When wind howls around Oratea Fortress, echoes from the 13th century swirl around fir trees and tumbled down walls.
Located near the charming Rucăr Bran Corridor, Oratea Fortress echoes back in history to the 13th century, year 1212, when the Teutonic Knights arrived, as invited by King Andrew III of Hungary, to settle in Burzenland, Țara Bârsei, and below and protect this eastern land against Cumans’ attacks.
Stone upon stone still stands where Oratea Fortress once rose tall, and the wind still echoes of past battles, and of laughter, and whispers of love.
For what is wind, but the amassed power of words long ago uttered?
Oratea Fortress, Echoes of the 13th Century, 100-word Story
They’d arrived. And settled. New souls on old land. Forced smiles, calling one another a little too loud, laughing too much. Living with intent, their purposeful reputation preceding them.
Rising a chapel (a place to lie down for their last sleep), ahead of the fortress they ought to build. And protect. Stashing memories in the sacred foundation.
Till their time would come, days are filled with battles, laced with life. On this new land, rich in new shades. new sounds. new hopes.
Besides protecting it, ought they mingle with the locals? Besides fighting off ruffians, ought they live a little?
The unique beauty of each 100-word story is in the way the words are strung together, each one a gem, and in the spaces left between the words, and between sentences. So much can be told with little words. It is a challenge for the writer, and a thrill for the reader (I hope), as each time the tale is read a new detail springs to mind.
“I would recommend this book to all fans of history and historical fiction, as this is a fantastic combination of both.”
(AFR) Slaan die spyker op die kop (GER) Den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen (ENG) Hit the nail on the head (RO) A pune punctul pe i. Meaning: to do exactly the right thing and also to know that acting differently will cause a great deal of pain. Ouch!
The origin of the phrase ‘to hit the nail on the head‘
Carpentry comes to mind and thus this expression must be as old as, well, the Bronze Age – bronze nails dating to 3400 BC were discovered in Egypt.
Searching for the use of hit the nail on the head in writing, The Phrase Finder mentions a medieval text, ‘The Book of Margery Kempe’ written during the 1430s. The book is a dictation of the life and divine revelations experienced by a woman, an English Christian mystic and pilgrim, yet not a nun, and is considered to be the first autobiography in the English language.
“If I hear any more these matters repeated, I shall so smite the nail on the head that it shall shame all her supporters.”
The Book of Margery Kempe, 1430s (in modern English)
In this context, the expression ‘hit the nail on the head’ probably means to speak severely.
(AFR) As die kat weg is, is die muis baas. (GER) Ist die Katze aus dem Haus, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch. (ENG) When the cat’s away, the mice will play. (RO) Cand pisica nu-i acasa, joaca soarecii pe masa. Meaning: when any kind of authority is lacking, someone will always take advantage.
When the cat’s away, the mice will play – its history
When the cat’s away, the mice will play is an idiom / proverb originated from the Latin dum felis dormit, mus gaudet et exsi litantro (when the cat sleeps, the mouse leaves its hole, rejoicing). The idiom was also encountered in 14th century France, ou chat na rat regne (‘Where there is no cat, the rat is king’). Surely, at any time throughout history it was observed that without moral standards, chaos ruled.
3. Take the bull by the horns – in Ancient Greece
(AFR) Die bul by die horings pak (GER) Den Stier bei den Hörnern (an)packen (ENG) Take the bull by the horns. (RO) A lua taurul de coarne. (SPANISH) Coger el toro por las astas Meaning: to face a difficult situation head-on.
Take the bull by the horns – its history
As many would have guessed, the rodeo practices of West America have bulled this saying into the everyday English vocabulary. During the 18th century, wrestling steers (castrated bulls) was part of the everyday working life of American ranchers. Yet the practice of bullfighting and cattle wrangling originated with the sixteenth-century conquistadores, the conquistadors (soldiers and explorers of 15th – 17th centuries Spanish and Portuguese Empires), and the Mexican vaqueros, cowboys. Obviously, a cowboy of any origin would be quite handy at controlling a bull by its horns, thus the literal use of the expression ‘to take the bull by the horns’ was long in use before it gained a figurative meaning.
What I love about idioms is that they seem to have an invisible connection with literature. And I remember now The Twelve Labours of Hercules (Heracles in Greek), especially the seventh one: capturing the Cretan bull.
Thus, could the expression ‘to take the bull by the horns’ originate in 600 BC with The Labours of Hercules written by Peisander of Camirus?
4. To have someone wrapped around your (little) finger – during the Middle Ages
(AFR) Sy draai almal om haar vinger (GER) Jemanden um den Finger wickeln (ENG)To have someone wrapped around your (little) finger (RO) Il are la degetul mic Meaning: to exert total emotional control over someone, but without a lot of effort, to have someone under total control without no effort
This phrase ‘to have someone wrapped around your (little) finger’ is my favorite of these six idioms linguistically identical in Afrikaans, German, English, and Romanian – because of its origin. You see, it could originate in sewing or… falconry!
A seamstress would reel thread on her index finger, then draw out the yarn as needed in her sewing work – taking stock for later use.
In hawking, the hunter will have a leash tied to the bird’s foot. After the bird lands on their arm, the falconer would wind the leash around their little finger so the bird won’t take off again that easily.
In writing, a 1743 letter appears in The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia could be the oldest known mention of the idiom ‘to have someone wrapped around your (little) finger’:
“Watson could wind Parker round his finger; yet he was ready to swear twas all false.”
The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, 1743
5. To walk (tread) on eggshells – during the revolutionary 16th century
(AFR) Op eiers loop (GER) Auf Eierschalen laufen (ENG) To walk (tread) on eggshells (RO) A calca / a merge ca pe ace Meaning: to act cautiously as to not upset someone.
The oldest known written mention of ‘to walk (tread) on eggshells’ is in the 1591‘s translation of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harington:
“So soft he treads, although his steps were wide, As though to tread on eggs he were afraid.”
1591’s translation of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harington
Surely, the expression is much older than that, dating from a time when humans would tread carefully looking for the places where (wild) hens and birds would have built a nest (or not) and hid their eggs.
6. To hang onto every word during the Industrial Revolution
(AFR) Aan iemand se lippe te hang (GER) An jemandes Lippen hängen (ENG) To hang on to (someone’s) every word / hung on her every utterance (RO) A atarna de fiecare cuvant Meaning: to listen very intently to someone.
I think this might be one of the youngest idioms in use, as it originated with the phrasal verb “hang on”, which came in use during the 19th century, when the cloth hangers were invented: 1860, hang on, meaning “to remain clinging.”
Although, here is a of beautiful quotes from the Bible, from Luke:
“and they could not find anything that they could do, for all the people [stayed close to Him and] were hanging on to every word”
The Bible, Luke 19:48
An idiom is a group of words that has a deeper, figurative meaning, other than its literal, word for word, denotation. But I think that an idiom also reflects the times when it surfaced, carrying even a minor historical aura around it.
I hope you enjoyed these 6 Idioms linguistically identical in Afrikaans, German, English and Romanian.
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Happy Romanian Language Day, today 31st of August, celebrated by twenty million Romanians plus ten million Romanians living outside Romania’s borders…
Why celebrate? Even with a thought, because the language we took our first steps through forms the code that keeps our spiritual DNA together.
Why only Romanians speak a Latin language in southeast Europe? people usually ask me. Well, I wrote is a little explanation on my blog here. You can also enjoy Romanian folklore, myths and legends on my blog here and time-travel into Romania’s past or take virtual travel trips to Romania here.
“The shepherd, bushy moustache hanging like sunset’s haze over his lips, thumbs thrust in his wide belt, wears a woolly hat, a sheep-skin thrown a-back. A curtain of fir-trees hangs between him and his hamlet, alive along a brook steaming like a dragon’s swampy breath. A dragon he’d tamed, as says the Doina tune he whistles. From childhood-cradle to colt years, his life moved between the sheepfold and the shepherd’s hearth. Making cheese and whey-cheese; keeping company with Dog who brings him great joy, although it never knew the collar. Not a taintless, or a barren life either. But glad.”
“Codru’ este mare Si lumina n-are; Codru este des Intri, nu mai iesi…”
“The woodland is wide And has no light; The woodland is thick You enter, never to leave…”
Romanian ritualistic song, translated from Romanian by Patricia Furstenberg
“Sufletul statea Si mi se ruga: Brade, brade! Sa-mi fii frate: Intinde-ti, intinde, Eu sa le pot prinde Varfurile tale, Sa trec peste ele”
“My soul stopped And it implored: Fir tree, fir tree! My brother thou be: Spread thou, spread Your tree tops shed, May I over ’em fled.”
Romanian ritualistic song, translated from Romanian by Patricia Furstenberg
Romanians all over the world will spend a minute today, I hope, thinking of “oh, this sweet language of ours”, as Romanian is ever so melodious. Thank you for taking the time to learn a bit bout my mother tongue.
When do you celebrate your native language?
Would you like to learn a Romanian word or expression? Ask me 🙂
O zi a Limbii Române fericită vă doresc!
Transylvania’s unspoiled natural beauty, its tumultuous history, and the people who touched it are depicted in this book. Patricia Furstenberg uses the confining rules of the 100-word story form to stirringly capture Transylvania, Romania’s historical and geographical region.
This tall house, a lookalike of the one depicted on the 10 Lei Romanian Banknote, comes with a legend about a fire, and about how three villages came to be.
The Tall House of Chiojdu Mic
The tall house we admired at the Village Museum of Bucharest is from Chiojdu Mic village (Little Chiojdu), Buzău County in the historical province of Muntenia, Romania. Muntenia (or Greater Wallachia, or Valachi, or Țara Românească) – where Vlad the Impaler ruled – is the southern part of Romania, where the capital city of Bucharest is also found. I was born in Bucharest, so you can say I’m a girl from Muntenia, a munteancă.
The household above is from the 18th century.
The living quarters (usually two rooms) are all on the first floor, the river-rock foundation is meant for a cool cellars, where fruits are kept throughout winter, as well as the many barrels with țuică (tzuica, a traditional Romanian spirit, 24–65% alcohol by volume, and prepared only from plums.
The four-sided roof is also characteristic for this area. It is made from fir-tree wood, and these traditional wooden roof-tiles are called şiţă in Romanian, and are arranged like fish scales.
You can see a similar house on the 10 Lei Romanian Banknote:
The Legend on a Great Fire and of How a Village Came to be
It was a time when kings grew their empires, and people grew their crops. The Kings with golden crowns and ermine capes of the west, or kings with glass beads and marmot furs of the east – they all dreamed the same fantasy. It was the people, whose hands bled, and whose children needed feeding, who dreamed of nothing else but of a roof over their heads.
That day, when apples were in bloom and farmers blessed their lambs, the army on fast horses, the army with limbs of maces and daggers, with slanted eyes and harsh goat leggings, attacked again. Their lances took without asking. Their torches fed without concern. And what they couldn’t take, they tore apart.
After their retreat, the fire burned for three days. A sprinkle of survivors sat about, waiting. Waiting to mourn and bury their families. Chiojd was one of them. A rich man that very morning, and not my his household, and his sheep, and his grains in the barn, but by the love of his wife and the smiles of his children.
When the last cross went up, Chiojd knew he’d buried his last hope. He turned his back on the ashen shadow of their village and, without looking back, he left. A pup at his heel.
It is said that Chiojd left Transylvania behind and wandered for an entire summer. His feet carried him, his eyes looking without seeing. The pup, now taller, still at his heel.
Until one day when he his feet stopped.
Ahead, sweet hills followed one another. Trees dressed in tender yellows, and hushed reds grew around gentle streams – so unlike the nature he’d known all his life. There, Chiojd build a new home. With time, a new wife appeared in his life. And three children, Big Chiojdu, Little Chiojdu and the girl, Chojdeanca, who later went to found three new villages: Starchiojd, Chiojdu and Chojdeanca.
Fire, a 100-Word Story
I am Life. Contended faces surround me. They need me. Eager hands grab at my elusive energy as I pull away, then withdraw as I boldly approach them. I laugh, and I kindle the spirits around me, light the stars above. They are but my echo. I am Power. My vitality creates all that I see; I am but the sun on this earth. I cook their meals, melt their iron. I, I keep them alive and warm. While feeding myself. Just take what I fancy. Stretch, expand myself out of proportions, as my hunger grows. I am their Death.