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  • Ilinca Stroe

Romanian Verbal Mannerisms - Why Do We Say “Nu e ca şi cum…”?

This light-hearted yet quite pragmatic series of posts focuses on verbal mannerisms in contemporary Romanian to give you a hint of where they might come from, a bit of an insight into the cultural implications they might carry, and an idea as to when you might want to use them, in your Romanian-speaking experience.

Having tackled the nice and neat, Latin-inspired making of “hai, pa!” (Part I) and “nu-mi spune!...” (Part II), having tiptoed among some of the mysteries of elliptical “dacă e…” (Part III), it’s now time to put on and fasten some electrode headgear, for what’s coming up could shatter any gracious attempt at logical reasoning: it’s “nu e ca şi cum” - a loan phrase which a Romanian blogging linguist pinned as “a blooming recent horror” as early as 2010. No wonder. Brace up and follow closely:

Eva: “Ţi-a respins apelul?”

Ava: “Da, măi. Şi nu e ca şi cum l-aş suna de 30 de ori pe zi!...”

That he rejected her call, we get. That she’s frustrated about it, ditto. What’s not so clear is, did he reject her call because she phoned 30 times? Does she call 30 times a day, every day? Would she (like to)?

The use of condiţional-optativ (“aş suna”) may suggest Ava expresses a wish here. Of course, we also use condiţional-optativ to talk about hypothetical or unreal situations. So she may not have called 30 times a day, really. But then again we use ca şi cum (“as if”) exactly for the same reason, i.e. to signal “unreal”. So where does that leave the condiţional-optativ? If it’s doubly hypothesised, i.e. qualified twice (“ca şi cum ar fi condiţional-optativ”), doesn’t that make it non-hypothetical, therefore real? Adding to that the negation (“nu e ca şi cum ar fi condiţional-optativ”)… well, is it as if? Is it as if not? Is it not as if?

Electrode headgear off, now. And let’s go back to the beginnings of this calque. Once upon a time, there was a mood in English called “subjunctive”. Perhaps it was called a “mood” because it was fanciful: instead of referring to facts, it imagined things. In time, English grammarians changed the name of subjunctive to “unreal past”, which is how current coursebooks teach it. So that if we hear, “Eva’s looking at Ava as if she was confused”, we get it: she is not really confused. It’s just past tense for unreal states or situations.

Colloquial contemporary English, however, decided to do away with good old subjunctive and “unreal past”, and replace them with Present tense, instead. Now, Present is an indicative mood describing facts, not fancies, so in order to still signal “unreal” English inserted “not” next to “as if”, in the phrase. “It’s not as if Eva is confused” means, just as above, that she’s not. Logical reasoning is, though. Because the “unreal” marker shifted from the state/situation, where it belonged (it was the state/situation that was not real), to the conjunction expressing non-reality (“as if”). Speakers thus signal that the non-reality (that Eva might be confused) is not real - “not as if”. Consequently, indicative Present isn’t fact-indicative anymore (for Eva is not confused), when preceded by “not as if”. That’s why “It’s not as if Eva is confused”. A “tricky chunk”, no doubt.

Whether or not the guardians of English will allow this logic-twisting phrase to settle in standard English, rash Romanian translations of English-language sitcoms have obviously already propelled its clone right to the heart of contemporary Romanian. Our recommendation? Use it if you enjoy a bit of trendy anglicising brain teasing, why not? Before you do it, though, don’t miss out on this other structure in place in Romanian and other Romance languages:

Eva: “Ţi-a respins apelul?”

Ava: “Da, măi. Şi nu e că îl sun de 30 de ori pe zi!...”

Instead of “nu e ca şi cum” + condiţional-optativ, just try using “nu e că + indicative Present”. It best negates the fact, best signals it’s not real: Ava does not call him 30 times a day, and harbours no hypothetical, real or otherwise ambiguous condiţional-optativ wish to do so, crystal clear. “Nu e că + indicative Present” gets across the exact same meaning, only a lot less illogically.

If you’ve made it through all that (il)logical meandering right up to this last line, congrats! It was convoluted: dar nu e că nu te-am averizat!... :)

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