Expression of the Day: De Mama Focului


Living here in Romania and speaking English, it’s natural that I’m going to run into a few religious foreigners. Outside of Bucharest, I think half the foreigners or more are here primarily for religious purposes.

Anyway, the other day one of them used a Romanian expression (correctly) and I had to cover my mouth not to bust out laughing.

The reason I was smiling so hard was because in Romanian, de mama focului (day mama focal-luwee) is a perfectly “clean” and normal expression. Literally it means “of the fire’s mother” but practically speaking it means something like “in an awesome way”. Some dictionaries translate it as “like a house on fire”, which is accurate.

Again, please understand that it’s a very ordinary euphemism that a child could use and it would be absolutely fine. It’s just that the way I personally translate this phrase into English in my head is “like a motherf*cker”.

A few examples from Domnul Ghughel:

Un barbat injura de mama focului o mama – A man cursed out a mother like a motherf*cker.

Roger Federer rade de mama focului cu DJ Bobo – Roger Federer is laughing like a motherf*cker with DJ Bobo.

A dansat de mama focului – They were dancing like a motherf*cker.

Are doar 11 luni, dar fumeaza iarba de mama focului – He’s only 11 months old but he’s smoking grass like a motherf*cker.

And so on and so forth.

Again, this is a perfectly clean expression to use. It’s just the way my mixed up brain thinks that translates it the way I do ;)

AND NOW YOU KNOW!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. fLoreign says:

    I’d like to signal this older Moldovan political pamphlet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKk7ByIpvUA
    I thought it was funny, but my American friends heard “Dam foc” as “Damn f*ck”.

    Note: the video refers to the Moldovan Parliament building set on fire almost two years ago, some evidence pointing to a deliberate move by the government of that time, led by Voronin. And the word rhyming with “Parlament”, “batiment”, does not sound Romanian (not sure about the Moldovan dialect), but rather French.

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  2. Adrian says:

    I would be hard pressed to translate “A dansat de mama focului” as “They were dancing like a motherf*cker”. “Dancing like a motherf*cker” is hardly an expression that someone would use in any situation and it wouldn’t imply that someone was dancing with enthusiasm as the Romania expression conveys. Same thing about laughing… “Roger Federer rade de mama focului” would be better translated as “Roger Federer laughs his ass off”.

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  3. George says:

    Hi, Sam, your site is just great.
    I would like, as Romanian native, to sugest you a different translation for “a rade de mama focului” = “laugh one’s ass out”
    Indeed Romanians tend to use lots of slang and swearing in day-to-day conversations, very often for no particular reason. But we don’t consider all the time to f#@* one’s mother (in order to use “mother f*cker”)

    @Andy: at least in Bucharest, there aren’t so many foreigners for religious reasons anymore. But 10 years ago the town was full of them (those young guys, with white shirt, black trousers, tie, the Bible in one hand, a backpack and a logo with “Elder X”).

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  4. Andy Hockley says:

    “I think half the foreigners or more are here primarily for religious purposes.”

    Can honestly say in over 6 years that I’ve never met a single foreigner here for religious purposes. Who and where are these people?

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    1. Sam R. says:

      Mostly running charities, whether that’s helping out disadvantaged kids (Little People Foundation), ministering to the incarcerated (Prison Fellowship), operating medical clinics and/or working with orphanages, etc. That plus there are several bona fide preachers here, some “permanently” (long assignments) and those who come for a short time to evangelize. The Mormon Church has an enormous operation in Romania as well as do the Baptists (primarily in Oradea).

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      1. Andy Hockley says:

        Must have all been chased away by the Székely round here, since I’ve seen none of them. I have encountered (local) jehovah’s witnesses, but no mormons, foreign evangelicals or even charity workers. We don’t even have peace corps volunteers.

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      2. Sam R. says:

        Well around here the magyars (non-Szekely) are involved with a lot of Lutheran and Unitarian stuff, which includes cross-work with English speakers (and ministers, etc).

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      3. John K says:

        It’s unlikely you would know about Peace Corps Volunteers. At the present time they work essentially as Teachers Assistants in English classes at a school. They don’t do high-profile work.
        The charity workers/missionaries I know of there work with the gypsies, so if you don’t have wide-spread contacts there you might not see them either.

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      4. Andy H says:

        Hi John

        No, I used to know the peace corps volunteers in town, but there definitely aren’t any nowadays. There are a couple of volunteers who work as teaching assistants in a local village but they’re not peace corps. And I’m conected enough with the community in general (and with the Rroma community) to know that there aren’t any foreign volunteers – at least in Miercurea Cicu, there might be some in the villages. I’d say with 98% certainty that i know all of the (non-Hungarian) foreigners in Szereda (it’s a small town). 3 Italians, a Spanish family, a Belgian bloke, a Swiss couple, 3 Brits, one American woman, two Chinese, the hockey players and three Americans who play for the basketball team. :-) I think there might be some nuns out at the Somlyo Cathedral

        The Szekely are so fiercely catholic that they tend to see the Hungarian reformed church as a dangerous modern cult, so there isn’t much of an opening to grab on to for your average evangelical missionary

        George: No I believe it, and I have seen the strong “I’m here to save Romanians” presence on the Internet. I just don’t see any of these people in person.

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      5. Andy Hockley says:

        By the way, just discovered your blog and am enjoying it. Cheers

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      6. John K says:

        I think some are missing that “mama” is “mother” followed by “focului” which can come to the American ear as “f*cker.” The message is the humor of what his ear seemed to hear, not a true translation.
        As far as the Peace Corps volunteers the smaller the community the more they stand out, of course. For fiscal reasons fewer are assigned to large towns or cities in recent years. I’ve sent 90,000 books to dozens upon dozens of them in the past 6 years and have visited numerous schools and been guest teacher.

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      7. Sam R. says:

        I think you’re right!

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  5. John K says:

    There was a Romanian family that bought a sandwich shop franchise in suburban St. Louis. As is often the case in situations like this, the main employees were the man and his wife and for the sake of convenience and clarity spoke Romanian to each other behind the counter. They would loudly call out orders and requests between each other.
    In Romanian: “Get this, make that, do the other…” Variations of “focului” were in continuous use and it sounded to the American customers like they were shouting endless streams of obscenities to each other. Needless to say the soon adapted to speaking (mostly) English at work.

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  6. Moi says:

    Thank you for your love for Romania . I hope that you spend happy moments in this country . Je parle francais moins bien que le roumain mais mieux que l’anglais , peut être le message en francais passera avec moins de faute ( google’s fault of course ;-) )
    Je vous remercie beaucoup de vivre , aimer et parler de roumains et de la Roumanie . Nous avons tant à apprendre !

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