Let’s Pretend


My wife and I were watching our daughter play in the park the other day and she reached up into a tree, picked a seed off a branch, and put it in her mouth. We both told her off in our native languages, and she defended herself back to us. In English, my daughter told me (with whithering scorn) “It’s only pretend food, Dan” while in Bulgarian she said “Samo na uzhkim go izyadoh, mamo.” (literally. “Only for pretend it I ate, Mother.”)

That phrase na uzhkim (for pretend) comes from a conditional particle I’d never heard before: uzhUzh might translate as “if” as in “uzh si mi priyatel” or “if you ARE my friend…” but it carries the implication that whatever follows is not true. You are supposed to be my friend, but you are not my friend, you are only pretending to be my friend.

Uzh therefore joins my list of Bulgarian conditional particles (3 now and counting)


Shtom = if (definitely true) Shtom si mi priyatel, shte igraem vseki den (Once you are my friend, we will play every day)


Ako = if (assuming it’s true) Ako si mi priyatel, tryabva da igraesh s men (If you are my friend, you should play with me)


Uzh =if (untrue) Uzh si mi priyatel, no ne si. (You are supposed to be my friend, but you aren’t.)

My wife tells me uzh is rare in the speech of adults, but common for children and the elderly. It was probably edged out of adult conditional speech by the more familiar ako (if), but had been retained by children, who like to pretend, but want to make sure nobody takes the game too seriously.

For example, my daughter might be crawling on the ground, meowing. If I say “Are you a cat?” She’ll say “No, Dan, I’m pretending to be a cat.” Uzh sam kotka.


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