Linguistic ruminations on the connection between dead relatives and how "the people" aren't worth two shits; and other urban subcultural considerations

February 13, 2020 by Lucian Mogosanu

I don't usually do long titles, but when I do, I place them in context like so:

The Rahovian: As you exit Brâncoveanu1, after going up the first set of stairs, the one in the middle; on a billboard: "nu te mai preocupa, totul va fi bine".
The Rahovian: Then right above it: "nu te mai preocupa, ești vai de morții tăi".

The Rahovian: Now... how do you translate "ești vai de morții tăi" in English?
The Nomadian: Ohgod. "Your dead take pity on you".
The Rahovian: The English speaker won't get the essence from that though.

The Rahovian: That sentence sounds mega-heavy to me.

"Heavy" not as in "hard to translate", no, which it definitely is, by the way. Only it's not heavy because the words themselves are hard to translate, which they definitely aren't, as we're going to show right here. No, it's heavy because there's a whole shitload of meaning behind it -- meaning which goes deep, probably much deeper than I'll be able to penetrate in this modest blog article. This won't stop me from trying though, so let's proceed, beginning with the first, easy part, "nu te mai preocupa".

Thusly: "nu" is the negative "no"; "te" is the second person reflexive pronoun, something along the lines of "yourself", but let's leave this syntactic construction for the next sentence; "mai" is an adverb whose meaning goes along the lines of "more", "anymore" and so on; and finally, "preocupa" is very similar to the English "preoccupy" or "concern". Only in Romanian "is preoccupied with" translates to "se preocupă cu", i.e. reflexive, not "este preocupat cu" (accusative), though "este preocupat de" is somewhat common. Anyway, this "concerning oneself" is lacking an object, which clearly denotes not mere concern, but outright worry, perhaps anxiety too. Normally in Romanian you'd say "nu-ți mai face griji", where "grijă" means either "care" or "concern"/"worry".

Thus the translation of this first piece is "don't worry (so much)" -- or even better, "stop worrying (so much)".

Next, "totul va fi bine" means literally "everything will be alright", which itself needs some context: in the last two years some retarded dreamer kids filled the Bucharestian walls with this shitty empty phrase uttered in the form of a pseudo-graffiti that I haven't photographed not because I didn't have the inspiration, but because it's annoying noise polluting the streets. Seriously, the kids in question thought they'd start some sort of subcultural phenomenon with this. There's for example a variation going along the lines of "don't worry, you're beautiful today", which apparently was supposed to be some feminist statement, except it's only relevant to "the people" in question... which brings us to the second part of our series of ruminations.

"Ești vai de morții tăi" is... well, brace yourself, reader: "ești" is "(you) are"; "vai" is an interjection indicating that things are in a very bad state. The phrase is usually formulated as "vai de tine", i.e. "poor you", only in this case "tine" (you) is replaced with "morții tăi" (your dead ones), which is used to denote that things are way worse than very bad. You still following me on that side of the internets?

There's another very common (and probably very old) Romanian curse, "du-te pe pustii", meaning literally "(you) go to the wastelands", or no-man's-land, or whatever, i.e. a more plastic way of saying "get the fuck out of here already". This evolved into, say "du-te-n pizda mă-tii" ("straight back into your old woman's cunt with you"), and (then?) into "du-te-n morții mă-tii" (same, except with dead relatives instead of cunt). Then there's the variations, "futu-ți morții mă-tii", i.e. fuck your mother's dead relatives and "du-te-n morții tăi", i.e. go join your dead ones already. And on it goes2, there's plenty of combos ready to be pulled out of the proverbial hat, each better suited to one situation or another. Romanian swearing is its own sublanguage, because fuck this whole "let's be nice to each other and everything's gonna be alright" shit already. Mkay?

Back to our "ești vai de morții tăi" then: it has a bad situation and it has dead relatives, so yes, your dead take pity on you, or perhaps the other way around, I've no fucking idea to be honest. I'd guess "you're so (bad/fucked up) that your dead ones are spinning in their graves" is a decent literal translation of the thing, only... this is only the first layer of this curse, isn't it? A more direct yet much less expressive translation would be "you're shit", except I still don't think it conveys the original message in its entirety.

Let's put this in context, though: this is written right above that other one, and yes, I'm confident this is the right order to read it: don't worry so much, dreamer kids, you're shit, too bad no one mustered the shits required to let you know until now. This reflection, by the way, bears in my humble opinion much more (sub)cultural value than the original, not because it ironizes it -- that's still only the second layer, isn't it? -- but because it has the potential to shit on all such urban slogans. Hell, I'm not sure Bucharest gave birth to better written material in the entire decade.

Having said all this, my modest article lacking a proper translation, it also lacks a proper conclusion. And although I'm sure there's even more depth to it, I doubt that all this can be compressed in any English sentence. So for now I'll just let the folks in the house who speak both Romanian and English better than myself give it a try.

  1. Subway station in Bucharest, named after one of Wallachia's last relevant medieval voivodes. Actually, named after a boulevard bearing the ruler's name, but whatever. 

  2. For example: slobozi-mi-aș coaiele pe mormântul mă-tii, i.e. I'ma unload my ballsac on your mom's grave.

    I remember an early Trilema doing these, but I can't for the life of me find it. Am I misremembering things? 

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9 Responses to “Linguistic ruminations on the connection between dead relatives and how "the people" aren't worth two shits; and other urban subcultural considerations”

  1. #1:
    Diana Coman says:

    Is this Trilema article the one you were looking for?

    The "vai de mortii tai" seems to me to tap onto the fact that you as the living are essentially "your dead ancestors"' only representative/chance and... well, you screwed that so badly that you haven't merely screwed *yourself* but basically a whole tribe behind you. A sort of condensed version of multi-generational failure that *you* are entirely and solely responsible for! The more I think of it, the more I like it! Lolz.

  2. #2:
    Mircea Popescu says:

    > "este preocupat cu" (accusative), though "este preocupat de"

    Technically the mixed form given is agrammatical ; se preocupa cu / este preocupat de translating is preoccupied by / preoccupies himself with.

    > Seriously, the kids in question thought they'd start some sort of subcultural phenomenon with this

    Alternatively, their dumbphones whispered things about forced memes, which they misinterpreted, being out of context as they are.

    > "don't worry, you're beautiful today", which apparently was supposed to be some feminist statement, except it's only relevant to "the people" in question

    I see a coda in there, "this one weird trick" of femthinking. The mechanism is something like this : 1.given you want A, which is unattainable on the face then 2. split it into parts B and C, such that C is both 3. easily repeated and 4. small enough to pass the treshold.

    This is the direct (and necessary) result of "coopting women into the workforce", whereby they still don't do any work, but instead of having the pater familias deal with their aeconomic internal life, there's a "public corporation" doing all that unpleasant heavy lifting. Which it does poorly, hence the adaptive above discussed : all these spurious fatasses sitting around in mini-bureaucracies which (falsely) claim to make them "work" (while carefully keeping each day just a shade above the threshold such that "nobody could accuse" the idle spurious fatasses of having been idle & spurious) have meanwhile noticed, and so they now apply.

    That'd be the deal you, the reader (a poor woman's substitute of "her" corporation ; which in turn was a poor woman's substiture of "her" MP), are proposed : since conceivably any woman could look momentarily beautiful, "being momentarily beautiful" qualifies as a C above, it's small enough you can't deny it her ; then time's a succession of moments, and lo-and-behold, Achilette-the-fat&buttugly has a paradox for you! Aren't you glad women were coopted into the mythology ? Achilette for the winette!

    Nevermind the B of "you're fucking insufferable all the time", only terrorists look at the empty glass in those terms.

    > Romanian curse, "du-te pe pustii", meaning

    An ancient (ie, likely pre-christian, Miorita-contemporary) euphemism for the devil/evil spirits is "du-ca-se pe pustii", he-of-the-wild. The transition merely implies, in another euphemistic layer, that you're that he, and it's likely to have formed about the time of the kingdom, when new models and new mores drove such personalization into the vernacular. I very much doubt it's in any way related to the other proferation.

    > don't worry so much, dreamer kids, you're shit,

    Ah yes, but unique. Remember back when they were storms, the little farts ?

  3. #3:
    spyked says:

    @Diana Coman:

    > Is this Trilema article the one you were looking for?

    Indeed, thank you!

    > A sort of condensed version of multi-generational failure

    To be honest, this angle hadn't occured to me at all, but this'd put all the related curses in context: "fuck you and your ancestors up to Stephen the Great's filthy whores" seems to evoke much of the original ire of "futu-ti mortii ma-tii", or at least that's sort of the context that I'm reading it, being accustomed to seeing Gypsy women arguing at the local produce market.

    @Mircea Popescu:

    > their dumbphones whispered things about forced memes

    > I see a coda in there

    Oh, how neatly this falls into place! Since we're here, let us give the dude a moment in the spotlight:

    De aproape un an, toate statiile de metrou din Bucuresti si numeroase panouri stradale sunt pline de mesajul "Nu te mai preocupa, esti frumoasa astazi"! Aceste cateva cuvinte simple, dar cu un impact extrem de puternic au reusit sa bucure mii de femei. In spatele lor se afla ideea unui artist, mereu cu zambetul pe buze, care a reusit sa transforme o pasiune, intr-un stil de viata.

    "Nu te mai preocupa, esti frumoasa astazi!" este mesajul ce l-a facut cunoscut pe Alex in tot Bucurestiul, fara ca cineva sa ii cunoaca identitatea. Iar totul a inceput de la o fata pe care a vazut-o la metrou.

    ALEX SASSU: era complexata de faptul ca toata lumea in jurul ei femeile se casatoresc fac copii au familie si ei nu i se intampla nimic de genul asta si era cumva trista si am vrut sa transmit ca totul e ok si o sa se intample la momentul potrivit.

    De aici, viralul pur si simplu a explodat. Mesajul emotionant a impanzit harta Romaniei.

    - Mi se pare ok, cateodata chiar ma binedispune, da mi s-a intamplat in unele dimineti cand sunt mai suparata cu facultatea, ma bucur cavad mesajul asta peste tot. Probabil a vrut sa impresioneze pe cineva sau pur si simplu impresionat de frumusetea femeii si considera ca sunt frumoase indiferent de ziua prin care trec.

    ALEX SASSU: Multumesc Kanal D super tare, deci e super feeling asta sa te intalnesti cu oamenii si sa it dea feedback-ul si sa iti intoarca emotiile, e extraordinar, nu ma asteptam

    Nu o sa va vina a crede, insa intre cunoscutul mesaj si meseria lui Alex exista un punct comun: ambele aduc zambetul pe buze femeilor. La cei 30 de ani ai sai, Alex este un cunoscut make-up artist.

    ALEX SASSU: lucram intr-o banca puternic populata de bancheri si corporatisti din Bucuresti si mi-am zis trebuie sa fac altceva si prin eliminare am ramas cu make-up.

    In urma muncii sale, Alex se poate lauda cu machiaje reusite, dar si cu complimente neasteptate. Unde mai pui ca este si un ... perfectionist!

    And all that "feedback" can only mean he brought great value towards the progress progress of things'n'stuff and... well! Didn't he, now?

    > I very much doubt it's in any way related to the other proferation.

    The only reason a connection popped into my mind is that both curses involve sending folks somewhere, and all the somewheres (pustii, pizda mă-sii, morții mă-sii) sort of look like nowheres. In particular "du-te-n pizda mă-tii" has a whole "why the fuck were you born anyway, go back to where you came from already" ring to it.

    > Ah yes, but unique. Remember back when they were storms, the little farts ?

    Yes, funny how the whole Romanian "entrepreneurship" fashion went from being propagated with bells and whistles through all those "online" (i.e. pantsuit-web) channels, all the way to a peculiar sort of folklore, as I keep hearing nowadays about all these smart kids getting rich "developing an app" for iPhones and whatnot.

  4. #4:
    Mircea Popescu says:


    Lumea s-a schimbat, fetele-au plecat, baietii s-au dus, maimutele-au ramas. Vai de el Bucuresti forestier.

  5. #5:
    spyked says:

    Măcar o pădure mai acătării de-ar fi avut, nu Băneasa vai-de-ea. În rest fix așa cum scrie la text.

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