Word of the Day: Vai!


One of these days – and I swear this is true – I’m going to go spend a few weeks up in the mountains, living in a small wooden cabin with nothing but a cot and a typewriter so I can write my academic masterpiece, which will be entitled The Subtle Expression of Latent Third Wave Feminism in Auditory Media Space by Roxana Prințesa Ardealului. Then I’m going to translate it into Romanian and present it at the Academy in Bucharest to thunderous applause.

Okay well that’s perhaps just a fantasy *coughcough* :P but once again she has reminded me of a useful Romanian word that you’ll never find in a textbook.

The word vai (rhymes with eye) is an interjection or exclamation, a little baby of a word that can be used to mean almost anything, as long as it’s heartfelt.

Consider it a word to mean “mercy!” or “goodness!” or “land’s sake!” or perhaps even “ahh, shucks!” or perhaps “oh no s/he didn’t!”. Since it’s a tidy little interjection, there’s no need to conjugate it, modify it, decline it, or match it with number or gender. It’s a real handy word, come to think of it.

If you click here, you can hear her say it for yourself around the one minute mark where she exclaims:

Tigane, tigane iti dau milioane
sa ma faci nevasta ta, vai!

However by far the most common use of vai is in the expression vai de capul meu, literally “vai from my head”, sometimes abbreviated to just “de capu’ meu”. Since it’s a folksy kind of saying, you can get away with dropping the “extra” L there. Nobody will mind ;)

What does vai de capu’ meu mean? It means “Good golly” or “Why, I never!” or “Holy cow!” or “Get a load of that, will ya?” or perhaps “Great googly moogly!” A cruder person might even translate it as “holy sh*t” although in Romanian it’s not offensive in the slightest. It’s an expression you use to indicate surprise or shock or (faint) outrage.

In other words, if you go to the market and see that they’ve jacked up the price on food again, you shake your head and say vai de capu’ meu. See? Now you sound just like a Romanian! :D

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16 Responses »

  1. “Vai de X” is usually translated into English as “woe is X”, hence “vai de mine” = “woe is me”. And now thou knowest.

  2. “Vai de mine” is better translated as Holy me! I think when you are in India or work with indians, you try to leave their sacred animal in peace, so in this case, “vai de mine” becomes handy. In the song, I pray the lord you don’t enjoy this, that vai has nothing to do there. The songwriter was gone fishing that day, and they needed “words” to finish the masterpiece…

  3. Vai is very much in any Romanian dictionary and means “alas”. The origin is the Latin “vae” as in “vae victis” (pity the victims).

  4. Wish your commenters wouldn’t be such grammar nazis and just enjoy the blog post. :)

  5. I don’t know anyone who uses “vai”. All the cool people use “tulai” and “ioi”.

  6. In afara de ardeal nu se mai foloseste tulai sau ioi. Dar pot sa impartasesc o expresie preferata de-a mea care e folosita in toata tara: “Vai de p**a ta!” and it means “You are lame” or “You are pitiful” :)

    Something like:
    “You got kicked out from work and your wife is fat. Vai de p**a ta!!”

  7. A synonym for vai is văleu or văleleu.
    Love Maria Tănase’s song:

    Mi-o zis mama ca mi-o da (văleleu, văleleu)
    Zestre când m-oi mărita (văleu, văleu, văleleu)
    Douăzeci de perne mari (văleleu, văleleu)
    Toate pline cu ţânţari (văleu, văleu, văleleu)
    Douăzeci de perne mici (văleleu, văleleu)
    Toate pline cu furnici (văleu, văleu, văleleu)
    Douăzeci de perne moi (văleleu, văleleu)
    Toate pline de gunoi (văleu, văleu, văleleu)
    Douăzeci de poloboace (văleleu, văleleu)
    Făr’ de fund şi far’ de doage (văleu, văleu, văleleu)
    Două raţe crăcănate (văleleu, văleleu)
    Astea cică-s vaci cu lapte (văleu, văleu, văleleu)

  8. And now we know. Noroc!

  9. Better prepare a speech on “The Projective Function of Expats As A Screen Enabling Locals to Express Their Views On Issues Not Brought to Scrutiny Since Their Childhood”

    More on topic, here’s a proto-manea employing a cognate of vai, “aoleu”

    Aoleu,
    Ce sa ma fac, Doamne, eu?
    Se marita Mona mea,
    Nu stiu Doamne ce-i cu ea …

    ***********************************
    Ioi da’ binie-i!

  10. Canillg all cars, calling all cars, we’re ready to make a deal.

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