Hijinks in Spelling – Orthography Fun!

As I’ve mentioned before, Romanian language is a little ahem *coughcough* fluid on the spelling of the language. This can get damn confusing if you’re ahem *coughcough* some hopeless idiot foreigner trying to LEARN it so I’m going to give you a super short primer in the hopes that you won’t have to suffer for years (literally) trying to sort it all out.

To illustrate the differences, I’m going to spell out the same word in the different formats, that word being pâine (bread).

VERY IMPORTANT: All of these spelling ways are pronounced exactly the same.

Current Official Super Looper Accurate Way

pâine – Enough said. If you’re writing a letter to a Romanian (and really, I have to ask why you’re doing this) government official, then this is how you do it.

Internet Style aka Lazy Style

paine – Most times, most people (myself included) don’t have a Romanian keyboard with the special letters so you get to “skip” them. Some words, like pâine, do just fine as “paine” but other words like “gasca” can be confusing because they mean two different things when spelled (correctly) two different ways.

Printed Sign Style

pãine – The other problem is that for a long time the idiots over at ISO (whatever that stands for) didn’t even make it POSSIBLE to write the a with the hat (otherwise known as â, the correct letter) and so to distinguish regular “a” from “â” without being able to type it properly, Romanians sometimes were/are forced to use ã or a with a squiggly line over it. This letter doesn’t ACTUALLY even exist in Romanian but it’s all you got when your print shop doesnt have â. Dig it?

Communist Era Style

pîine – This is the one that messed me up because my dictionary was printed during the Communist era and so I’d keep looking up words that had an â in ’em and find only the î with a hat.

There’s a long and complicated (and boring) reason why the Communists switched up the spelling like this and some Romanians still prefer it and it can be very confusing EVEN NOW because, just for example, on the CFR (Romanian railways) web site all the city names are spelled OLD school style.

So if you’re looking for tickets to Târgu-Mures for instance, you have to search under Tîrgu-Mures. SUPER FUN!

Lazy Communist Style

piine – Mostly used by Youtube commenters from Romanians who moved out of the country during the Communist days and so continue to write this way.


пыйне – This is only used in some parts of Moldova (as in the country of Moldova) but prior to about 1860, regular Romanian was written this way too. You won’t really have to deal with this but it’s interesting if you look at the writing on old churches and what not because it’s all in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Note: Just for “extra fun”, the Cyrillic alphabet used for Romanian is slightly different than the one used in Moldova. Hopa!


Romanians talking online tend to use a lot of horrific spelling shortcuts and slang that make it virtually impossible to read (or decipher) if you’re not already fluent in the language. So don’t learn it from there.

Also, be aware sometimes signs and printed material have a combination of both lazy and official and/or lazy and communist style all mixed in together. Reading signs and posted things essentially require you ALREADY SUPER SECRETLY MASTERFULLY know the language and “fill in the blanks” for yourself if the spelling isn’t correct or accurate.


18 Comments Add yours

  1. X says:

    UTF8 4 life !


  2. tudor says:

    By the way, ISO is yet another human organization: (International Standard Organization). They were lazy in adopting character encoding for Romanian (even they claimed achieving that with ISO-8859-2) so that they had to add another character encoding (ISO-8859-16). Unfortunately the lazy Microsoft declined to comply this so this for a long time.


  3. Crin says:

    habar n-aveam ce complicati sunte :))


  4. Cristian says:

    Here http://i18n.ro/Promovare_diacritice is a list with words like gasca (gâscă != gașcă). There you will find phrases especially written to confuse the reader like: “M-a lovit un bulgar cu gheata”.


    1. vic says:

      mama lor de bulgari! bulgări…


  5. Cat says:

    Actually, you’re confusing â for ă > the latter is the one that was previously replaced with ã ;)
    And, if you want to get picky, the ISO encoding had ș on the spot of º and ț on the spot of þ. That was confusing too.

    Also, in cyrillic it would have been пыйне :P from that point of view, Moldovan Cyrillic is not so different :) (what you said would actually be “puine”).
    Yes, the sound â is commonly spelled as y by cyrillic users typing in latin. But it’s different from the cyrillic у which is rather u. ;)


  6. Anca says:

    I hadn’t gotten very far into learning to read/write Romanian before being whisked off to the land of the Star Spangled Banner. So the little I’ve had stored away in the dusty Romanian attic of my head is the old school style and now that I’m “relearning” I have to do it in the new style (grr). Except my brain doesn’t fully have a preference for one over the other: pâine looks like the “correct” version but Tîrgu-Mures looks like the “correct” version too!


  7. Andrei says:

    It wouldn’t be uncommon to say you ate “pită cu pateu”. You can guess what “pateu” is :D.

    More peasant Romanian!
    Traditional pită combinations are:
    – “pită cu slănină şi cu ceapă” (Romanian doesn’t have the letter “ñ”, but that’s how peasants say the “n” in slănină, like the “ñ” in Español. In addition “şi” is read like “şî”)
    – “pită cu unsoare” (the “oa” group is read like the “o” in the English “long”).

    Have you tasted pită cu zacuscă? It’s awesome!


    1. vic says:

      it’s not ”peasant”, it’s a regional form


      1. ngi says:

        I bet my grandmother makes the best zacuscă in z world! and I could really put this bet, I’m not just showing-off :)))


  8. Andrei says:

    The shortest way to say pâine is pită !


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