We have already learned how to say various things in Romanian – from I love you to Merry Christmas – but what about some phrases and expressions that are unique to the Romanian language?

I am sure this is going to be a fun read. It’s going to be fun to write too, since many of these unique Romanian expressions are really difficult to translate and make no sense in English. But each language has its own share of such expressions and it proves just how creative people can get.

So today we’re going to talk about some creativity and check out a bunch of Romanian expressions that sound really funny when translated in English and make little sense unless you really know what you’re talking about. So let’s get started with a new Romanian lesson for things you never thought you’d need in your life!

1. Esti beton = You are concrete!
This might not sound like it, but when something or somebody is “concrete,” it means that it’s really good. So a very cool guy or girl is “concrete,” a song can be “concrete” and even a food that’s concrete is actually good – and not not bad.

2. Esti varza = You are a cabbage
The total opposite of “concrete”. Being a cabbage is really bad. Like really, really bad. This usually goes just for people though – so a food can’t be “cabbage”. But a person can – either when they don’t know anything about a topic, or when they feel like crap. For example, when you get really drunk, you can say “I’m cabbage”. Now you know!

3. Faci din tantar, armasar = Turning a mosquito into a stallion
Do you have a friend that keeps exaggerating everything? Well, it means that they’re trying to turn a mosquito into a stallion. Seems impossible, but the Romanians are experts at doing so!

4. Ca baba cu mitraliera = Like the old lady with the machine gun
Can you picture this image? An old lady sporting a machine gun? It sure doesn’t sound like a good fit and this is exactly when you can use this expression: when something doesn’t fit, you can say that it’s as fit as handing a machine gun to an old lady.

5. Te inneci ca tiganul la mal = You drown like the gyspy near the shore
I’m not sure where this expression is coming from, but it will surely be used less and less because of its lack of political correctness. But until then, Romanians still say it and people still drown near the shore. This expression is used when you’re just about to complete something, but you fail in the last minute.

6. Iti pica fisa = Your coin drops
This is actually a good thing. It means that you finally have a breakthrough or understand something. Just like those machines where you used to put a coin in and you got something nice in return. So having your coin drop is like having that “Eureka!” moment after a long wait.

7. Iti sare mustarul = Your mustard jumps
Dropping coins are good, jumping mustard – not so much. When this happens, it means that you get really angry. So try not to make anybody have their mustard jumping, it’s not nice!

8. Frectie la piciorul de lemn = Rubbing the wooden leg
Just like the expression itself sounds, rubbing somebody’s wooden leg is absolutely pointless. So whenever you’re doing something that makes no sense or can’t help your situation in any way, it’s like rubbing a wooden leg.

9. Iti iei inima in dinti = You take your heart into your teeth
There are other more interesting ways to describe somebody getting courageous enough to do something, but Romanians take their hearts into their teeth. It’s not pleasant, you don’t really enjoy doing it, but it has to be done. So squeeze tight and just do it!

10. Se simte cu musca pe caciula = You feel the fly on your cap
Whenever that fly lands on your head, it’s not a good thing. It means you did something wrong. You don’t really admit it and people might not know that you did that horrible thing, but you do know. And that fly weighs a ton. So it’s not good to feel the fly on your head – instead, just admit that you did something wrong before somebody’s mustard jumps!

11. La pastele cailor = The horses’ Easter
In English, you say “When pigs fly”. In Romanian, for the same thing, you use “Pastele cailor”. Might sound interesting, but it will never happen. There’s no such thing as the horses’ Easter!

12. Esti dus cu pluta = You’re gone with the raft
Going rafting might sound like fun, but the truth is that it’s not good to be gone with the raft. This means you’re a little bit crazy.

13. Freci menta = You are rubbing a mint leaf
There are few things as pointless as rubbing a mint leaf. It’s like doing nothing – and exactly this is what the expression means. When you’re just doing nothing – or doing something completely useless (like browsing Facebook), you can say that you’re rubbing a mint leaf.

14. Ai un morcov in fund = You have a carrot in your ass
This doesn’t sound good and in this case, it really is as it sounds. Having a carrot up your ass is bad: it means that you are guilty of doing something really bad or expect something really bad to happen. It’s students who have the carrot usually, right before exams or important interviews. You can go as far as saying to somebody who clearly has a carrot in their ass something like: “Run! There’s a bunny coming!” and they’ll know what you’re talking about.

15. Dai cu mucii-n fasole = You throw the buggers into the beans
Remember spending all the time boiling the beans and preparing a delicious meal only to throw your buggers in at the end. It’s not good and it means that you just blew it. Don’t eat the beans!

16. Plimba ursul! = Walk the bear!
When you want to tell somebody to eff off, you tell them to go walk the bear. Just like that!

17. Ai pitici pe creier = You have dwarves on your brain
Just like going with the raft, having dwarves on your brain isn’t really good. You’re not necessarily crazy if you get them – you might just have an obsession, but it’s definitely not a good thing to have. I mean… a dwarf might be OK, but more? That’s a definite NO-NO!

18. Te imbeti cu apa rece = You get drunk with cold water
You might try to fool yourself that you can do it – get drunk drinking cold water, but it’s not going to happen! So whenever you’re trying to do this – or somebody else is – it means that they’re just lying to themselves. And it’s usually friends who have to tell you that you’re doing it. And hopefully stop doing it!

19. Te scoate din pepeni = It pulls you out of your watermelons
When somebody pulls you out of your watermelons, things are really bad. It’s even worse than having your mustard jump! That’s like the ultimate thing in terms of annoyance. So try to never drive somebody as crazy as it is when you pull them out of their watermelons!

20. Iti vinde gogosi = It’s selling you donuts
This one was modified over the years and as it is, it doesn’t really make sense in Romanian either. Because if somebody tries to sell you donuts, they’re actually trying to tell you lies or fool you in a way or another.

But why donuts? Well, in a region of Romania, there is some fried dough that’s called “Minciunele” – which translates as “little lies”. So the original expression was that somebody is trying to sell you minciunele… but since “gogosi” is shorter, it turned into that over the years. Many don’t even know where it has all started, but everybody knows that selling donuts means you’re lying.

I am sure that there are even more such expressions in the Romanian language – expressions that make little sense if you are to translate them in English. But we’ll have to do with these today, it’s probably enough to start with!

10 COMMENTS

  1. Haha! This gave me a laugh. There are some similar sayings such as the coin dropped to mean Eureka moment or something finally dawning on you. I am going to take note of this, but now with me trying to learn Spanish, I don’t want to get confused.

    • Yes, these expressions are a bit too advanced for somebody looking to learn the language. I’ve started taking some Spanish “classes” on Duolingo on my phone… but I’m a loooooong way from being able to actually speak it. But even a bit is better than nothing.

  2. I always find these kinds of sayings fascinating. I have a favorite that you haven’t listed. It’s “Te cauta moartea pea casa si…” meaning “‘Death’s looking for you at home and’ you’re doing some ridiculous thing.” My understanding of this is that it’s scolding an older person for foolish, age inappropriate behavior. For instance, just prior to retiring and moving to Romania, I used to enjoy riding my bright yellow, stupidly fast sport bike on our twisty mountain roads. My wife would say, “Death’s looking for you at home and you’re speeding all over on that damn motorcycle!” Needless to say, I won’t be owning a motorcycle anytime soon in Romania – and it’s probably a good idea that I don’t! 🙂

  3. Hey Calin,
    I got a big laugh over these!
    Are most of these expressions long-standing, or are they more recent–like emojis?
    Maybe a new Romanian expression will have to deal with something along the line of “don’t leave
    Romania for year upon year without anyone’s ear…, lest when you return to your
    host, it’ll be as a ghost.
    BTW, “old ladies with machine guns,” is a real reality here in the USA!
    I am curious about guns in Romania. Do people use them for target practice
    or for hunting? Are there gun clubs? Are there strict regulations? In other words,
    walking around with guns–loaded or unloaded is not allowed. Old ladies, young ladies,
    old men, young men, et al, aren’t walking around with AR15s–right?
    Did family Romanian get over the illnesses? I had a flu shot, but still managed to get
    the flu anyway, ha, ha. (Maybe another saying, needed?)
    Thanks for the big laugh!!!
    ~Teil

    • Happy to hear that you enjoyed it, Teil! It is very uncommon for people to own guns here – there are some hunters, for sure, but the regulations are very strict and most people don’t own a gun – I have never fired a real gun in my life, for example, and neither did most of the people I know 🙂

      We got over the illness, it was really bad though. Hopefully it was the last one for a long time, shots or not shots. That’s the problem with the flu shot – unless you manage to get the right strain, you still risk having it even after a shot. But at least you know you did your best to prevent it.

      • https://www.romania-insider.com/romania-referendum-family-may/
        Calin:
        Seems like a big step backward. This saying comes to mind…
        “Cut off your nose to spite your face.”
        I’m sure there’s something similar in Romanian
        Hopefully this will be rubbished. I mean why change the constitution
        just to make life more difficult for people who want to marry?
        (I bet Trump would approve this change–which is enough to make anyone
        know it’s just WRONG to make this change.)
        Sorry for this rant–especially, as I am not a Romanian.
        ~Teil

        • Indeed. There have been similar referendums in the past, promoting the “traditional family”. Unfortunately, many of the Romanians still live in villages and are not really open minded (or educated), so this will most likely pass… but hopefully, just like before, it won’t actually be turned into a law.

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