Soviet Orthography of Greek

I'm working on a post on the Greek language politics of the USSR, which glancingly mentioned the spelling reform that took place there in 1925. Because it's a topic that deserves to be presented separately, I'll put it in a separate blog post.

The material isn't mine, it's from the blogger Πόντος και Αριστερά (Pontus and the Left), who in turn draws on the work of the historian Vlasis Agtzidis (who has his own blog, and who has worked extensively on the period: great to see his PhD on the Greek press of Sukhumi has just been published.) But information on the Soviet spelling reform isn't widely available in English, so I'm translating their material here.

Pontus and the Left has posted a series of posts on the Soviet Interbellum, dealing with the flowering of Greek culture in the Soviet Union during the Springtime of the Nationalities, the decade when the Soviet state encouraged nation-building for ethnic groups, including elevating their languages to literary status. Pontus and the Left's particular interest is because the majority of ethnic Greeks in the USSR were Pontians, who had migrated to Christian Russia in the 18th and 19th century. A minority were the Mariupolitans, who originally lived in the Crimea; they are linguistically intriguing, and I'll post about them one of these days.

For a summary of the spelling reform, which was used uniformly in the Soviet Union for the decade of nation building, I cite Pontus and the Left citing Agtzidis:
[Vlasis Agtzidis [Βλάσης Αγτζίδης]. 2005. "Το γλωσσικό ζήτημα στις ελληνικές κοινότητες της Σοβιετικής Ένωσης" [The language question in the Greek communities of the Soviet Union], Τα ιστορικά 43 (December): 421-448.]

The initiative for officially establishing Demotic and historical orthography began from Batumi. It was discussed and decided in teachers conventions at Kuban, Sukhumi, and later Crimea. On May 10 1926 in a Union-Wide Meeting of Greek intellectuals in Moscow, it was decided to establish Demotic instead of Puristic, and to replace the 24-letter alphabet with a 20-letter alphabet. This decision abolished [orthographic] diphthongs, preserved only ι and ο, replaced ου with υ, preserved only ς in lower case and abolished σ, wrote double consonants analytically (i.e. ξ as κς and ψ as πς) and required a hyphen for possessive pronouns.

Essentially the meeting accepted the proposal of the Central Committee for a New Alphabet to make Demotic official and replace historical orthography with phonetic. As for accentuation, stress was abolished on monosyllables and words stressed on the last syllable. These moves were completely in line with the new attitudes to language which had predominated in the Soviet sphere. The origin of these attitudes can be located in Marxist thought, where there is an effort to analyse superstructure phenomena in class terms.

The decisions of the meeting included a proposal to deal with illiteracy by publishing books in local dialects. The meeting selected Psichari's Demotic:
"A demotic pure and guileless, freed of every dead and false element, so we are not forced to revise it every so often."
“Δημοτική αγνή και άδολη, λυτρωμένη από κάθε στοιχείο νεκρό και ψεύτικο για να μην αναγκαστούμε κάθε λίγο και λιγάκι να κάνουμε αναθεώρηση”,
or, as it was written:
“Διμοτικι αγνι κε άδολι, λιτρομένι απο κάθε ςτιχίο νεκρο κε πςέφτικο για να μιν ανανκαςτύμε κάθε λίγο κε λιγάκι να κάνυμε αναθεόριςι.”

To spell out the rules:
αυαφ, αβ
ευεφ, εβ

The hyphen for enclitic possessives disambiguates them from the identical stressed pronouns: ο άντρας-μυ ίπε "my man [= husband] said", ο άντρας μυ ίπε "the man told me". The hyphen was also being proposed for the monotonic in Greece in the 1970s—it's in the first few volumes of Kriaras' dictionary; but it was abandoned in the official spelling, in favour of the harebrained rule that accenting the stressed pronouns is optional (ο άντρας μου είπε, ο άντρας μού είπε). Harebrained, because leaving it optional means noone will do it, and noone does.

The excerpt is in the Demotic of Greece, which was initially the language used officially by the Greeks of the Soviet Union. The alphabet was also used for Pontic and Mariupolitan, and its digraphs have been taken up in the spelling used on the Pontic Wikipedia: ςς for /ʃ/, ζζ for /ʒ/, τζ for /tʃ/, ντζ for /dʒ/, γκ for /ɡ/, νκ for /ŋɡ/. Topkharas in his grammar codifying Pontic writes [æ ø] < /ia io/ phonologically as ια, ιο, without clearly explaining how they are different from Demotic ια ιο [ja jo]—though he does point out how hard it was for Pontian schoolchildren to learn Demotic ια, ιο. He also used no accents at all.

[Τοπχαράς, Κ. 1998 [1928, 1932]. Η γραμματική της ποντιακής: Ι γραμματικι τι ρομεικυ τι ποντεικυ τι γλοςας. Thessalonica: Κυριακίδης]

(The Wikipedia orthography, which otherwise uses historical orthography, adopts Topkharas' ςς ζζ, and makes its own diphthongs εα εο for [æ ø]. I alluded to it briefly this time last year.)

I thought I should put up a more extensive sampler. This is from the collection Φλογομινίτρες Σπίθες, "Sparks foretelling a Flame".

[Leo, L., Marmarinos, A. & Kostoprav, G. (eds) 1933. Φλογομινίτρες Σπίθες; Φιλολογικι σιλογι απτα καλίτερα έργα τον ελίνον καλιτεχνον τις Σοβιετικίς Υκρανίας. Mariupol: Εκδοτικο τον εθνικον μιονοτίτον—ελινικο τμίμα.]

The collection includes works both in Mariupolitan and in Demotic. This is from L. Lefteri: Πέρα απτα ςίνορα… γιορτάζυμε, αγονιζόμαςτε, "Beyond the borders, we celebrate, we struggle." (pp. 15-16). The rule on not accenting the last syllable has not been applied. You'll have to pardon me for not translating this particular specimen of agitprop
Κίνο το βράδι ι προκίρικςες πέςανε ςα βροχί. Παντύ—ςτο δρόμο, ςτι φάμπρικα, ςτο εργοςτάςιο, κάτο απτον πάνκο τις δυλιάς, κάτο απτο ςφιρί, το εργαλίο, ςτο ςκολιό, ςτο γραφίο—πλιμίρα ι προκίρικςες.
Ι αςτινομία λίςακςε απτο κακό-τις. Βάλτικε όλι ςε κίνιςι. Έπρεπε με κάθε θιςία να μαζεφτύνε αφτά τα «καταραμένα χαρτιά τις Μόςχας», έπρεπε να καθαριςτί ο τόπος, να βρεθύνε ι ένοχι!
Μα ι προλετάριι πίρανε μιρυδιά. Κςέραμε απτα τέτια. Ι προκίρικςι πὔπεφτε ςτα χέρια ενός διαβαζότανε από δέκα. Τι διαβάζαμε κε τι μεταβιβάζαμε από χέρι ςε χέρι. Τι διαβάζαμε με λαχτάρα, μ' ενθυςιαζμό. Μέςα ςτις λίγες φλογερές γραμές-τις βλέπαμε ζοντανί, ολοκόκινι να κςεπιδάι τιν επανάςταςι. Βλέπαμε το ρόςο προλετάριο να κςεςικόνετε ενάντια ςτο λιςτί–καπιταλιςτί, ενάντια ςτον τςάρο· το μυζίκο τις απέραντις Ροςίας να κςεςικόνετε πάνο ςτον τςιφλικά, ν' αρπάζι τι γι ςτα χέρια-τυ. Βλέπαμε μάχες, έματα, παραζάλες, νίκες, θρίαμβο… Ι μάζα νικάι. Τςακίζυντε ι οχτρί.
Βλέπαμε τι λίςα τις πανκόζμιας μπυρζυαζίας. Ι μπυρζυάδες όλον τον χορόν τρίζυνε τα δόντια-τυς, γιατί ςιντελίτε το ιροικό, νικοφόρο, μεγαλόπρεπο ςοςιαλιςτικό χτίςιμο. Βλέπαμε το λέφτερο πια μυζίκο να καλιεργί το κολεχτιβικό χοράφι με τράκτορ, μ' αγροτικές μιχανές. Στο εργοςτάςιο ι ζοί βράζι. Ι ςτρατιές τον υντάρνικον εχτελύνε τα βςτρέτςνι. Πςιλά τα τέμπα τις ςοςιαλιςτικίς ανικοδόμιςις. Αλάζι το πρόςοπο τις απέραντις χορας το Σοβιέτ. Νέα ζοί προβάλι. Ο οχτρός πιότερο τρίζι τα δόντια-τα. Λιςάι. Ετιμάζι επίθεςι.
Κε μιλύςε ακόμα το χαρτί, μιλύςε, καλύςε ςε προςοχί: «Προλετάριι όλυ τυ κόζμυ ιπεραςπίςτε τι μαχιτικί μπριγάδα τις πανκόζμιας επανάςταςις!»

Θ' άκςιζε αςφαλός να κατεβύμε τι μέρα ετύτι ςτυς δρόμυς, να γιορτάςυμε με το λέφτερο ρόςο εργάτι κι' αγρότι, να δίκςυμε τιν αγάπι-μας, να δόςυμε τον όρκο-μας, πος θα ςταθύμε πάντα πιςτί ιπεραςπιςτές τις προλετάρικίς-μας πατρίδας, να ςιςφίκςυμε πιότερο τις γραμές-μας, να παλέπςυμε διαδιλόνοντας, πος κ' εμίς θα τραβίκςυμε ςτον ίδιο δρόμο.

Κςιμέροςε ι μέρα τις επανάςταςις—ι μέρα τυ γιορταζμύ, μα κε τυ αγόνα.
Ι πόλι ίνε γιομάτι από ένοπλες δίναμες. Το φάζμα τυ κομυνιζμύ τρομάζι τι μπυρζυαζία—Ι ΕΣΣΔ φοτίζι το δρόμο—Κινιτοπιί λιπόν τις δίναμές-τις.
Μα ι προλετάριι δεν κλονίζυντε. Ίνε αποφαςιζμένι να γιορτάςυνε, ν' αγονιςτύνε, να κατεβύνε ςτυς δρόμυς. Δεν κερδίζετε ι λεφτεριά δίχος πάλι, δίχος έμα.
Τραβάμε κατά ομάδες ςτον τόπο τις ςινκέντροςις. Τα όργανα τις αςτινομίας μας διαλίυνε, μας χτιπάνε, μα εμίς πάλι μαζεβύμαςτε, τραβάμε ένας-ένας ίτε διο-διο κι πυ μας έλεγε το «καταραμένο χαρτί», εκί πυ μας καλύςε ι κοματικί οργάνοςι.

Ι μάζα τριγιρίζι ένα πρόχιρο βίμα. Στα πρόςοπα ολονόν-μας λάμπι ι χαρά, ο ενθυςιαζμός… Ένας λεβέντις εργάτις ανεβένι ςτο βίμα. Σικόνι πςιλά τι γροθιά-τυ. Τα λόγια-τυ απλά, μα… γιομάτα φοτιά. Ι ςπίθες, πυ βγένυνε απτο ςτόμα-τυ, ανάβυνε ολόγιρα μια πιρκαγιά. Κάθε τυ λόγο ι μάζα τον κάνι δικό-τις.
Μιλάι… για τι ροςικί επανάςταςι, για τι ςτράτα τυ Λένιν. Καλί ς' αγόνα. Το… «Εμπρός τις γις ι κολαζμένι» ςκεπάζι τα τελεφτέα λόγια-τυ.
Ένα λιςαςμένο ςκιλολόι κςεφιτρόνι απτιν άκρι τυ δρόμυ. Πλακόςανε τα ένοπλα ςκιλιά. Ορμάνε. Βαράνε. Ιποκόπανι, πιςτολιές, φοτιά, βόλια…
Ι μάζα άοπλι αμίνετε, επιτίθετε, χτιπάι με πέτρες, με κςίλα, μ' ότι βρίκι μπροςτά-τις.

Το ντυφέκι, ι ένοπλι δίναμι, ο ματοβαμένος φαςιζμός «θριάμβεπςε», «νίκιςε»!… Κάμποςι πλιγομένι… ένας νεκρός… γιομάτι έμα ι δρόμι.
Το τίμιο έμα τις εργατιάς χίθικε πάλι. Μα πάνο ςε τύτο το έμα δόςαμε τον όρκο-μας. «Νίκιςε» ακόμα μια φορά ο οχτρός μια «δοκςαζμένι νίκι»…
Μα ο προλετάριος—ετύτος ο γίγαντας, ο αγονιςτίς τυ δρόμυ ςφίνκι πιότερο τι γροθιά-τυ, πικνόνι πιότερο τις γραμές-τυ ίςτερα από κάθε τέτια «νίκι» τυ οχτρύ.
Δεν ίνε μακριά ι τελιοτικί νίκι, ι δικιά-μας νίκι, ι προλετάρικι νίκι. Ι ςτράτα πὔδικςε ο Λένιν, μέςα απτιν οπία διαβένυνε νικιφόρα τα εκατομίρια τον προλετάριον τις χόρας το Σοβιέτ ίνε ολόφτι.
Ι δίναμες τις επανάςταςις ςιςφίνκυντε. Το προλεταριάτο πικνόνι τις γραμές-τυ. Σιμένι ι αποφαςιςτικί μάχι!

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GTAGE: Screw you and your car jack!

Language and slang.gr advisory

Greeks on email have inevitably received at least twice joke emails that feature Greek phrases literally translated into English, to hilarious effect. (For moderate to small values of "hilarious".) The humour lies in the fact that the Greek phrases are idioms, which cannot be translated literally, or that English and Greek have different semantic maps for their vocabularies. Less often, and less amusingly, the humour lies in the fact that a word of Greek kinda sounds like a very different word of English.

Email is not the only venue for Greeks to play with the literal interpretation of idioms. The blog Λεξικό της αργκό (Slang Dictionary), based on a book of the same name, translates slang idioms literally into pictures.

It occurred to me when I got one of those emails yet again last year, that they are an excellent resource for linguistic pedantry. These joke translations offer excellent grounds for explaining why the literal translation doesn't work—and in the process, exploring the pragmatics and semantics of Greek that make them not work. In other words, a great way of posting on Hellenisteukontos without having to do any research.

I was going to start with the list I received in November, but when I got around to it, the list of idioms just wasn't juicy enough. That may be because the list was generated by the second-to-third–generation diaspora, whose command of Greek is certainly not as juicy as in the motherland. The marvelous slang.gr has come to my rescue, not for the first time: user vrastaman, with the aid of other regulars, has posted a extensive listing of such literalisms—as he calls it, a Golden Treasury of Anglo-Greek Expressions (GTAGE): copious, occasionally illustrated, and, unusually, bidirectional.

I'm not going to post today about the titular idiom, we have not seen him yet, and we have removed him John. I want to bundle together several idioms using βγάζω, But I want to get a post out on the idiom I deal with here today, while it is still on the front page of the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos' Blog.

As it turns out, I've been thinking about this idiom for a while, because it's a nice illustration of implicature and speech acts. Before I explain what that means, the idiom:
Don’t you defecate us you and your cricket: Δεν μας χέζεις εσύ και ο γρύλος σου!
The idiom means "I rebuff your expression of concern." Really. It does.

In classic GTAGE fashion, a figurative use of a word is taken literally: γρύλος is the insect "cricket", but it is also a car jack, since car jacks look like a cricket's legs (I guess). The line is the punchline of a joke, and that's the context Sarantakos brought it up in: a post on punchlines that have become proverbial. Proverbial enough that political cartoonists can use them to express their resentment at the current relation of Greece to the European Union:

Greece, on the torture rack of a car jack, is shown the European Negotiations To Determine A Bail-Out Mechanism. Greece's response: "You, and your car jack!"—meaning, like I said, "I rebuff your expression of concern."

The phrase as cited in GTAGE actually means "why don't you shit on us, you AND your car jack". Not that that's any clearer. I'll explain the reference, but my main point is the oddity of "why don't you shit on me" as an insult: if I want to express my anger at you, why on earth would I invite you to do something bad to me?

The joke explanation first. The phrase is glossed in slang.gr, though under the variant άι σιχτίρ κι εσύ κι ο γρύλος σου—with the much more normal insult άι σιχτίρ "Fuck off" (σιχτίρ is Turkish, άι is probably from Ancient ἄγε "lead! (go!)" The explication is from user acg:
Punchline of an old widely-known joke, now used independently following the Zeitgeist and constituting a separate and officially recognised entity, utilised to describe a situation whereby the subject is wound up and peeved over something on their own, despite the absence of any hint indicating that what they are fretting over will in fact go pear-shaped.
For those who have formerly lived in a fishbowl and do not know the joke: a guy has a flat tire in the forest, at the dead of night, and has no car jack to lift the car up. He sees a farmhouse 500 m away and heads off.

As he's walking, he thinks and mutters to himself: "It's a farmhouse, he's bound to have tools. Surely he'll have a car jack. Wouldn't it be something if he has a car jack and refuses to give it to me. I just want to borrow the thing for half an hour, it's not like I'm going to steal it. Why, the bastard! That bloody miser! Yeah right, you jerk, as if I'm going to make off with your crappy car jack. You just wait until you need something from me, and then I'll straighten your tie for you alright! What kind of an arsehole does this guy think he is, anyway? Refusing to help me in the middle of the night, when the bastard should be coming out and changing my tire himself! But it's my fault for sitting around and begging him in the first place!"

He knocks on the door, and as soon as the villager opens, he says, "why don't you and your car jack just fuck off!"

Right. That's the joke. Hence, "I rebuff your expression of concern." (And also, "My action of rebuffing you is irrational", but I don't think that's the meaning the cartoonist had in mind.)

But why would "fuck off" be rendered as "why don't you shit on us"? (And as it turns out, rendered *more* appropriately?)

Time to drop some science on you. Statements can be true or false. Other things people do with words, other speech acts, can't sensibly be true or false. It's nonsense for a command like "open the window" to be true or false: it something you do or refuse to do. But a command does have felicity conditions, conditions under which it makes sense. If I tell you to move the building with your bare hands, my command is not meaningfully false; but it is pointless, because commands presuppose a preparatory condition, that the action is in fact possible. It's similarly pointless for me to tell you to wash the car while you're already washing it: that's the propositional content condition, that the command has to involve a future action.

When people say something that doesn't make sense, or seems pointless, our first assumption isn't that the person's insane. We assume that when someone tells us something, it is somehow relevant; and when it doesn't immediately seem to be relevant, we try and work out some hidden meaning, which makes the utterance relevant at a deeper level. If we didn't do that search for hidden meaning, there'd be no figures of speech, and no wit. In fact, figures of speech and wit delight us, precisely because they makes go to the extra effort of working out what their point is.

Commands have another felicity condition, the sincerity condition: "the speaker genuinely wants the hearer to perform the requested act". As a corollary of that, if I want you to do X—especially if I want you to do X to me, then X must be something I would want to happen: it is something desirable or useful to me.

Which brings us to "why don't you shit on me". (I'll come to the "us" later.) "Why don't you shit on me" does not sound like something I would want to happen. Yes yes, I have heard about paraphilias, but the point of those kinds of predilections is that the victim gets some sort of kick out of it, so they do want it to happen after all. We have no such context here, so the command seems to be pointless. Like "kill me now" is.

"Kill me now" has a well established figurative meaning, which isn't about commands at all; I leave it as an exercise to the reader to work out how we get from the literal to the figurative meaning. But "why don't you shit on me" does still have a command as its figurative meaning. Let's start ratiocinating.

If literal defecation isn't what is meant, what figurative meanings of χέζω can we use to make sense of this? Here's the Triantafyllidis Dictionary entry:
1. (literal meaning) 2. (metaphorical) a. insult someone vulgarly; b. used to express indifference, contempt; c. (passive) show great cowardice [cf. English shit oneself]

The meaning we want is 2b; but that still violates the desirability condition:
  • Why don't you express indifference/contempt towards me?

Why would you seek out contempt? Let's try something else: If I want you to do X, it may be because that stops you doing the opposite of X. That doesn't help yet, but let's try it:
  • Why don't you stop expressing interest/esteem towards me?

… For the English-speakers in the room: that already sounds more plausible, doesn't it? And it's a classic trick of indirect language, using double negation of X to say X ("he's not unkind"). It sounds more plausible, because while we don't want bad things to happen to us, there are times we can have too much of a good thing happen to us.

In particular, the other person may be doing something *they* think is good to us, and we don't. Let's try to get that in there.
  • Why don't you stop doing things to express interest/esteem towards me?

And because we command something when it is desirable to us, we make that relevant by doing this equation:

    I want you to do something pleasing to me.
  • I want you to stop doing things displeasing to me
  • I want you to stop doing things to express interest/esteem towards me
  • Ergo, the things you are doing to express interest/esteem towards me are displeasing to me

That chain of reasoning underlies "why don't you shit on me". In fact it makes it better than "fuck off" in expressing the joke's sentiment: by asking you to treat me with contempt, I am explicitly rejecting your shows of respect. The English equivalent would be something like "do me a favour, and stop giving a shit about me."

Does that look algebraic to you? Well, if you're Greek, think of the tone of δεν με χέζεις. It's impatient dismissal. You could paraphrase it equally well (though less pungently) as δεν με παρατάς "why don't you leave me alone". And "why don't you leave me alone" is explicitly rejecting someone's show of interest.

There's one more peculiarity to the expression: why "us" and not "me"? I'm guessing here, but this is an equivalent of the English Royal we: by claiming the angry sentiment not just for herself, but for herself and her (absent) posse, the speaker bolsters the authority of the statement: "I , and everyone like me, think you should fuck off." The tenor is quite different though: this is a colloquial artifice in Greek.

The "car jack" is not the form of the expression I was familiar with, btw. The form I knew was δεν μας χέζεις ρε Νταλάρα, "why don't you shit on me, Dalaras", referring to the renowned singer George Dalaras. From Sarantakos' thread, I find this was itself a punchline, in a joke by Harry Klynn. The punchline was so prominent in the early '90s, commenter Ilefoufoutos [e-fufutos] had conjured up a scenario that it might end up in Babiniotis' dictionary, and attract lawsuits from the litigation-happy singer.

I don't know what the joke was, but Dalaras is earnest and serious enough as an artist that the reaction is plausible. (Not for me, I love his rebetika; but I found the reaction says a lot.) To quote another artist who was at times earnest—but not this time:
What that oure Hoost hadde herd this sermonyng,
He gan to speke as lordly as a kyng.
He seide, "What amounteth al this wit?
What shul we speke alday of hooly writ?

Or, as the Pig said to the Deer at around the same time (vv. 428–429):
Ήλθεν και άλλη φιλόσοφος μείζων της αλωπούτζας
και έχανε το στόμαν της και έχεσαν οι πάντες.
Here's a new sophist, greater than the fox!
Her mouth's agape, and everybody shits!

…What an… unfortunate note to finish on. If only I could claim it was a one-off…
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κερητίζειν: Ancient Greek Field Hockey?

A brief note for the Classicists still reading, despite the deluge of very very Late Greek here—to point to a post at Nikos Sarantakos' blog, jointly researched with commenter π2, on whether the infrequent verb κερητίζειν refers to an Ancient Greek sport similar to field hockey. This has been claimed by the archaeologist Georgios Oikonomos in the 1920s, and the claim is repeated by the Greek Hockey Association—along with an relief clearly showing a kind of hockey being played in antiquity.

[Oikonomos, G. "Κερητίζοντες." Archaiologikon Deltion 6 (1920-1921): 56 -59: pp 56 57 58 59]
The verb is very rare (Hesychius with an unclear gloss, Pseudo-Plutarch Lives of the Ten Orators 839c, where most editors emend it to κελητίσαι, κελητίζων "ride a horse": "He is said to have run a race on a swift horse"). Sarantakos and π2 are unconvinced by Oikonomos' argument. As often happens, someone makes a claim in scholarship, and it's taken up without much question elsewhere, because peer review does not catch everything—and didn't apply to everything either.

The post's executive summary, as they give it:
  • Yes, the Ancients played ball games.
  • There probably was a word κερητίζω, but we don't know what it means.
  • There is a chance that κερητίζω means a ball game.
  • G. Oikonomos conjectures that that ballgame is the ballgame shown in the relief. But it could be any ballgame, e.g. a kind of tennis or rugby.
  • His conjecture is nonetheless accepted by most scholars of Ancient sport—though the the conjuncture is forced in his opinion.
  • But the association's motto κερητίζειν ἐστι τὸ μετὰ τέρψεως ἀθλεύειν "playing hockey means having fun in sport" is not ancient: it is probably made up based on a general comment on ball games by Galen (de parvae pilae exercitio, Kühn vol. 5 p. 900): τοῦτο μὲν δὴ κοινὸν ἁπάντων γυμνασίων τῶν μετὰ τέρψεως, ἄλλα δ’ ἐξαίρετα τῶν διὰ τῆς σμικρᾶς σφαίρας, ἃ ἐγὼ νῦν ἐξηγήσομαι "that is what all fun exercises have in common; but there are other excellent exercises with a small ball, which I will now expound on."

Maximus of Gallipoli: linguistic commentary

I posted an excerpt of the 1638 New Testament translation by Maximus of Gallipoli last week. I've been rather busy and will continue to for at least a fortnight, and the promised linguistic commentary on the text has held me up from writing other stuff. Well then, here it is. It's a lot of information, and may lapse into being dry, but if you're looking at some indication of how Greek has changed between 70 and 1638—and more to the point, between 1638 and 2010, this might get you started.

What is interesting to see is that quite often, Modern Greek has evolved backwards since 1638: expressions that were acceptable in print then are ineptly folksy or even unheard of nowadays. That's because Contemporary Standard Modern Greek (which I keep abbreviating as CSMG) has been profoundly affected by Puristic Greek, and its studied avoidance of hitherto colloquial forms. To the extent, as you'll see, of banishing words spoken since Homer, precisely because they had had the bad taste of surviving in use in the vernacular.


The aphaeresis of Modern Greek (deleting initial unstressed/e, o, i/) hasn't been followed consistently in this text: εβγαίνοντας for Modern βγαίνοντας (1) (the Ancient is ἐκβαίνοντος, so this isn't an obvious archaism); οπού for Modern που (often; που only in 14); ετούτος (2, 4, 7, 9, still heard on occasion), ειπέ (4), ημπορούν (9), υπάγουν (11), ειπείτε (11), ιδείτε (14), εγκαστρωμένες (17), οπίσω (16), ημέρες "days" (17, 19, 20, may be archaism), ολιγόστευσε (20), ειπεί (21), and augments: ερωτούσαν (3), εδιάλεξε (20), εκόντεψε (20).

The aphaeresis resulted in some forms alternating o- for ε-: ομπροστά "before" (9) < Ancient ἔμπροσθεν, in CSMG just μπροστά. Unstressed initial ε- is assimiliated to απάνου "on" < ἐπάνω (2); the text also has αναντίαν (Ancient and CSMG εναντίον) "against" (9).

There are final /n/s throughout the text that CSMG would drop. This happens throughout published Early Modern Greek, and does not necessarily mean they were a feature of the spoken language.

Διατί "because" and δια "for" appear in their ancient forms, whereas in CSMG they are reduced to γιατί, για ([jati, ja]—i.e. the initial /ð/ has been deleted). Not necessarily an archaism.

The /ɣm/ cluster is simplified to /m/ in διαλεμένους "elect" (20, 22); in CSMG this is no longer allowed because of Puristic influence (Google: διαλεμένους::διαλεγμένους : 123::1670—the instances of διαλεμένους are almost all citations of Makriyannis).

Morphology: Inflection

Δες (1) for "look!" is a surprise: the shibboleth of Thracian Greek (including Constantinopolitan) is that their aorist of είδα has a [j], διές. Maximus may have been nudging his Greek in a more standard direction, realising that διές was a localism.

Τες (2, 17, 19) as the accusative plural feminine article is an older form, now mostly displaced by τις. (Google τες γυναίκες::τις γυναίκες "the women": 1190::411,000, and the hits for τες on the first page are older literature or dialect).

Modern Greek often changes -ω at the end of adverbs to -ου, though in CSMG this is stigmatised: απάνου "on" (2, 12) < ἐπάνω, Modern επάνω ~ απάνω ~ πάνω.

τίποτες "something" (15) has an added final /s/, by analogy with other adverbs ending in -ες. τίποτες is now considered dialectal, but turns up online enough to suggest some more general non-standard use (Google: 23,500 τίποτες to 4,610,000 τίποτα, 8,650,000 τίποτα)

The genitive is used after adverbs, where CSMG would use από "from": αγνάντια του ιερού "opposite the temple" (3). (I discuss the odd πέτρα απάνου την πέτραν below.)

The imperative ειπέ "say!" (4) is Ancient, and common in Early Modern Greek; CSMG has gone to πες, with -ες imperatives formed for a small class of monosyllabic verb stems. We have already seen δες "look!" follow that same new pattern (1).

A third member of the class is μπες "go in"; its subjunctive is now μπει, dropping its original unstressed /e/ (εμπεί < ἐμβῇ). This text has the regularised accentuation έμπει (15), so that the /e/ is not dropped. CSMG has not taken up this innovation, but other dialects have, and it seems to have some non-standard use online (971 hits on Google, not all of them literary.)

The Mainland 3rd pl present ending -ουν (for Ancient and Cretan -ουσι) is used: θέλουν "will" (4, 6), λέγουν "they say" (6), ημπορούν (9), υπάγουν (11), παραδώσουν (11), πλανούν (22), σύρουν (22)—but θέλουσι "will" (6, 8, 22), απολογηθούσι (9), φεύγουσιν (14). Using the two variants in the same sentence with the same verb (6) is nothing unusual: Modern Greek had not yet been standardised.

The plural σύγχυσες "confusion" (8) uses a first declension plural on what was historically a third declension noun in -ις. This usage is nowadays lambasted as "extremist Demotic", and only Psichari's circle supported it in recent times. But this usage merely reflects what had happened in the vernacular, with the third declension eliminated in all contexts and replaced by the first declension. (ερημώσεως "desolation" (14), OTOH, is in the Ancient 3rd declension.) The CSMG situation, with 1st declension singular and 3rd declension plural for historical -ις nouns, reflects an awkward compromise: people resisted making -ις nouns consistently 1st declension in CSMG, because they are mostly abstract nouns, and hence learnèd. Noone blinks at the plural ράχες of the non-learnèd ράχη < ῥάχις "back".

Early Modern Greek formed its first declension masculine plural as -άδες: αυθεντάδες (9). CSMG has rolled this plural back in favour of generalising the feminine plural -ες, although -άδες survives in colloquial use. The rollback is only 20th century, and indeed the Puristic plural in -αί held out for a long time in spoken use—with -άδες felt too colloquial for words like "professor", and -ες too artificial.

Different dialects of Greek have moved -εω verbs across to the -αω paradigm to different extents, so an -εω in the text which is an -αω verb in CSMG does not prove archaism. The text has the original -εω forms for λαλείτε "speak" (11, but this rarely goes to λαλάτε: Google 5360::747); and for παρακαλείτε "ask" (18: παρακαλείτε::παρακαλάτε Google 22,200::44,000, and the former count includes a lot of Ancient Greek)

Morphology: Stems

The aorist γένει "happen" (4, 7) survives in dialect, but CSMG has made the stem consistent with the present stem, and uses γίνει. (The resulting ambiguity is dealt with in a curious way: the present is middle voice, the past is active; so Ancient γίγνομαι, ἐγενόμην is now γίνομαι, έγινα. There is no Aorist Middle in Modern Greek, but the normal outcome would have been to switch to the Aorist Passive, as in κοιμῶμαι, ἐκοιμησάμην "sleep" > κοιμάμαι, κοιμήθηκα.)

The text already uses the modern είναι "is", rather than Early Modern έναι.

The aorist πλανέσει (5) for Ancient πλανήσει (6) is a vernacular change first seen in φορέσω "wear"; the verb does not seem to be used in colloquial CSMG in the aorist.

κάμει "does" (7, 22) is a Modern sense (the ancient verb κάμνω means "to toil"); its /m/ variant is no longer used, and CSMG instead uses κάνω.

πάγει "take, go" (9) still has its original /ɣ/ < ὑπάγει "lead"—so υπάγουν (11). Ιn Modern Greek /ɣ/ is deleted between a vowel and a verb ending. So also λέγει "he says" (1), which in colloquial CSMG is λέει, and φυλάγετε "guard" (9) (Ancient φυλάσσετε, the -γ- is analogical from the aorist φυλάξω). Ιn CSMG φυλάγετε is further reduced to φυλάτε. (Dropping the /ɣ/ turns -αγω verbs into -αω verbs.) The form λέγει at least is still acceptable in CSMG because it was in Puristic; πάγει has no such warrant, and is not now used.

The future construction permits the survival of the Early Modern Greek infinitive of "be", είσται (11, 13). This has not survived into CSMG: the perfect tenses still use an infinitive-equivalent, but είμαι does not form a perfect in CSMG (*έχω είσται "I have been"), because the perfect needs an aorist (perfect) infinitive, and "be" is imperfective.


The adverbial participle is used productively: Και εβγαίνοντας από το ιερόν ο Ιησούς "and as Jesus was coming out of the temple" (1). My own hunch is that this was not the most vernacular syntax possible, and that explicit conjunctions were more colloquial; but that's a hunch, and the participle is still around in that role. (The adjectival active participle OTOH is now ossified, surviving only in lexicalised noun. So η μαυροφορούσα "black-wearing (woman)" does not imply a masculine ο *μαυροφορόντας.)

Maximus of Gallipoli was a speaker of Northern Greek, so he used the accusative instead of the genitive for indirect objects: λέγει τον "told him" (1, 2)

The text uses the Finite θέλω + Infinitive Verb construction (2, 4, 6, etc) to express the future, and the corresponding Finite Imperfect ήθελα + Infinitive (20) to express conditionals. The Modern construction with θα + Finite Verb dates from around 1700. The alternate future with μέλλω "is destined to" is also used (4), but should be taken as an archaism. The colloquial future έχει να "it has to" (19) is now used almost always as it is here, in the fixed expression έχει να γίνει "there will be", predicting something momentous positively or negatively.

The earlier να future may be lingering in να μην μεριμνάτε πρωτύτερα τι να ειπείτε "don't study ahead of time what you might (will) say" (11); in CSMG this would θα πείτε. The subjunctive used instead does make sense in CSMG, but CSMG treats such indirect questions as indicative, and the brevity of να may have helped it survive here. There is an even stronger survival in μηδέ να γένει "and nor will there be" (19): CSMG does not allow a subjunctive ("??nor might there be"), and the survival may be a fixed expression involving "nor".

In Modern Greek, απάνω "on" is an adjective, and can only act as a preposition by combining it with σε "to": έθνος απάνου εις άλλο έθνος "nation on to other nation = nation against nation" (8). πέτρα απάνου την πέτραν "a stone on a stone" (2) is treating απάνου as a preposition on its own; that's odd enough I suspect an error. Ancient Greek did treat ἄνω as a preposition, and Kriaras' dictionary of Early Modern Greek has some comparable instances with επάνω—but they all take a genitive, which makes them archaisms: this takes an accusative, making it a Modern preposition.

The text has a subjunctive relative clause, indicating intensional reference (the clause defines what is referred to), as is common in Modern Greek (and indeed Ancient too): πέτραν οπού να μην χαλασθεί "(any) stone which will not be ruined" (2), as distinct from "a stone which will not be ruined".

Subjunctive relative clauses take να in Greek, as the class of connectives that can precede a subjunctive verb is limited. In (11), the relativiser οπού introduces a subjunctive directly: εκείνο οπού σας δοθεί "that (anything) which is given to you". This usage turns up before the modern standard, but is quite rare in CSMG. A reason the construction may formerly have been more common is that Early Modern Greek and dialect allow οπού as a headless relativiser, "whoever" (surviving in CSMG only in the proverbial οπού φύγει φύγει "whoever leaves, leaves = it's everyone for himself"). Headless relativisers are intrinsically intensional, so they naturally take the subjunctive.

Adding αυτός "he" to the archaic absolute participle καθεζόμενος "sitting" (3) is awkward, but done to avoid a hanging participle in Greek: Ancient Greek allowed participial clauses to have different subjects from the main clause, and that's what Maximus is translating (καθημένου αὐτοῦ), but Modern Greek does not.

The phrase έστοντας να "being to" (5) as a vague temporal or causal connective is common in Early Modern Greek. It has vanished without a trace in Modern Greek, as indeed has the participle έστοντας; Modern Greek only uses όντας, reformulated based on Ancient Greek via Puristic.

οπού is used to indicate result (consequential) (19), but without a correlative in the preceding clause: Διατί θλίψις έχει να γένει εκείνες τες ημέρες, οπού… "for there will be a sorrow in those days, [such] that…". Arguably the correlative is supplied immediately afterwards, οπού τέτοια δεν έγινεν "that such has not happened"; but CSMG requires a preceding correlative, so this phrase sounds odd. (Dialect does not, and indeed Cretan even allows a truncated απού phrase as an exclamation: είναι ωραίο απού! "it is [so] pretty that…!"—Cf. New Zealand English sweet as!)

The counterfactual conditional εάν ο Κύριος δεν ολιγόστευσε τες ημέρες εκείνες "If the Lord had not made the number of those days smaller" (20) uses the aorist. In CSMG this cannot be a counterfactual: it would be a real condition, "if the Lord hasn't made…", and the counterfactual would have to be in the imperfect (εάν ο Κύριος δεν λιγόστευε). So the CSMG distribution of conditional tenses took a while to stabilise—as I already noted with Chantakites.


I'm only going to list the deviations from CSMG here:

αμή "but" (7, 13) is no longer used; CSMG instead uses μα (< Italian ma) or Ancient αλλά (11).

μηδέ "nor" (19) has been displaced in CMSG by μήτε, thanks to Puristic: μηδέ is tagged in dictionaries as "folksy". Both connectives are of Homeric pedigree, and it's likely that Puristic wanted to avoid μηδέ precisely because it had survived better in the vernacular. (Three citations of μήτε in Kriaras' dictionary of Early Modern Greek, over 150 of μηδέ.)

Modern readers may be surpised by the low register of σίχαμα for "abomination" (14); but that notion of low register is an artifice of Greek diglossia. If the translation is into the 17th century vernacular, σίχαμα is the right rendering for Koine βδελυγμία—Puristic has made people fussier. The same holds for εγκαστρωμένες "pregnant" (17): it is now felt to be vulgar, but the now "proper" έγκυος is unyieldingly Ancient, with its insistence on not having a distinct feminine ending (*η έγκυα), and it is ineligible for vernacular use.

The text uses γρικά (14) for "understand". The sense survives in dialect, alongisde its primary reading "hear". The connection is that the verb had generalised in meaning from "hear" to "sense"—hence Anglo-Australian comedians making fun of Greek migrants who "can hear the smell", conflating the senses of γρικώ. Nikos Papandreou romantically fancies this is synaethesia; no, just semantic change, and Googling tells me it's happened in Nigerian and Ghanaian English as well. (Etymologically, the verb seems to derive from ἀγροικέω "to be in the farmhouse", e.g. "to listen out for thieves in the farmhouse".) The verb, and its polysemy, are absent from CSMG.

δώμα "roof" (15) is now rare, displaced by the Puristic οροφή and στέγη. φευγατίον "fleeing" (18) is no longer used. (3 instances in Google: two from the 19th century, one from a movie script portraying pre-WWII old men.)

εκόντεψε (20) is used to mean "shorten", rather than its CSMG meaning "approach". The two meanings are related: the adjective κοντός is "short", the adverb κοντά is "short distance away = close by".

The exclamation να "lo!" (21) is Modern, first attested in the Ptochoprodromos cycle; it has not been pointed out often enough that, despite its conventional (and phonologically odd) derivation from ἤν, it sounds suspiciously like Slavic na "ibid." (Joseph, B.D. 1981. On the Synchrony and Diachrony of Modern Greek na. Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 7:139-154.)


τι λογής "what kind of" survives as a colloqualism; to modern ears it sounds odd in an exclamation—the Modern language would just use τι on its own. In Cypriot, the equivalent ίντα λοής has become so routine, it has evolved into ίνταλος "how?"

The idiomatic έχετε τον νουν σας (5) "have your mind" means "watch out"; it is still in use.

του λόγου σου "of your word/account" is a circumlocution for "you", used as a polite indirect reference, and nowadays mostly ironic, or emphatic: "as for you, for your part". As used here (9), it is emphatic, and reflexive (φυλάγετε εσείς του λόγους σας, corresponding to Koine βλέπετε δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐαυτούς). The text as given has an accusative plural for λόγους, but a genitive singular article του: "the.gen.sg words.acc.pl your.acc.pl"; the expression in CSMG can only be του λόγου σας, with "of [your] word" staying in the genitive. This is likely Maximus trying to make sense of the formulaic expression, and putting "word" in the plural to agree with the people it refers to: the two phrases sound the same.

του λόγου μου "of my word/account" is the same circumlocution for "I", again nowadays used ironically or emphatically, "for my part". As used here (9), it is literal: δια λόγου μου "for my word = on my account" (Koine ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ).

κάμει χρεία "it makes use = it is necessary" (7) has been displaced in CSMG by χρειάζεται, which is a Modern coinage, or είναι ανάγκη "it is a need" (10).

σημεία και τέρατα "signs and portents" (22) is proverbial in Modern Greek, and I don't think Maximus could have got rid of it if he tried.

Learnèd forms

Phonology: the text is not leaping to use the Modern cluster dissimilations: χαλασθεί (2), έλθει "come" (6), συγχυσθείτε (7), κηρυχθεί (10), αδελφός (12), κτίσεως (19), έκτισεν (19), πιστεύσετε (21). The lack of contraction in παιδία (12, CSMG παιδιά [peˈðja]) may also be an archaism; φευγατίον "fleeing" (18) is not an ancient word, but could easily be a hypercorrection.

Biblical and religious names don't follow Modern phonology, and the conservative influence of the Church has meant they almost never do—it's an act of self-conscious rebellion to do otherwise, and Maximus was not Psichari: Ιησούς "Jesus" (1), Ελαιών "Olives" (3), Ιάκωβος "James" (3), Ιωάννης "John" (3), Ανδρέας "Andrew" (3), Πνεύμα "Spirit" (11), Δανιήλ "Daniel" (14).

Noun Inflection: first declension accusative μαθητάς (1), ακοάς (7)—but the Modern inflection appears on ετούτες τες μεγάλες οικοδομές (2). The first declension nominative πείναι (8), ψευδοπροφήται (22), but αρχές (9), and indeed the seemingly überdemotic σύγχυσες, avoiding the third declension, in the same sentence as πείναι (8).

There are several third declension forms: βασιλείς (9)—the vernacular plural is βασιλιάδες, with the colloquial 1st declension plural already discussed. We have also already noted the third declension ερημώσεως (14). έθνη (10): neuters in -ος were typically switched to second declension in the vernacular, to the extent they survived at all (τὸ πέλαγος > ο πέλαγος). χειμώνος (18), θλίψις (19), κτίσεως (19).

Verb Inflection: the internal augment in απεκρίθη (2); the middle participle καθεζόμενος (for Modern active κάθοντας—note that the participle is active, but the indicative is still middle κάθομαι); the distinct subjunctive 2nd pl ακούσητε "you hear" (7); the ablaut aorist in δαρθεί "be beaten" (9).

Lexicon: διδάσκαλε for δάσκαλε "teacher" (1); οικοδομήματα "buildings" (1), κατά μόνας "in private" (3; the Koine has a different archaism, κατ' ἰδίαν), κατά τόπους "in places" (8, taken from the Koine), adverbial πρώτον (10, CSMG πρώτα); έως "until" (13, 19), κτίσεως "creation" (19), σάρξ "flesh" (20: had been displaced by κρέας "meat" in the vernacular, has come back through Puristic).

Ιερόν "holy place" for "temple" is the Koine word in the original, although the modern (Christianised) vernacular wouldn't have offered a useful alternative; the Modern ναός "temple" is itself Koine instead of Attic νεώς, but is just as learnèd. (Koine took up the Doric form, because the Attic phonetic change that switched Ionic /neːos/ to /neoːs/—the "Attic declension"—was too much of an anomaly to survive.)

The text consistently uses archaic εις "to" instead of Modern σε.

A passive is used for τελειώνω "complete > finish": τελειωθούν (4), following the middle συντελεῖσθαι of the Koine. Modern Greek only uses the active for the verb, both in its transitive and intransitive meaning.

θέλει σηκωθεί X απάνου εις Y "X will rise up against Y" (8, 12) is a translationism (Koine ἐγερθήσεται X ἐπὶ Y), especially in its use of "on".

The declinable relativiser ο οποίος (19, 20) is not an archaism, being modelled on Italian il quale, but it is learnèd, and is used sparingly compared to οπού.

εις το να πλανούν "towards that they should deceive" (22) puts a preposition and article in front of a subjunctive, clearly calquing the ancient articular infinitive (Koine πρὸς τὸ ἀποπλανᾶν). CSMG allows such constructions, and there is enough precedent to suggest the construction may have been vernacular; but they are most productive in high register, and the use of εις here does not make sense in CSMG. (Indeed CSMG would be more confortable with the original προς.)

Mark 13:1-22.

1 Και εβγαίνοντας από το ιερόν ο Ιησούς, λέγει τον ένας από τους μαθητάς του: «Διδάσκαλε, για δες, τι λογής πέτρες, και τι λογής οικοδομήματα!»
2 Και απεκρίθη ο Ιησούς και λέγει τον: «Βλέπεις ετούτες τες μεγάλες οικοδομές; Δεν θέλει απομείνει πέτρα απάνου την πέτραν οπού να μην χαλασθεί».
3 Και καθεζόμενος αυτός εις το όρος των Ελαιών, αγνάντια του ιερού, τον ερωτούσαν κατά μόνας, ο Πέτρος και ο Ιάκωβος και ο Ιωάννης και Ανδρέας:
4 «Διδάσκαλε, ειπέ μας πότε θέλουν γένει ετούτα; και τι είναι το σημάδι όταν μέλλουσιν ετούτα όλα να τελειωθούν;»
5 Και ο Ιησούς, έστοντας να τους αποκριθεί, άρχισε να τους λέγει: «Έχετε τον νούν σας να μην σας πλανέσει κανένας.
6 Διατί πολλοί θέλουσιν έλθει εις το όνομά μου να λέγουν ότι “Εγώ είμαι [ο Χριστός]„, και θέλουν πλανήσει πολλούς.
7 Και όταν ακούσητε πολέμους και ακοάς πολέμων, μην συγχυσθείτε· διατί κάμει χρεία να γενούσιν ετούτα—αμή ακόμη δεν είναι το τέλος.
8 Διατί θέλει σηκωθεί έθνος απάνου εις άλλο έθνος· και βασιλεία απάνου εις άλλην βασιλείαν· και θέλουσι γένει σεισμοί κατά τόπους· και θέλουσι γένει πείναι και σύγχυσες.
9 Ετούτα είναι αρχές των πόνων. Και φυλάγετε εσείς του λόγου σας· διατί θέλουν σας παραδώσει εις τα συνέδρια, και εις τες συναγωγές θέλετε δαρθεί· και θέλουν σας πάγει [42] ομπροστά εις τους αυθεντάδες και βασιλείς δια λόγου μου, εις μαρτυρίαν αναντίαν τους. [43]
  • [42] ή θέλετε σταθεί
  • [43] ήγουν να μην ημπορούν να απολογηθούσι
10 Και ανάγκη είναι να κηρυχθεί πρώτον το ευαγγέλιον εις όλα τα έθνη.
11 Και όταν σας υπάγουν να σας παραδώσουν, να μην μεριμνάτε πρωτύτερα τι να ειπείτε, μηδέ μελετάτε· αλλά εκείνο οπού σας δοθεί εκείνην την ώραν, τούτο λαλείτε· διατί δεν θέλετε είσται εσείς οπού λαλείτε, αλλά το Πνεύμα το Άγιον.
12 Και θέλει παραδώσει αδελφός τον αδελφόν εις τον θάνατον· και ο πατέρας το παιδί του· και τα παιδία θέλουν σηκωθεί απάνου εις τους γονείς τους και θέλουν τους θανατώσει.
13 Και θέλετε είσται μισημένοι από όλους δια το όνομά μου· αμή όποιος υπομείνει έως το τέλος, εκείνος θέλει σωθεί.
14 Και όταν ιδείτε το “σίχαμα της ερημώσεως„, εκείνο οπού είπεν ο Δανιήλ ο προφήτης, να στέκει εκεί οπού δεν πρέπει (εκείνος οπού το διαβάζει, ας γρικά), τότε εκείνοι που είναι εις την Ιουδαίαν ας φεύγουσιν εις τα βουνά.
15 Και εκείνος οπού είναι απάνου εις το δώμα, ας μην κατέβει εις το σπίτι του μηδέ να έμπει μέσα να πάρει τίποτες από το σπίτι του.
16 Και εκείνος οπού είναι εις το χωράφι, ας μην γυρίσει οπίσω να πάρει το ρούχον του.
17 Και αλίμονον εις τες εγκαστρωμένες και εκείνες οπού βυζάνονται εκείνες τες ημέρες.
18 Και παρακαλείτε να μην γένει το φευγατίον σας [εις την ώραν] του χειμώνος.
19 Διατί θλίψις έχει να γένει εκείνες τες ημέρες, οπού τέτοια δεν έγινεν από την αρχήν της κτίσεως, την οποίαν έκτισεν ο Θεός, έως τώρα, και μηδέ να γένει.
20 Και εάν ο Κύριος δεν ολιγόστευσε τες ημέρες εκείνες, δεν ήθελε σωθεί καμία σάρξ· αλλά δια τους διαλεμένους τους οποίους εδιάλεξε εκόντεψε τες ημέρες.
21 Και τότε, εάν σας ειπεί κανένας: “Να, εδώ είναι ο Χριστός„ ή “Να, εκεί [είναι]„, μην τον πιστεύσετε.
22 Διατί θέλουσι σηκωθεί ψευδόχριστοι και ψευδοπροφήται και θέλουσι κάμει [44] σημεία και τέρατα, εις το να πλανούν και να σύρουν (αν ήτον δυνατόν) και τους διαλεμένους.»
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RIP: Tassos Karanastassis

Tassos A. Karanastassis (Τάσος Καραναστάσης), lecturer at the University of Thessalonica seconded to the Centre for Byzantine Studies, passed away last week, entirely too young.

He finished up at the Centre for Byzantine Studies; but for much of his career, from 1980 to 2003, Tassos worked at the Dictionary of Mediaeval Greek Vernacular Literature. The dictionary was established by the now 103–year-old Emmanuel Kriaras in 1968; there is a good reason why the dictionary bears his name, and Kriaras continued to have the final word over all work up to 1997. But in his time there, Karanastassis had the day-to-day charge of the dictionary: he was its soul and its motor and its thrall.

His involvement with the dictionary ceased in 2003, earlier than he would have preferred; Karanastassis went back to his dissertation (which we hope to see published soon), and his research. The dictionary has gone on without him, and I wish it well; but it will not soon see someone with that degree of immersion, dedication, and easy familiarity with half a millenium's worth of words. A familiarity, I am told, that translated into 4,000 marginal notes to Trapp's overlapping Lexikon der byzantinischen Gräzität. I hope they too will eventually see the light of day.

I profited from his easy familiarity while George Baloglou and I were translating the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds: more than once during our inquiries he'd pause, look up, mutter "that can't be right", walk to the shelf, and fish out a novel sense of στασίδι from a six-hundred year old legal deed. ("Fishing spot", not "pew"—teaching me for the first time that Early Modern Greek was not as like to the language I speak as I'd assumed.) He had volumes of facts and contexts and connections filed away in his head, in a heterogeneous throng like the jars of pencil stubs and pottery shards he kept by his desk. And he always delighted to gather more: my unconscious lapses into Cretan phonology (δεκαρά), as much as mediaeval words for saucers (σαρσαρόλι).

That delight is what made him the dictionary's soul and its motor, as its thrall. He had objected to me saying as much about him on my web site, and he deferred to his forebear. (He was mortified when I guffawed at a paper I was reading on the premises in '96: "Shut up, the Professor is inside!") But Karanastassis has a large share of the responsibility for Early Modern Greek now having a dictionary. And his contribution has not been adequately acknowledged. His name does appear on the cover of the 2001 abridgment at least; but the whole dictionary is his, as much as it is anyone's. And that deserves to be said more.

George knew him longer than I did, and has put up his own reminiscences of him, more detailed than you'll find here. I'm glad to know Tassos stopped by this blog from time to time, even as his illness started to take its toll. I smile to read he had smirked to George about the same obscene citation from 1383 that I posted about last month. But by last month, Tassos was no longer able to stop by and smirk once more.

Others are better qualified than I to praise his literary scholarship—the encyclopaedic knowledge that gave him license to draw the long bow lines, and connect the unsurmised. The dozens of young scholars that served time at the dictionary know better than I how sound a mentor he was. The people of Kallikrateia, where his final resting place is, had more of a sense than I of what he was like outside the office and away from the pencil stubs.

For my part, I pause at an image, and at a put-down. Someone once groused at me, "Karanastassis thinks he's labouring sub specie aeternitatis." That wasn't intended as a compliment. But while I was gratified by Tassos' excitement when he solved a problem, or his good humour as he told a story entirely too long, the image that abides with me is Tassos labouring "under the aspect of eternity": pensive with his melancholy mustache and shock of grey hair, his blue eyes staring into the distance, sorting through words and facts and contexts, bringing them into deliberate, and unrushed, order.

He is eternity's now. Ελαφρύ το χώμα που τον σκεπάζει. Light be the earth that covers him.

Nick Nicholas and Tassos Karanastassis, 1996

NB: Tassos Karanastassis is not to be confused with his namesake Anastasios Karanastassis, another Greek lexicographer, who wrote the Academy of Athens' Dictionary of the Greek Dialects of Southern Italy.
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Maximus of Gallipoli, Geneva, 1638: Mark 13:1-22

I've been off for a week, and things on this blog have been a little salty-languaged of late (and will get so again: there's a nice list of slang.gr idioms I'm planning on walking through). To offer some respite from all that, I'm posting an excerpt from the translation of the New Testament into Modern Greek by Maximus of Gallipoli (Maximos of Kallipolis), sponsored by Cyril Lucaris and published posthumously in 1638.

The translation itself and its publication history is a fascinating story, but I haven't had the time to go through the secondary literature (including a 1200 pp recent treatise on the translation.) For now, there's an article from the Jehovah's Witnesses comprehensively reviewing past translation efforts, and a glancing mention in a recent article by Paschalis Kitromilides:

I did want to use a passage to illustrate the language of the time; that's always tricky with Bible translation, which tends to linguistic conservatism at the best of times—let alone in Modern Greek, under the heavy shadow of the original. I thought about 1 Cor 13, which aside from being the passage everyone knows contains that delightful crux at verse 3 which gave birth, I have argued, to a brand new tense of Greek.

(Andrew Malone's recent paper on the crux has the incredibly good taste to cite my paper. And/or, Andrew Malone has the incredibly good taste to be a friend of mine...)

But Paul is Paul, whatever language you translate him into, and the translation was as a result too formal to illustrate what I wanted it to. The same goes for the other recommendation I had, Ephesians 3 (which would have had the added advantage of being a shoutout to Mike Aubrey's Ἐν Εφέσῳ blog on New Testament Greek linguistics.)

So I opened up the Gospels volume of the recent edition semi-randomly, and came across the Little Apocalypse in Mark. There's a fair bit of archaism to be seen still; but not surprisingly, its language was vivid enough to illustrate the grammatical points I was after. I'll post a grammatical analysis as I did with Chantakites; and if anyone's interested, I'll go through the photocopies I have for more information about the translation.
Mark 13:1-22.

1 Και εβγαίνοντας από το ιερόν ο Ιησούς, λέγει τον ένας από τους μαθητάς του: «Διδάσκαλε, για δες, τι λογής πέτρες, και τι λογής οικοδομήματα!»
2 Και απεκρίθη ο Ιησούς και λέγει τον: «Βλέπεις ετούτες τες μεγάλες οικοδομές; Δεν θέλει απομείνει πέτρα απάνου την πέτραν οπού να μην χαλασθεί».
3 Και καθεζόμενος αυτός εις το όρος των Ελαιών, αγνάντια του ιερού, τον ερωτούσαν κατά μόνας, ο Πέτρος και ο Ιάκωβος και ο Ιωάννης και Ανδρέας:
4 «Διδάσκαλε, ειπέ μας πότε θέλουν γένει ετούτα; και τι είναι το σημάδι όταν μέλλουσιν ετούτα όλα να τελειωθούν;»
5 Και ο Ιησούς, έστοντας να τους αποκριθεί, άρχισε να τους λέγει: «Έχετε τον νούν σας να μην σας πλανέσει κανένας.
6 Διατί πολλοί θέλουσιν έλθει εις το όνομά μου να λέγουν ότι “Εγώ είμαι [ο Χριστός]„, και θέλουν πλανήσει πολλούς.
7 Και όταν ακούσητε πολέμους και ακοάς πολέμων, μην συγχυσθείτε· διατί κάμει χρεία να γενούσιν ετούτα—αμή ακόμη δεν είναι το τέλος.
8 Διατί θέλει σηκωθεί έθνος απάνου εις άλλο έθνος· και βασιλεία απάνου εις άλλην βασιλείαν· και θέλουσι γένει σεισμοί κατά τόπους· και θέλουσι γένει πείναι και σύγχυσες.
9 Ετούτα είναι αρχές των πόνων. Και φυλάγετε εσείς του λόγου σας· διατί θέλουν σας παραδώσει εις τα συνέδρια, και εις τες συναγωγές θέλετε δαρθεί· και θέλουν σας πάγει [42] ομπροστά εις τους αυθεντάδες και βασιλείς δια λόγου μου, εις μαρτυρίαν αναντίαν τους. [43]
  • [42] ή θέλετε σταθεί
  • [43] ήγουν να μην ημπορούν να απολογηθούσι
10 Και ανάγκη είναι να κηρυχθεί πρώτον το ευαγγέλιον εις όλα τα έθνη.
11 Και όταν σας υπάγουν να σας παραδώσουν, να μην μεριμνάτε πρωτύτερα τι να ειπείτε, μηδέ μελετάτε· αλλά εκείνο οπού σας δοθεί εκείνην την ώραν, τούτο λαλείτε· διατί δεν θέλετε είσται εσείς οπού λαλείτε, αλλά το Πνεύμα το Άγιον.
12 Και θέλει παραδώσει αδελφός τον αδελφόν εις τον θάνατον· και ο πατέρας το παιδί του· και τα παιδία θέλουν σηκωθεί απάνου εις τους γονείς τους και θέλουν τους θανατώσει.
13 Και θέλετε είσται μισημένοι από όλους δια το όνομά μου· αμή όποιος υπομείνει έως το τέλος, εκείνος θέλει σωθεί.
14 Και όταν ιδείτε το “σίχαμα της ερημώσεως„, εκείνο οπού είπεν ο Δανιήλ ο προφήτης, να στέκει εκεί οπού δεν πρέπει (εκείνος οπού το διαβάζει, ας γρικά), τότε εκείνοι που είναι εις την Ιουδαίαν ας φεύγουσιν εις τα βουνά.
15 Και εκείνος οπού είναι απάνου εις το δώμα, ας μην κατέβει εις το σπίτι του μηδέ να έμπει μέσα να πάρει τίποτες από το σπίτι του.
16 Και εκείνος οπού είναι εις το χωράφι, ας μην γυρίσει οπίσω να πάρει το ρούχον του.
17 Και αλίμονον εις τες εγκαστρωμένες και εκείνες οπού βυζάνονται εκείνες τες ημέρες.
18 Και παρακαλείτε να μην γένει το φευγατίον σας [εις την ώραν] του χειμώνος.
19 Διατί θλίψις έχει να γένει εκείνες τες ημέρες, οπού τέτοια δεν έγινεν από την αρχήν της κτίσεως, την οποίαν έκτισεν ο Θεός, έως τώρα, και μηδέ να γένει.
20 Και εάν ο Κύριος δεν ολιγόστευσε τες ημέρες εκείνες, δεν ήθελε σωθεί καμία σάρξ· αλλά δια τους διαλεμένους τους οποίους εδιάλεξε εκόντεψε τες ημέρες.
21 Και τότε, εάν σας ειπεί κανένας: “Να, εδώ είναι ο Χριστός„ ή “Να, εκεί [είναι]„, μην τον πιστεύσετε.
22 Διατί θέλουσι σηκωθεί ψευδόχριστοι και ψευδοπροφήται και θέλουσι κάμει [44] σημεία και τέρατα, εις το να πλανούν και να σύρουν (αν ήτον δυνατόν) και τους διαλεμένους.»
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What is the longest word of Online Modern Greek?

I've been surveying the longest words of Modern Greek, thanks to a thread at the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos' blog. But that's not the only place long words of Modern Greek can be reported from.

I've made mention previously of Hellas-L mailing list, which is available publicly as Usenet group bit.listserv.hellas. I dropped off the list in April 2008, and the last live post seems to be from March 2008: the group's Usenet feed has now gently passed into the Internetic night, like much of Usenet itself has; and the list itself was certainly winding down when I last saw it.

But Hellas-L had a glorious history behind it. In the late '80s and early '90s, when there was no substantial Internet presence in Greece, and the Web did not yet exist, this raucous mailing list of Greeks studying and working overseas was the main presence of Greek in the Internet. Given the times, it was an exclusively Greeklish medium, with all the anarchy of competing informal romanisations. Several of the erstwhile regulars of the list, as Internet oldtimers, are now in the community around the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos' Blog—including Nikos himsef.

By the time I started archiving the list in late 1996, it was starting to lose its preeminence; but I kept archives up to October 2007. (I missed three months in 1999.) Because it was a ready corpus of Greek—albeit idiosyncratic, self-conscious, English-tinged Greek—I used it as a resource in a few papers I wrote. That has led to at least one surprise to list members egosurfing.

The list cultivated a particular linguistic culture, like internet communities do. Playful use of Greeklish to roundtrip English, for example. Because some whoreson putz Wikipedian has just deleted my own paragraph on the topic from the Greeklish page, here it is for posterity:
Not withstanding the loaded politics of Greeklish, jocular use of English, transcribed into Greek and then transliterated into Greeklish, shows how users can manipulate the use of script to ironic effect: if a user, in the middle of a Greeklish conversation, types "dis iz xarnt tou rint" for "this is hard to read" (transliterated via δις ιζ χαρντ του ριντ), they are ironically distancing themselves from their code-switching to English, doubly ironic since the script is Roman but the orthography effectively Greek. (One might retort that this is aesthetically displeasing—but of course that is the point.) This artifice is particularly widespread on the Hellas mailing list.

Another particularity was a penchant for long compounds, especially during flamewars. Since we've been hunting down long words, I cranked up my grep engine, scrolled past the MIME attachments and spam email addresses, and came up with the following list from my archives of the list. Of course, these are not Aristophanes, and the compounds confirm that long words in Greek aren't that startling a thing. But several of them have linguistic interest, including where the compounding goes wrong.

Hellas-L already came up in previous discussion, with πολυμαθουφοχριστιανοπεοκρουστόπαιδο, "polymath UFO Christian penis stroking lad" (35 chars). There turn out to be 13 words 40 characters or longer in the corpus, and four 50 characters or longer.

Compounds breaking apart: #1

The words are long enough though, that they're starting to break apart. Two of the thirteen words are problematic as compounds.

The first is not really a word at all, but a run-in phrase:

Αριστεροαναρχοκαταολωνσαςγραφωσταπαλιάμου Aristeroanarxokataolwnsasgrafwstapaliamou "Leftist, Anarchist, Against Everybody, 'I-Don't-Give-A-Damn-About-You'", coined on Hellas-L by Kostas Yannakopoulos, 1997-02-04 (41 chars)
The word starts as a compound: Arister-o-anarch-o-. But then it drops in two quoted phrases, which don't belong in compounds because they're not pure stems, but inflections-and-all words: κατά όλων "against everybody" and σας γράφω στα παλιά μου [τα παπούτσια] "I write you on my old [shoes]" (common saying: I have so much contempt for you, I write your name on my old shoes' sole, so I can tread on it.)

Compounds breaking apart: #2

The second coinage is *almost* a proper compound, but goes awry with one connecting vowel:

Χανουμισσαδικομαυροφορεμενηπροσφυγομάνας Xanoumissadikomayroforemenhprosfygomanas "Harem Lady, unjustly dressed in black [= bereaved] mother of refugees", coined on Hellas-L by Sotiris Skevoulis, 2000-09-18 (40 chars)
This is a reference to AEK soccer team (Athletic Union of Constantinople), reestablished in Athens by refugees from Turkey. Skevoulis combines an uncomplimentary epithet for the team, "Harem Ladies", with a complimentary: "Mother of the Refugees". Skevoulis wants to trowel on the sentimentality of "Mother of the Refugees", so he amplifies it with a word picture: the Mother of the Refugees as mournful lady in black.

Here Skevoulis runs into a problem: he is combining the participle μαυροφορέμενη "dressed in black" with the noun προσφυγομάνα "Mother of the Refugees" (both are compounds). This is not a good idea, and there are safer alternatives: μαυροφόρ-α has an inflection straight on the root, and μαυροφορ-ο-προσφυγομάνα would be morphologically unexceptional. The noun μαυροφορούσ-α is another alternative: it is of course merely the ancient active feminine participle "wearing black"; but in Modern Greek the active participle is no longer productive as an adjective, so that μαυροφορούσα looks like any other feminine noun, and μαυροφορουσ-ο-προσφυγομάνα is no more exceptional than χανουμισσ- is in a compound.

But Skevoulis has used the passive participle, which is very much productive in Modern Greek. Again, you can do this in a compound, since participles correspond to adjectives; but it's a lot less usual. Because it's unusual, the participle ending -εμεν- calls attention to itself. Even if μαυροφορ-εμεν-ο- is possible in a compound, its unusualness in that context makes hearers think of the more usual context, as the ending of an inflected participle.

The thing is, -εμεν-ο- in that inflected context is masculine: μαυροφορ-εμέν-ος "man dressed in black", μαυροφορ-εμέν-η "woman dressed in black". So μαυροφορεμεν-ο-προσφυγομάνα, while supposedly a single compound, sounds like the ungrammatical phrase *μαυροφορεμένο (masc) προσφυγομάνα (fem). To patch this up, Skevoulis gives "dressed in black" the feminine ending -η. But now with μαυροφορεμεν-η-προσφυγομάνα, he's introduced an unambiguous inflection between the two stems.

That makes the compound breaks apart: participial -εμέν- cannot stick to a feminine noun in compounding. Not because it is impossible, but because the participle ending makes it unusual, and therefore calls to mind the two halves of the compound as separate words. Those separate words would disagree in gender, so the attempted compound sounds wrong. Again, had he used a more conventional first half of the compound, like μαυροφορ-ο-προσφυγομάνα, he wouldn't have had to tinker with the connecting vowel.

Compounds breaking apart: #3

A third coinage just misses the 40 character limit, but is even more problematic than the previous two:

in εντελαμαγκεντεΒοτανικωχαμανεχωμερακλώσει-mode in evtelamagkevteBotavikwxamavexwmeraklwsei-mode "in 'Ente la mangé de Votanik—woah, I'm feeling funky now' mode" (coined on Hellas-L by "The Marsist", 1997-01-26) (39 chars)
This refers to the pseudo-French (?) lyrics of a Rebetiko song by Spyros Zagoraios—see YouTube: "I'm the tough guy of Votaniko". The coinage follows them with the phrase ωχ αμάν, έχω μερακλώσει "ah, alas, I am in the ecstatic mood brought on by bouzouki music". (The translation above is less scrupulous.)

The whole thing is in another linguistic particularity of Hellas-L: posters signing off their posts with their name, followed by in/σε [pertinent Greek phrase]-mode. Normally the mode phrase is spaced as normal, or hyphenated:

  • σε-αμάν-πια-αυτή-η-Νέα-Ορλεάνη–mode se-aman-pia-auth-h-nea-orleanh-mode "in Enough-of-New-Orleans-Already–mode" (Lida Anestidou, 1997-11-06)
  • in–ο έρωτας κι ο βήχας δεν κρύβονται–mode in- o erwtas ki o bhxas den krybontai- mode "in 'you can't hide love or a cough'–mode" (Lamprini Thoma, 1997-11-04)

As the hyphens give away, the mode phrase is treated as a single unit, because the expression parodies the English use of in [single word]–mode: in sleep mode, in alert mode. I assume The Marsist has gone further, and mooshed the mode phrase together, because of the opaqueness of the song lyrics. People posting the lyrics often enough run έντε λα μαγκέ ντε Βοτανίκ together as εντελαμαγκέ ντε Βοτανίκ. Once he started running words together, he just kept going; after all, the mode phrase is meant to be a single unit.

What The Marsist did is not that unusual; online English often enough does that kind of thing using CamelCase, and if anything it's a surprise this is the only instance of that kind of thing I've found on Hellas-L. But just taking spaces out of a phrase doesn't turn it into a single word linguistically.

Compounds breaking apart: O RLY?

I'm being rather absolute about this "no internal morphology" rules, and—as I conceded in the discussion of γαμαοδέρνουλας—you can have a phrase turned into a single word, or stem, as a quotation. That's happened with the Forget-Me-Not flower in English; and it's happened with μη μου άπτου "Touch-Me-Not" (John 20:17) in Modern Greek, used as an indeclinable adjective to mean "aloof". (slang.gr: "Excessively sensitive, hypochondriac bothered by everything to the point of hysteria".)

I note that Sarantakos, unlike slang.gr, spells it as a single word, without spaces: μημουάπτου. It does help that the phrase is in Ancient Greek of course, so harder to take apart. And I still don't think it is useful to call εντελαμαγκεντεΒοτανικωχαμανεχωμερακλώσει as a single word: it doesn't look to be intended to used anywhere μημουάπτου can, like an adjective.

That's kind of an unfair burden to impose on nonce coinages, I admit. But the rarity of CamelCase in Greek gives away the game anyway: "Votanik" is not so integrated into the word that it has the same lowercase as the rest. In fact we saw another giveaway in the word I rejected as a compound from Sarantakos' thread, Ελληνοαποτηνπρωηνγιουγκοσλαβικηδημοκρατιατηςμακεδονιασόπουλο. If that was a real compound, there would be no need to spell -της- with a final sigma.

(In Greek typography of yore, you would in fact find final sigma in the middle of a word, at a morpheme boundary: προςλαμβάνω = προς + λαμβάνω. I'll daresay that's not the precedent Lefteris Dikeos had in mind when he spelled his word like that.)

Compounds not as much breaking apart

Back to Hellas-L. Here's the remaining eleven compounds from the period I have access to:

οικονομικοπολιτικοκοινωνικογεοστρατηγικές oikovomikopolitikokoivwvikogeostratngikes "economical, politicial, social and geostrategic" coined on Hellas-L by Christos Papadas, 2002-11-26 (40 chars)
οικο[νο]μικοκαταναλωτικοϋγειονομικοεργασιακοτεχνολογικό oikomikokatanalotikoygionomikoergasiakotexnologiko "economical, consumerist, sanitary, workplace and technological [paradise]", coined on Hellas-L by Pelopas@acn.gr, 2004-01-22 (53 chars)
We've seen similar coinages on Sarantakos' thread, all of them parodying the journalistic cliché of socio-politico- compounds: sonorous context-setting adjectives that don't end up saying that much.
φεμινιστοβιολογικοτουρκοφασιστομπλεξίματα feministobiologikotourkofasistomple3imata "feminist, biological, Turkish, Fascist complications", coined on Hellas-L by Lida Anestidou, 1997-05-08 (41 chars)
A summary of the various perennial topics of flamewars on the list, that the poster is trying to avoid. The humour is in the incongruous and lengthly lumping together of the disparate topics.
ινδοκινεζοουζυμβυριανοαβοριγινοκεντριστών indokinezoouzumburianoaboriginokentristwn "Indochinese, Uzymbyrian (?) and Aboriginal-centrists" coined on Hellas-L by Myron Kaisides, 1998-07-26 (41 chars)
αφροασιατοαμερικανοαυστραλιανοανταρκτικοκεντριστές afroasiatoamerikanoaystralianoantarktikokentristes, "Afro-Asian-American-Australian-Antractican-centricists", coined on Hellas-L by Myron Kaisides, 1998-07-26(50 chars)
Both coinages deride Afro-centrist approaches to history, by concocting absurd combinations of ethnicities as other biases. The point here once again is the length of the compound, as much as the incongruity of the ethnicities.
Νταϊφαδοσαλιαρεληδοκοσκωταδοκοκκαλιστανούς Ntaifadosaliarelhdokoskwtadokokkalistanous "Daifas, Saliarelis, Koskotas, and Kokkalis-istanis", coined on Hellas-L by "Asteras Amaliadas", 1998-02-11 (42 chars)
Referring to scandal-ridden presidents of soccer teams. Notice that the surnames are suffixed with -δ-, which is used in the plural of the names (Νταϊφάδ-ες, Σαλιαρέληδ-ες, Κοσκωτάδ-ες). Asteras is intending the plural proper names as a genericising description, the same way Ancient Greek used Ἀριστοφάνεις and Πλάτωνες. So, "inhabitants of a Third World country characterised by people such as Daifas, Saliarelis, Koskotas, and Kokkalis"
ΠαπαδοπουλοΠατακοΜακαρεζοΧουντοΪωαννιδικών PapadopouloPatakoMakarezoXouvtoIwavvidikwv "followers of Papadopoulos, Patakos, Makarezos, the Junta, and Ioannidis" coined on Hellas-L by Andreas Dakanalis, 2000-11-17 (42 chars)
Reference to the leaders of the 1967–74 dictatorship. Note the English-derived CamelCase: useful for clarity of the compound, particularly as proper names are involved, but not really necessary, and not part of conventional Greek (or English) orthography: the preceding compound of proper names did without it.
ΠαρασκευοΣαββατοΚυριακοΔευτεροΤριτοΤετάρτη ParaskeuoSabbatoKyriakoDeyteroTritoTetarth "Friday–Saturday–Sunday–Monday–Tuesday–Wednesday" coined on Hellas-L by Sotiris Skevoulis, 2006-02-02 (42 chars)
Expansion of Σαββατοκύριακο "Saturday–Sunday = weekend": by enumerating four more days, Skevoulis is saying he has gone to London for a six-day–long weekend. Again, this uses CamelCase.
ποντικοηρακλειωτικοownerιλιτικομπινελικωμάτων pontikohrakleiotikoownerilitikompinelikomatwn "Pontikas, Irakliotis, and Owner-ly flame wars", coined on Hellas-L by Nick Venedict Economides, 1996-12-21 (45 chars)
An example of the fluidity of Greeklish, allowing English and Greek terms to be combined relatively inobtrustively. Pontikas and Irakliotis were list personalities of yore, and Economides is harking back to the flamewars they were involved in.
Greeklish is that fluid, but Greek morphology is not. If I've understood the morphology correctly, Economides can't just drop the English [List]Owner in the compound without some sort of connective suffix: ποντικοηρακλειωτικο-owner-ο-μπινελικωμάτων, with a purely English owner root in the compound, would sound like broken Greek. So owner is nativised through the adjective derivation -ίτικ-ος "-itic", in combination (I think) with the Turkish-derived -λής -li "one characterised by", and an extra /i/ echoing -ίτικ- for good measure, to connect owner to -λ-ίτικος.
I think. Economides clearly had to attach *something* to owner to get it to fit in a Greek compound. I'm surprised he went as far as attaching something as long as the adjectival -ιλίτικο-. Then again, the point is to make a long compound.
No CamelCase here; the two proper name compounds using Camel Case are later than the two that do not, which may suggest increasing influence from English.
αναρχοκομουνιστοσυνδικαλιστοφασιστοαντιδημοκρατική, avarxokomouvistikosuvdikalistikofasistikoavtidnmokratikn, "anarcho-communist-syndicalist-fascist-antidemocratic", coined on Hellas-L by "The Marsist", 1997-01-22 (50 chars)
Parodying the only slightly less longwinded invective from the right against communists, as already seen in the preceding post: αναρχοληστοκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτες, Εαμοβουλγαροκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτης.

The longest word, like, ever

So we've seen several compounds long enough, and composed of heterogeneous enough material, to strain the morphology of Modern Greek: three compounds outright collapsing, and at least one more teetering. It should still be said, most of the compounds have been in good faith linguistically: they haven't had the outright fakery of the winning entries on the Longest Word In English blog, which don't count as words by any notion of wordness. You don't just take all the spaces out of a War-And-Peace–length book and call it a word. Unless you're a prat. Or a conceptual artist, which is the same thing.

That said, the longest word of Greek I now know of, Ancient or Modern, does not fall apart, and obeys the simple rules of root compounding.

Ουγγροτουρκομογγολοϊνδιανοπερσοβουλγαροαλβανοσλαβοϊταλοφραγκο­γερμανοαγγλοϊσπανοαβαροτσιγγανοαραβοαιγυπτιακοσυριακο­ασσυριακοϊρακινο­εβραϊκο­σουηδορωσσο­σερβοκροατομουσουλμανο­βουδιστοϊεχωβαδο­μιθραϊστο­σιντοϊστοϊνδουιστο­έλληνες, Ouggrotourkomoggoloindianopersovoulgaroalvanoslavoitalofragkogermanoaggloispano-avarotsigganoaravoaiguptiakosuriakoassyriakoirakinoevraikosouhdorwssoservokroato-mousoulmanovoudistoiecwvadomi9raistosintoistoindouistoellhnes, "Hungarian, Turkish, Mongol, Indian, Persian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Slav, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Avar, Gypsy, Arab, Egyptian, Syrian, Assyrian, Iraqi, Jewish, Swedish, Russian, Serb, Croat, Muslim, Buddhist, Jehovah's Witness, Mithraist, Shinto, Hindu Greeks" coined on Hellas-L by Myron Kaisides, 2001-08-18 (204 213 221 chars)
[EDIT: transcription error: I left out "Assyrian" after "Syrian", "Jewish" after Iraqi, and didn't translate "Albanian"]
Coined as an indignant retort to someone questioning the genetic continuity of Greeks: "From what I gather, you believe that we are in fact..."

This word did not break Greek morphology, the way Χανουμισσαδικο­μαυροφορεμενη­προσφυγομάνας or Αριστεροαναρχοκαταολωνσας­γραφωσταπαλιάμου did. But even with its ASCII hyphens, it clearly broke Usenet, as you can see from the randomly interspersed spaces on the Google Groups citation linked.

… Was that it?

Two concluding remarks after all that.

Are you let down by the word that dislodged Aristophanes? Are you thinking, "any random Internet poster can chain together thirty ethnicities and creeds and beat that"? Why yes, so one can. But I already discussed as much in the end of the preceding post. There's no special genius to producing really long compounds—although as the linguistics I've gone through this post shows, it's harder than it looks. What it takes is chutzpah, and perseverance.

The other thing to note is something I also noted in the previous post: while we have a well-defined canon from antiquity, in which the Comic authors' long coinages stand out, now everyone gets to be an author, and there's much more of a sample base for long coinages. And if you look back at the Byzantine instances I gave of long words, where the corpus is already substantially widened, you'll see Hellas-L is not doing that much new. ΠαπαδοπουλοΠατακοΜακαρεζοΧουντοΪωαννιδικών "followers of Papadopoulos, Patakos, Makarezos, the Junta, and Ioannidis" is not that different from Ἡρακλειανοκυροσεργιοπυρροπαυλοπετρῖται "followers of Heracleus, Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter". φεμινιστοβιολογικοτουρκοφασιστομπλεξίματα "feminist, biological, Turkish, Fascist complications" is not that different from ἀκτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος "dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes". Kaisides' melange of 29 31 ethnicities and creeds is not that different from Aristophanes' lopado-temacho-thing of 17 dishes. And "Pelopas@acn.gr" is not more obscure than "Gregory, hegumen of Oxia".

And if that's all left a sour taste in your pursuit of longest words, well, maybe it's given you some linguistic edification as well...
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What is the longest word of Modern Greek?

When I posted about the longest words of Greek, I didn't include Modern Greek, because I don't have ready access to the resources that would give me an answer. A blessing on his house (not for the first time): Nikos Sarantakos put up a post asking for suggestions from his readers. Given how arbitrary word compounding is, and how fragile the authority for words is, Nikos asked for contributions in three classes:
  1. Words in dictionaries
  2. Words found in texts, or derived from a word in texts
  3. Made up words

Sarantakos is leaving out chemical and numerical words, "which are no fun" (που δεν έχουν γούστο).

I've promised to reproduce the results here "for the Franks" :-) , and the thread has now died down enough that I will. Remember, the longest words of pre-Modern Greek are Aristophanes' monsterpiece, 171 letters long, and then, leaving out numericals, the thunderclap word from the Magical papyri, κεραυνομεγακλονοζηνπερατοκοσμολαμπροβελοπλουτοδότα, at 50 letters. I've also cast around a couple of other online threads, but not found anything longer. To keep things manageable, I'm cutting off at 25 letters for made up words.

I do of course know that this proves little, because compounding is productive in Greek, and many other languages. In fact the WordReference.com thread on longest words discussed discounting compounds from the listing, and with good reason. I'll say more on that in a followup post, after the letdown of the actual longest word found online.

It is still significant that Greek compounds more productively in general than English say, and that words 15 letters long are not that uncommon. But Greek is not in the running with actual agglutinative languages like Inuit or Turkish; and impressionalistically, German still beats Greek for commonplace usage of very long words.

1. In a dictionary

This wasn't as rich a harvest as we expected: as I noted in comments previously, Modern Greek lexicography shy away from the literary hapax (one-off word).

I'm suspicious of that last word, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was made up. The fact that dictionaries aren't as prepared to go there makes sense, given that Modern Greek dictionaries are all about words in actual use. Greek thinks a six-syllable word is relatively short, as we'll see further down; but ten syllables is about the limit of practicality.

Kriaras' dictionary of Early Modern Greek is more sympathetic to hapaxes, being a dictionary of a literary canon. It has three words of 26–28 letters, which I didn't include in the previous post, because they just missed the 29-letter barrier I set there:
  • εκατοστοτεσσαρακοστοτέταρτον "1/144" (28 chars: the 14th century Rechenbuch [Arithmetic textbook] published by K. Vogel)
  • ανακουρκουδοκλανομούστακος "squatting fart moustached" (26 chars: from the Mass of the Beardless Man. Of course.)
  • εντεροκαρδιοσυκωτοφλέγμονα "entrails, heart, liver, and lungs" (26 chars: from the Mass of the Beardless Man. Of course bis.)

2. Made up

There were the inevitable joke non-words here, such as:
  • "The longest word of Greek is whatever follows, on TV panel interviews, the phrase 'I'll just say one more word'. Said word usually lasts three to five minutes." (lots of chars, Alfred E. Newman)
  • Τελειώνωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωω "I'm cumming!" (50 chars, Kostas)
  • "With the help of some ακετυλοσαλικυλικού (acetylosalicylic) acid—an aspirin, get it?—I hope to manage to read through your posts. … I think I win: the longest word in the smallest package!!!" (18 chars, Misirlou)

More wordlike coinages, though not necessarily less jocular:
  • οικονομικοπολιτικοκοινωνικούς "economical/political/social" (29 chars, P..Konidaris)
  • χαζοκουτομουνογαμόσταυρος "dumb stupid cunt fuck Cross = particularly stupid individual" (25 chars, Alfred E. Newman)
  • χαζοκουτομουνογαμοσταυρίζουμε "we say 'dumb stupid cunt fuck Cross'" (29 chars, Alfred E. Newman)
  • ψυχοσεξανωμαλοπορνοδιαστροφικός "psycho-sexual perverted debauched deviant" (30 chars, Nikiplos)
  • τσαχπινομπιρμπιλογαργαλογκαβλιαροσιγανοπαπαδιά "coquettish, lively-eyed, tickling, sexy quiet–priest's-daughter [cf. stereotype of librarian]", (46 chars, Epicharmus, gradually built up over a series of comments between him and Voulagx)
  • ιστορικοκοινωνικοοικονομικοπεριβαλλοντολογικός "historical/sociological/economical/environmental" (46 chars, Thrax Vlax and Kornilios)
  • Αυστρογερμανοελβετογαλλοϊταλομονεγασκικός "Austrian, German, Swiss, French, Italian, Monegasque" (41 chars, Kornilios)
  • Ελληνοαποτηνπρωηνγιουγκοσλαβικηδημοκρατιατηςμακεδονιασ­όπουλο "offspring of a Greek and a Former-Yugoslav-Republic-of-Macedonia-n" (58 chars, Lefteris Dikeos and Nikos Sarantakos)

The final coinage makes its point—that the name of FYROM acceptable to Greece makes for awkward morphology; but it's so awkward as to be disqualified as a real word: it is chock full of internal inflections, and accusative and genitive articles have no business inside a word.

The other coinages fit into Greek morphology just fine, and the economico-politico- coinages parody extant journalistic cliches.

3. In texts

These lists won't be exhaustive of course, but I think they're indicative.
  • σκουληκομερμηγκότρυπες "worm- and ant-holes = convolutions" (23 chars, Nikos Sarantakos) (6 hits on Google excluding Sarantakos' and this)
  • υποδηματοεπιδιορθωτήριον "shoe repair shop" (24 chars, Nikos Sarantakos, recorded by linguist Manolis Triantafyllidis in Tripoli)
  • οικονομικοπεριβαλλοντικούς "economical/environmental" (26 chars, Nikos Sarantakos) (no Google hits, but I'll take his word for it)
  • αναρχοληστοκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτες "anarchist, brigand, communist gang members" (32 chars, Epicharmus, frequent official condemnation of the Communists during the Greek Civil war) (1 google hit)
  • Εαμοβουλγαροκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτης "National-Liberation-Front (EAM) Bulgarian Communist gang member" (33 chars, Vermeer, ditto) (2 google hits in the plural)
  • πανεξυπνοτετραπερατοσοφομεγαλοφυΐα "all-smart ingenious wise genius" (34 chars, Dokiskaki: "I'm sure I remember it from a comic book, but which one? Mickey Mouse? Asterix? Iznogoud?" Sarantakos put this under "made up words", but the hint of a citation makes me move it here)
  • αλκοολικοσαταναρχαιολογικοψευτομεγαλοφυές "alcoholic satanic archaeological pseudo-ingenious" (41 chars, SOphia; translation of the book title Der satanarchäolügenialkohöllische Wunschpunsch. Yes, it's German.)
  • υπηρετομαγεροσιδεροζυμωσφουγκαροκαμαριεροκηπουροαμαξο­γραμματο­γλωσσομαθής "servant, cook, ironing, baking, cleaning, chambermaid, gardener, carriage driving, secretary and linguist" (72 chars, Paliouras; a word remembered from a Karagiozis play, probably second grade primary school, 1982)

How serious are these words? Less so the longer you get of course. Linguistic polemic is one of the reasons they can get so long: Learnèd Greek liked long compounds, and people mocking them would make them exaggeratedly longer still:
  • ελαδιοξιδιοαλατολαχανοκαρύκευμα "oil–vinegar–salt–lettuce–concoction", i.e. Greek salad (31 chars, TAK: Iakovos Rizos Neroulos, Korakistika [PDF], p. 42)
  • εδωδιμολεσχοποικιλοβρωματοπωλείον "hall of edibles and shop selling various foodstuffs" (33 chars, TAK: Dimitrios Vyzantios, Babylonia [PDF])
  • Τηλε-τηλεοπτικοδιαυλοεπιλογή or τηλετηλοψιοδιαυλοεπιλογή "remote televisual channel choice = TV remote control" (27, 24 chars, Diver of Sinks: blog post by Yannis Harris)

Neroulos' and Vyzantios' plays are early 19th century parodies of Greek sociolinguistics, and they target the long (and serious-minded) compounds of learnèd Greek in particular: the learnèd hero chokes on pronouncing "oil–vinegar–salt–lettuce–concoction", and is cured when he is forced to say the rather more vernacular λαχανοσαλάτα "lettuce salad". Though 6 syllables is a lot less than 17, λαχανοσαλάτα is still a leviathan by many languages' norms, it should be said. TAK reports there are many other such coinages in the plays; you can discover them at your leisure.

In a similar vein, Yannis Haris is satirising Vyron Polydoras learnèd construction of διαυλοεπιλογή "channel selection" for the common less Hellenic τηλεκοντρόλ "remote control". By prefixing τηλε- "remote" and τηλεοπτικο- "televisual", and then Atticising τηλεοπτικο- to τηλοψιο-, Haris is upping Polydoras' ante.

Another source of long words is tongue-twisters: yes, these are hardly intended for productive communication—and neither are the linguistic parodies above. But to be learnable, they do at least have to make sense semantically as words.
  • μολυβοκοντυλοπελεκητούς "carved with a lead stylus" (24 chars, Nikos Sarantakos); Cypriot variant, μολυβοσι(δ)εροκαντζελλοπελετζημένη "carved with a lead and iron railing" (31 chars, Dimitris)
  • ποτηροκαλαθοσκαρβελοσωμαρογαϊδουρολειβαδοποταμίσουμε "let's [put] the glass on the basket on the saddle post on the saddle on the donkey on the meadow on the river" (52 chars, Immortalité)

So where are we? Ten syllables seems to be the limit of a practical long word, which is why dictionaries peter out at around 20 letters length. The Greek constitution has 22,939 words, and the following word length frequencies:


Once we go above that limit, words aren't practical any more, and the point of using them is almost always that they're overlong. They're satires of long (but not *that* long) learnèd coinages, or tongue-twisters, or literary flourishes—compounds so long just because the author can. The annoyance with the 72 letters of the longest word of all so far, the Karagiozis play's υπηρετο­μαγερο­σιδερο­ζυμω­σφουγκαρο­καμαριερο­κηπουρο­αμαξο­γραμματο­γλωσσομαθής, is that there's no incandescent literary genius to it. We'll be even more disappointed next post, when I divulge an online coinage even longer than Aristophanes'.

But Aristophanes' genius has blinded us to what long coinages are about. Aristophanes was among the first to coin such a monster, presumably; and such coinages are artifices of the written word, they're hard to sustain in an oral medium. (Not impossible, as the tongue-twisters show.) But now that everyone is an author, everyone can coin that kind of word, should the need come up.

Aristophanes' genius with his lopado-temacho-thing wasn't that he was able to compound a 171-letter long word; that's the Greek language making it possible. His genius was that he had the chutzpah to do it. And chutzpah is not the exclusive preserve of canonical literary authors.
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