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  • Ilinca Stroe

One word at a time: “Cap”

Just like in English, names of body parts generate in Romanian numerous phrases, idioms and even proverbs which are quite common in everyday speech. “Cap” is just such a prolific word. Originating from the Latin noun caput, the word’s main meaning is “head”, while some of its secondary meanings include “mind” and “leader”.

Consequently, most of the phrases based on cap can be grouped around one of those meanings. Let’s review the most frequent of them, with some minimal contexts and their English equivalents or translation.

Phrases where cap means “head”

Ÿ din cap până-n picioare = from head to toe

“Ce-ai păţit, n-ai avut umbrelă?” / “What happened, didn’t you have an umbrella?”

“Nu, şi m-am udat din cap până-n picioare.” / “No, and I’m rain-drenched from head to toe.”

Ÿ nu-ţi bate capul = don’t rack your brains

“Cum or să ajungă aici, dacă metroul e-n grevă?” / “How will they get here, if the tube’s on strike?”

“Nu-ţi bate capul, or să găsească ei o soluţie.” / “Don’t rack your brains, they’ll find a way.”

Ÿ te iei cu mâinile de cap = you throw your hands up

“Ce dezordine e-n biroul ăsta!” / “This office is a total mess!”

“Da, chiar. Îţi vine să te iei cu mâinile de cap.” / “No kidding. You feel like throwing your hands up.”

Ÿ cu noaptea-n cap = at the crack of dawn

“Unde sunt Dan şi Laura?” / “Where are Dan and Laura?”

“În drum spre Oradea, deja. Au plecat cu noaptea-n cap.” / “On their way to Oradea already. They set off at the crack of dawn.”

Ÿ până peste cap = up to my eyes

“Te rog trimite-i un email Danielei.” / “Please send Daniela an email.”

“Nu pot, sunt ocupat până peste cap.” “I can’t. I’m busy up to my ears.”

Ÿ bătut în cap = blockhead

“I-ai explicat exerciţiul ăsta lui Ionuţ?” / “Did you explain this exercise to Ionuţ?”

“Da, de vreo 10 ori, şi tot nu-l pricepe. E bătut în cap!” / “Yes, about 10 times, and he still doesn’t get it. He’s a blockhead!”

Ÿ a da peste cap = to turn upside down

“La ce oră a venit curierul?” / “When did the courier arrive?”

“La 2. A trebuit să-l aşteptăm şi ne-a dat peste cap tot programul.” / “At 2. We had to wait for him and that turned our schedule upside down.”

Ÿ a da cu capul de toţi pereţii = to crack someone’s head against the wall

“E-adevărat că Ticu ţi-a stricat laptopul?” / “Is it true that Ticu broke your laptop?”

“Da! Mi-a venit să-l dau cu capul de toţi pereţii când am văzut!” / “Yes! I felt like cracking his head against the wall when I saw that!”

Ÿ a se ţine de capul cuiva = to be on someone’s back

“De trei ori l-am rugat pe Paul să sune la furnizor, şi tot n-a făcut-o.” / “I’ve asked Paul three times to call the provider, and he still hasn’t done it.”

“Trebuie să te ţii de capul lui, altfel uită.” / “You’ve got to be on his back, otherwise he forgets to do it.”

Ÿ a sta pe capul cuiva = to breathe down someone’s neck

“Tot n-ai terminat cartea?” / “You still haven’t finished the book?”

“Ia nu mai sta pe capul meu şi lasă-mă să citesc în linişte!” / “Why don’t you stop breathing down my neck and let me read in peace!”

Ÿ a-i ieşi din cap = to slip one’s mind

“Ai sunat-o pe mătuşa?” “Have you called auntie?”

“Nu. Mi-a ieşit din cap.” / “No, I haven’t. It slipped my mind.”

Ÿ a-i da de cap = to get your head around something

“Cum merge cu careul de cuvinte încrucişate?” / “How’s the crossword going?”

“Mai am puţin şi-i dau de cap.” / “I’ll get my head around it shortly.”

Phrases where cap means “mind”

Ÿ cu cap = in a mindful way

“E imposibil de rezolvat puzzle-ul ăsta!” / “This puzzle is impossible to fit together!”

“Nu cred. Dar trebuie s-o faci cu cap, dacă vrei să reuşeşti.” / “I don’t think so. But you’ve got to do it mindfully to succeed.”

Ÿ fără cap = mindlessly

“E imposibil de montat vaporul acesta model!” / “It’s impossible to put together this model ship!”

“Da. Instucţiunile sunt scrise fără cap.” / “Yes. The instructions are written mindlessly.”


The sayings generated by cap have to do with the same three meanings, with the word used figuratively to refer to beliefs, judgement and corruption, respectively.

Ÿ “Câte capete, atâtea păreri” translates literally as “as many heads as opinions” and it means that whenever there’s a group of individuals, there’s a mix of various opinions. In other words, every person comes with their distinct point of view, and so the more people there are, the greater the diversity of perspectives.

Ÿ “Cap ai, minte ce-ţi mai trebuie?” is a rhetorical question which points out the difference between cap as a body part and cap as mind or the ability to judge and make sensible decisions. Translatable as “you’ve got a head, what do you need a mind for?”, the sarcastic saying means that head and mind should go together into good thinking. “Use your head” would be a matching English equivalent.

Ÿ “Peştele de la cap se împute” can be closely translated as “the fish starts rotting from its head”. It applies not to fish, but to leaders and their groups of followers. It means that once the leader is corrupt, wrong or goes astray, those who follow him/her, be them a group of fans or a whole nation headed by a monarch, will be in the wrong, too. In short, once the head gets corrupt, the rest of the people led by him/her will also get corrupt.

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