Romanian Sarcasm: The Case in Point of 9 Turkish loanwords
Of the three great regions of today’s Romania, two, Wallachia and Moldavia, were almost uninterruptedly under Ottoman rule from the late 14th century to mid-19th century. Politically, the relations with the Sublime Porte were tense, when not hostile, marked by wars, broken agreements, corruption, plotting, conspiracies and court intrigues. However, linguistically the Romanian language was remarkably welcoming of Turkish-origin words, which have been around for long enough to permeate the colloquial language of the friends and family circle, a context in which they are still used in contemporary Romania.
A noteworthy fact: the country’s most brilliant satirist, Ion Luca Caragiale, had a penchant for Ottoman-derived words in Romanian, which he used abundantly in his plays. That’s arguably because those loanwords carry a specific connotation, a peculiar cultural nuance which serves wonderfully well satirical purposes: they carry a spirit of mockery. Even today, when Romanians use Turkish-origin words, you sense they aren’t quite serious about what they are saying, there’s a humorous touch to the message which, consequently, should not be minded, really, or paid much attention to. In short: Turkish loanwords, due to their inherent perceived drollery, undermine the very message they are part of by putting a sarcastic smile on the listener’s face – which may well be indicative of the Romanians’ mockingly subversive attitude to Ottoman rule, in yonder times…
So let us review some of the most commonly used Turkish-origin words in colloquial Romanian today.
1. Chef, coming from Turskish keyif, is a basic notion of everyday wellbeing and leisure: when you “ai chef de ceva”, you feel like doing something; on the contrary, when “nu ai chef” people will insist in vain that you do whatever they’re trying to persuade you to. “Chef” in itself translates as “yen, inclination, desire”; another meaning is “feast, party, blast”, while humorously if someone is “cu chef” it means they’re a mite inebriated.
2. Mofluz, based on müflüz, initially described a man who was broke because someone had defrauded him. Naturally, that man would feel cheated and deceived, hence the modern meaning of this adjective: “discontented, uninterested, blasé”, even “crabby”. If you are “mofluz”, you’re definitely in a bad mood and, to use the previous loanword, you feel gloomily “fără (niciun) chef”.
3. Dandana was one of Caragiale’s favourites, as one of his most famous characters, an unscrupulous hypocritical politician, was called Agamemnon Dandanache. The noun originates from Turkish tantaná, meaning “uproar, fuss, row”. Today, however, it means “problem, trouble, hassle”, but it is perceived as slightly old-fashioned and humorous. An exclamation like “Ce dandana!” may well translate as “What a fine mess!”
4. Belaliu is a funny-sounding adjective based on belâlı. Originally meaning “frail, delicate” with reference to something or someone that requires lots of care and attention, it evolved to “delicate, fussy, moody” and then “inappropriate”, “out of place” and even “crazy, nuts”. Someone who is “cam belaliu” should not really be trusted because they are inapt, unstable and/or unreliable.
5. Ciufut, based on çufit, intially referred to a miser or a stingy man. Given the supposedly usual disposition of such a person, this adjective gradually came to mean “grumpy, sulky, ill-tempered”. There’s a sarcastic note in describing someone as “ciufut”, devoid of any possible empathy. To highlight that note, Romanians often use the diminutive form of the adjective, “ciufuţel”, which implicitly mocks the mood of the person in question.
6. A se furlandisi comes from fırlandı, which used to mean simply “to stand up suddenly”. The figurative meaning then took over, and the verb ended up meaning “to brag” and “to show off”. Obviously critical of that kind of attitude, the word can often appear in a rhetorical question like “Ce te furlandiseşti atâta?”, translatable as “What’s all that bragging about?”
7. Sictir is, let it be made clear from the onset, slang. It is a mild swearword which, if pressed hard by really annoying circumstances, you can mutter at work, say, the preferred way of putting it being “Hai sictir!” (“Get knotted!” / “Go to the deuce!”) Its origin is Turkish siktir, an interjection which succinctly told somebody to beat it. Occasionally, someone is described as having “aşa un sictir pe el” – it means they can’t be bothered. At all.
8. A chiuli is supposedly any liberal schoolboy’s or schoolgirl’s favourite. It originates from külah, a noun which meant “unjustified avoidance of duty or obligations” and is the etymon of Romanian “chiul”. The verb based on it today translates as “to play truant”, “to skip classes” – or, for adults, to call in sick (when you’re perfectly all right)… In short, to evade school- or work-related obligations.
9. Huzur is all about feeling unashamedly good doing nothing but lazing it around – being idle at its best. Its Turkish origin, hūzur, conjures up times of affluence, with lavish feasts, alluring music and harem odalisques telling Arabian tales while leaning on soft, richly embroidered cushions. If someone leads “o viaţă de huzur”, it means they live off the fat of the land. Too bad the expression is sarcastically critical of that situation…
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