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A Peek Outside the Realm of Language – Romanian Interjections

By Laura Bucur

Definitely one of the most untranslatable and inflexible parts of speech, interjections convey a wide variety of spontaneous emotions, feelings, physical or mental states, mostly in verbal communication. Often supported by non- and para-verbal manifestations (face expression, gestures, tone of voice), the possibility to integrate them into a proposition/phrase is actually very limited and they can function on their own to transmit meaning. Savage independent little ones they are! (Betcha read that in Yoda voice).

So why don’t you grab some tea (Spoiler alert: there is a slight chance it’ll turn into wine + headache by the time you finish reading this piece, especially if you try to pronounce all the stuff below) and let’s see how Romanians express various categories of meaning via interjections.

One of the simplest way to indicate that an occurrence happened out of the blue or someone said or did something inappropriate or surprising, were you a Romanian, is to say Hodoronc-tronc /hodo’ronk – ‘tronk/. The two words composing this interjection can be also used separately, but their combination is more powerful, as it describes the sounds produced by a voluminous mass falling on a steep slope full of rocks. Or large furniture accidentally falling down some stairs. From a usage viewpoint, this expression is used more often in written pieces than in current spoken language and it is part of many classical pieces of Romanian literature, as it carries a vibe of forgotten times when life was mainly rural, roads were not paved and people moved around in horse carts to take barrels of wine from here to there.

E.g. So there I am, politely explaining to the black helmet dude, I ain’t joining his side when, hodoronc-tronc, he goes “No, I am your father”.

They say it was first used by Archimedes in the bathroom – we’d advise differently, but anyway the interjection bâldâbâc /bɨldɨ’bɨk/ is uttered or written to indicate something rather heavy has suddenly fallen into a liquid. So, we wouldn’t use it for ice thrown in a glass, for example. It also has some very expressive sisters and brothers, such as știobâlc /∫tio’bɨlk/ or huștiuluc/ hʊ∫t∫ʊ’lʊk/, depending on which region of Romania you are in. These are all onomatopoeias pointing to an action, however, unlike in English, they were not able to generate verbs in the current language (such as ‘plop’, ‘splash’, ‘snap’), probably due to their length and phonetic nature (Romanian verb conjugation with these would sound like Wookie). The degree of presence of these words in written Romanian is quite high, but, due to the quite oldfangled sound, they are seldom used nowadays in colloquial manifestations.

E.g. Unless she’d taken that high leap backwards, lightsabre fiercely clutched in hand, he’d have pushed her bâldâbâc! into the ocean.

With a very rich area of connotations in such a short word, fâs /’fɨs/, based on the sound made by a gas when coming out with pressure via a narrow orifice (yes, it also encompasses bodily manifestations…), expresses the fact that a piece of information is totally not interesting, or it completely dismisses what the interlocutor said – the overall connotation of this particle could be probably summarized by a “rolling eyes” emoticon. Obviously, this makes it very suitable for wide usage in current slang and informal speech.

E.g. He just stared at me explaining fear was the path to some obscure side while I was thinking “Fâs, been there already!”
E.g. When he told me he found my lack of faith disturbing, I went like “Fâs, how much did your clairvoyance help you, mate?”

Whenever someone – especially someone older – is staggering or limping Romanians say they are walking șontâc-șontâc /’∫ontɨk-‘∫ontɨk / (does not apply to pub crawling, though). Etymologically, it is rooted in the Hungarian sántika. This interjection is actively used in all forms of the Romanian language: journalists seem to prefer it when writing articles on how fast the highways are built, netizens apply it when they comment on the speed of having vaccines available and so on.
E.g. The little green being, though you’d have expected it to jump like a frog, took three steps șontâc-șontâc toward the young boy.

Interjections – in any language, not only in Romanian – are carriers of a wide array of meanings, as they are categorized as spontaneous and also encompassing intonation and non-verbal elements which help the listener to decipher the message. Imagine how my face contorted, my eyes rolled and my voice rose and sunk while writing this article! Did it help?

…. Aargh, how’s that tea doing by now? Mine has turned into a dry white wine, but shh!… let’s keep this between you and me!

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