulers’ whimsical demeanour), others, when used by non-native Romanian speakers, are very likely to draw smiles of genuine appreciation. As in any language, colloquial words are proof of an advanced-level mastery of that language.
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