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  • Ilinca Stroe

One word at a time: „Simţ”

How many senses are there? Realists would say that five, of course: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Believers in the paranormal maintain that there’s a sixth and even a seventh sense. And how about, practical people might ask, common sense or the sense of humour?

Natural and supernatural considerations aside, at the core of such debates lies a word which is as versatile in English as it is in Romanian: sense – in Romanian, simţ. Depending on the noun or adjective it combines with, simţ, just like sense, evokes fine notions which pertain to mental faculties but also good manners, and can sometimes be approximated by resorting to concepts like capacity or intuition.

Let’s browse through the repertoire of simţ and discover the meaning of several noun compounds based on it, in a few examples. First, there’s bun-simţ, which is partly similar to English “common sense”, but has to do less with good reasoning or being sensible, and more with a certain kind of behaviour: somebody who hasn’t got bun-simţ may be arrogant, ill-mannered or cheeky, as they tend to claim or ask for more than they deserve. On the contrary, someone who has got bun simţ is decent, modest and with a proportionate understanding of what they’re entitled to. For instance:

“Fosta soţie a lui Victor vrea custodia copiilor, plus apartamentul, maşina, şi casa de vacanţă!” / “Victor’s ex-wife wants custody of the children, as well as their flat, car and summer house!”

“Şi-a pierdut orice urmă de bun simţ.” / “She has lost all trace of common sense.”

Secondly, simţ combines with a number of adjectives to obtain compound nouns which reflect specific abilities or qualities. Thus, someone who has got simţ moral (a sense of morality) is ethical, can tell right from wrong, does the right thing and reacts against immoral behaviour or action. Somebody who has got simţ practic is usually down-to-earth, able to find practical solutions to problems and tending to take a realistic approach to things – in short, the opposite of dreamers. As for someone gifted with simţ estetic, see this example:

“Claudiu a decorat masa de Crăciun cu căţeluşi de plastic mov şi maro.” / “Claudiu decorated the Christmas dinner table with brown and mauve plastic little dogs.”

“N-are deloc simţ estetic.” / “He hasn’t got any aesthetic sense.”

Finally, a category of noun compounds with simţul (the definite article is compulsory) and another noun refers

to personal qualities or traits reflecting certain mental abilities or more abstract notions. Thus, someone having simţul măsurii (a sense of proportion) is unlikely to make disproportionate claims and can approximate correctly not just, literally, numbers or quantities, but also moral limits - the notion is closely related to bun-simţ. Someone who lacks simţul umorului will miss jokes, is unable to crack a good one and remains straight-faced for lack of sense of humour. Similarly, somebody who lacks simţul orientării (a sense of direction) will be unable to find their way independently around a new area without a local guide or very detailed directions. Simţul datoriei, just as simţul răspunderii/responsabilităţii, has to do with one’s sense of duty and how responsible or accountable they feel about whatever they have to do. And having simţul ridicolului prevents you from making a fool of yourself in tricky situations, as in this example:

“Nu ştiu de ce s-a înscris Andrei la concursul de karaoke, că n-are voce deloc; n-a cântat nici 10 secunde, şi toată sala era pe jos de râs!...” / “I wonder why Andrei signed up for the karaoke contest, as he isn’t musical at all; he barely sang for 10 seconds, and the audience was rolling over the floor with laughter!...”

“Săracul. Îi lipseşte cu totul simţul ridicolului.” / “Poor him. He totally lacks any sense of ridicule.”

Using noun compounds with simţ gives your Romanian an upper-level lustre while it widens your vocabulary range to the point of allowing you to describe finer shades of personality or behaviour, and express subtler social observations.

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