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Triantafyllidis, M. 1923. Τα «ντόρτικα» της Ευρυτανίας: συµβολή στα ελληνικά µαστόρικα. Λαογραφία 7: 243–258. Available online.
Montoliu, C. 2005. Is Kaliarda, Greek Gay Slang, a mixed gypsy language? Erytheia 26: 299–318.
Πετρόπουλος, Η. 1971. Καλιαρντά. Αθήνα: Δίγαμμα. The 1980 updated edition is available (for now) on archive.org.
Δαγκίτσης, Κ. 1967. Λεξικό της Λαϊκής. Αθήνα: Ι.Γ. Βασιλείου.
Ζάχος, Ε. 1981. Το Λεξικό της Πιάτσας. Αθήνα: Κάκτος.
Humbert, Jean. 1930. La disparition du datif en grec du Ier au Xe siècle. Collection de la Société de linguistique de Paris, t. XXXIII. Paris, Champion. p. 17
Hesse, R. 1980. Syntax of the Modern Greek Verbal System: The Use of the Forms, Particularly in Combination with θα and να. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum.
The trans activist Paola Revenioti has made a series of documentaries in recent years about sundry aspects of Greek society. On of these was a a documentary about Kaliarda in 2014; the trailer is available on YouTube:
There is an interview with her on Lifo magazine about the documentary, as well as an extensive review; a second interview appeared in Popaganda. (A third interview at the Athens International Film Festival site is much more about her than about the film.)
The documentary mixes talking heads (I was delighted to recognise linguist Costas Canakis, with a twinkle in his eye, saying “we shouldn’t refer to Kaliarda as a language; it’s rather a very extensive specialised vocabulary”); with people who witnessed or were part of the scene, and modern twinks speaking in reenacted Kaliarda. (That artifice is also used in documentaries about Polari.) At 00:09:
Καλέ φίλη; Το δικέλεις εκεί το τσόλι;
—Why, girlfriend? Do you see that scoundrel [“mop”] there?
And the next sentence, as is supposed to be the case with Kaliarda, went too fast for me: “over there, with the arse? something?”
[XXX] Μ’ έβαλαν τα ρουνά, με τζάνε μέσα, «σήκω φύγε»
The cops put me, they put me in [jail] [? τζά(ζ)ω is to take out, not to put in], [they said] “get out of here”.
One of the interviewees is Revenioti’s fellow sex worker, Nana Hatzi, cited in the previous post, who died shortly after the film was made; she’s at 0:21 of the trailer, saying to Paola: (in Standard Greek) “We served in the army together; are you going to ask me about Kaliarda?” (and in Kaliarda, as Paola chuckles) Εσάντες νάκα τζινάβεις καλιαρντά; “Do you not understand Kaliarda?”
(Hatzi had used a Kaliarda word in her own Lifo interview about her life as a trans sex worker: “Sex was free back then. The moudzes (= pussies = women) in our groups would ask trans women for advice on how to dress, how to put on makeup, how to have their breasts stick out.”)
From the Lifo review by Antonis Boskoitis:
- I mentioned Malvina Karali’s eccentric variant of Kaliarda that she used on TV in the 90s; the interviewed poet George Le Nonce refers to it as Kolonaki Kaliarda, after the high-class Athens suburb. Recall that Petropoulos in his second edition had used Kolonaki argot to refer to the cultured jargon that Betty Vakalidou’s autobiography drew on.
- My recollection of Karali’s variant was that it did not have a lot of Romani, but it did have a lot of grammatical genderfuck—randomly switching the grammatical gender of inanimate or abstract nouns, rather than referring to gays born male in the feminine. Because we don’t have much connected Kaliarda discourse, I don’t know whether that was her invention, or original to Kaliarda.
- Revenioti made the film because she wanted to preserve a dying idiom, as it is now only heard in conversations of aged homosexuals near Omonia Square.
- Kaliarda passed relatively quickly from a marginal language of outcasts to daily use of the social mainstream—a clear comparison to what happened to rebetiko music, and the koutsavakika slang of the petty criminals that it was sung in.
- The trailer was not misleading: the reviewer found both Canakis and Hatzi hilarious, and a welcome contrast to the usual talking heads, “who would lend the project prestige without having anything to do with the unconventionality of social outcasts.” (I don’t know how much of an outcast a linguist gets to be, but Canakis does list queer theory as one of his fields.)
- Revenioti had her own stories about the two gay priests who conducted a whole mass in Kaliarda; recall Petropoulos’ testimony of Kaliarda wedding ceremonies.
- The Kaliarda skits were noted, as predictable but necessary to the format.
- The film and Petropoulos’ dictionary are the only serious records of the cant—without being subordinated by mainstream sensibility, or the Kostopoulos Lifestyle notions which essentially entombed Kaliarda.
- That needs expansion: Petros Kostopoulos in the 90s published a series of pop culture, “lifestyle” magazines, full of undigested English, and glamourising the nouveau riches of the time. Kostopoulos went bankrupt in the early 2010s, and the world he was glamourising has now passed. (There’s some interesting reflections from him looking back in this interview from 2012; as he justly points out, it’s not like 10 million Greeks weren’t complicit.) The reviewer is hinting that the celebration of formerly marginal identity in the hipster pop culture of the 90s debased it. I doubt you even needed Kostopoulos for that to happen; as the reviewer admits, it had already happened to rebetiko in the 50s (not with uniformly bad results). The reviewer also says that Revenioti did a more conscientious job of documenting Kaliarda than a “Lifestyle” mag ever would; that’s true, but it’s hardly a high bar.
From the Lifo interview with Alkistis Georgiou:
- The documentary set out to cover the intonation of the cant, its gestures, and so forth. (Petropoulos had intended to include a vinyl recording in the original edition.) She was also worried about preserving the testimony of the last remaining people who experienced Kaliarda.
- Kaliarda was in use up to the mid 70s, and kept developing. Its vocabulary is based on anagrams, onomatopoeia, metaphor, and loans from foreign languages: French, Turkish, English, Italian, Romani.
- Kaliarda arose from the conservatism of Greek society, which forced gays to seek protection in secrecy.
- Revenioti caught the tail end of Kaliarda as a living cant in the late 80s, in the beats of Zappeion Hall, but also in the countryside, where Kaliarda was used (contrary to what Petropoulos and aias.ath have said).
- The documentary covers not just the cant, but the development of gay life in Greece in the 20th century: love, sexuality, beats, and the problems gays encountered.
- Kaliarda was not restricted to young people: it was shared by whoever frequented the beats and hangouts of the time
- There are very few words and expressions still in use, mostly by the gay and trans community. Because of TV and theatre, some Kaliarda words have entered mainstream slang, with people not even being aware of their origins: dzus, tekno, puro, lugra, lubina, tsarði, tsoli “get lost!, twink, (dirty) old man, evil, gay, hut = house, mop = scoundrel”. But the language proper has died.
- With sexual liberation and gay liberation, and greater social tolerance, the reasons for Kaliarda have died out, so Kaliarda itself died out. The death of Kaliarda can’t be said to have been to the detriment of the gay community. (In other words, they can’t be too nostalgic about a manifestation of their oppression.)
- The interviewer watched the documentary in Revenioti’s flat; Golden Dawn’s Kasidiaris had just been yelling at a rally in the square outside.
- “I was in Omonia sqaure when I heard some 70-year old queers speaking Kaliarda. They were telling stories from the Jardin (= Zappeion Hall beat). I caught Kaliarda during its decline, when I was around 16, in the early 80s. I thought that this was a story that should not be lost, a piece of Greek culture.” (The dark park in the trailer is indeed Zappeion Hall, and the same park bench where Revenioti used to do sex work.)
- Kaliarda served both for protection, as a secrecy language from punters and cops; and as an emblem of their identity.
- Of the talking heads, Revenioti recommends the author Thanasis Skroubelos, telling tales from Hawaii, the first gay club and drag show venue of Athens:
Back then, if you wanted to fuck, you had to be married, or at least engaged. Boys back then had to find an outlet for their urges. To put it simply, all they were looking for was a hole. So boys who looked like girls and dressed like them were your only option. But inevitably, that wasn’t the end of it: there were some powerful love affairs that came out of it.
To which Revenioti comments, “What he’s saying is important: keep listening, and you’ll understand why Kaliarda died.”
- Nana Hatzi tells the story of the first drag show in Greece at Stasa’s taverna: a woman (Kaliarda: moundza—the word also meaning “cunt, pussy”) who encouraged gays to dance tsifteteli in her establishment, and earn some berde (Kaliarda: money).
- Nana’s Salonica was much more cosmopolitan and free in the 70s than Athens.
- I’ve already mentioned the hostile relations between bottoms and tops; Revenioti expands on that, starting with a definition. The slang term for tops is kolobaras “arse-fancier”, modelled after zabaras < Turkish zampara < Persian zan-pareh “womaniser”. On the face of it, that would mean the kolobaras was a homosexual top, since they were defined in opposition to womanisers in Greek slang. But in the world of gay sex workers back then, the top was a sex tourist; as Revenioti puts it,
Kolobaras, those who would fuck both men and women—and you know, they’d boast that they were doubly men for it: see how cunning we Greeks are, don’t you think? What stories we can come up with to make excuses?—The tops who fell in love with one of the boys at the Jardin or Hawaii were initiated into Kaliarda, and started making it public. Then came Malvina [Karali] who introduced Kaliarda into people’s living rooms. Gays were somewhat exposed by then, but they kept making up new words to protect themselves. The end of Kaliarda came when faggots wanted to become modern, to embrace normality, to become mainstream so to speak. There was no longer a reason to use it.
Revenioti has a fair few videos up on YouTube, including a 1992 interview with Malvina Karali. I encountered Karali when I was in Greece in 1996; I was initially enchanted, but I soured on her after seeing her proudly feature a military parade on a show, and say in an interview that her greatest joy was sharing obscene soccer slogans with her infant son. Military parades and soccer fandom: I’m used to rebels being a little more rebellious than that from the Anglosphere.
But Revenioti’s first answer in her interview is delightful:
I’d like to ask you, my lovely. How did you find the courage to rid yourself of the social role of a man, wear women’s clothing, get your gorgeous blonde hair together, and go out into society?
… I didn’t give a fuck. And I’ve never really thought about it. It’s one of the questions I keep getting asked, and I don’t know what to say. I liked it, I did it […] I realised I had two choices in life, and I’m lucky I worked it out as young as I did. I could either become a yuppie, get married, have a family, and chase after boys in secret and pay them; or I could get the boys to pay me. And I chose the latter.
The half minute anecdote Revenioti recorded from “Zozo” is probably as close as I’ll find online to someone gay or trans speaking Kaliarda. (It’s not very close, and Zozo chewing gum doesn’t help; at the very end, you can hear Revenioti complaining about the poor audio. YouTube commenters had a hard time of it too.)
Ξέρεις τι μου ’λεγε ένας παλιός κωλομπαράς; Ότι η μπάρα δεν είναι φτιαγμένη για το μουτζό, είναι φτιαγμένη για την πούλη. Γιατί αν ήταν φτιαγμένη για το μουτζό θα ήταν σαν το παντζανταράκι. Και μετά, μου ’πε ένας άλλος, που μου ’κανε μπομπονάκι, μου λέει «δεν πιστεύω να είμαι λούγκρα». «Όχι καλέ,» του λέω, «μην το ξαναπείς αυτό, θα τσακωθούμε.»
You know what an old top used to tell me? That the “crowbar” is not made for pussies, but for arses. Because if it was made for pussies, it would be shaped like a beetroot (?). And then someone else who was blowing me told me, “I’m not a bitch, am I?” “Why, of course not,” I said, “don’t say that again, we’ll end up arguing.
The Kaliarda is limited to pussy, arse, blow job (“bon-bon”), and bitch. The words for “top” and “crowbar” (penis) are not Kaliarda at all, they’re generic slang.
Something I was not expecting to see was Petropoulos and Revenioti in the same film:
The full documentary about Petropoulos, Ένας κόσμος υπόγειος “An underground world”, is online:
The documentary came out in 2005, two years after Petropoulos died, and was filmed shortly before his death in 2003.
There’s a snippet of Revenioti speaking in Kaliarda in a bar. Revenioti recounts that when she was fifteen, getting started in sex work (which would have been by her interviews the early 80s, certainly not 1968), she was with a friend, hitchhiking at 1 am in drag (“not like trans women are now, we’d just put on a spot of makeup, and go”), and said “let’s get a ride with this balamo into Omonia Square” [Romani: boss, non-Roma; Kaliarda: client of sex worker]. The balamo—“some guy with a beard in a Volkswagen”—was Petropoulos; and as Paola and her friend were chatting in the back seat, he ended up correcting their Kaliarda.
(There’s the possibility that Revenioti is lying about her age—she certainly isn’t publicising the year she was born; she shifts between late and early 80s as when she got started; and I doubt she was 15 when she was editing the gay magazine Κράξιμο in 1982. Petropoulos had permanently moved to Paris in 1974.)
Petropoulos, for his part, recounts having gay sex workers over to his place to gather words for the Kaliarda dictionary (to the consternation of his concierge: “has this guy changed preference?”) When they’d run out of words, he’d proposition them to get a reaction worth recording; the one he recalls was “I’d rather swallow an entire kiosk”—Petropoulos at 40 in 1968 apparently being too unattractive for him. Or at least, that was Petropoulos’ impression.)
Petropoulos also says in that interview the following:
I don’t like the expression “marginal” (the Greek euphemism for “outcast”). It’s a faggot word (πούστικη). They are people of the underworld. And they are downtrodden by not just the bourgeoisie, but the proletariat, which is supposedly so progressive. And the communists. It’s very easy for communists to tread on the junkie. But the junkie is for me much more of a revolutionary than a communist.
The polysemy of πούστικη (in colloquial Greek: “dishonourable, dishonest”) is something I don’t expect Petropoulos to hide from; but it’s still quite discordant, given he was the guy documenting what the poustides spoke. Anyone who expects the actual proletariat to be socially progressive has really not met many proletarians. And yeah, sneering at the lumpen-proletariat is one of the more socially regressive things Marxists have done. But the rebellion for rebellion’s sake that Petropoulos admires is nihilist, and I’m not convinced it’s that helpful to the groups he was documenting.
Then again, I’m harsh on Petropoulos, and I’m bourgeois and straight. Paola, who is trans and was in the lumpen-proletariat, admires him. That means something, I guess.
I noted that there was a dearth of material online on Kaliarda. There is a dearth, but not as much as when I posted about it in 2010. I will come back to two more extensive sources in later posts: the 2015 documentary on Kaliarda by trans activist Paola Revenioti, and Katerina Christopoulou’s 2016 PhD on the lexical sources of Greek slang.
There is a short story written in 2006 by Teos Romvos in Kaliarda: Mykonos—Holidays on Dzivanonisi, a sexcapade which ends with the narrator robbed by a Cretan villain. (Dzivanonisi “In-the-know Island = Gay Island” is patterned after original Kaliarda Dzivanotopos “In-the-know Place = London”.) Romvos explicitly namechecks Petropoulos and his Kaliarda at the end, so it draws its Kaliarda from the book rather than personal experience; and it shows: he’s had a lot of fun writing it and putting in compounds, but there’s still way too much standard Greek in there.
(The other discordant note about Romvos’ story is that there is no hermetic division between tops and bottoms: the protagonists are just two contemporary gay Greeks summering in Mykonos that have sex. That’s not how the original speakers of Kaliarda viewed the world.)
There is a 2005 article by Timos Angelou in Greek gay magazine 10%. For the most part it reproduces material from the second edition of Petropoulos’ Kaliarda; it has the following additional information:
- The article misunderstands Petropoulos comparison of Dura Liarda with Katharevousa. That οιονεί “as it were” does mean something! (The article also has the impression “biscuit twink” was a reference to dictator Papadopoulos himself, and not his supporter; but the dictator would be not biskototekno but biskotopuros “biscuit old man”.)
- The actress Spreantsa Vrana recollects that “it was considered commonplace” among actors “to speak Kaliarda.”
- The playwright Angelos Pyriochos claims that
“95% of Greeks now know the words dzus “get lost!”, dik “look!”, musanda “fake”. I was summering at Koufonisia last year and heard two ladies saying “dik that wave!” I recently heard a fifty-year old woman say “how kulo is what I’m seeing.” [Kaliarda < Romani: “shit”; Standard Greek: “lame”, silly < Ancient Greek “lame”—I’m still not convinced that is Kaliarda.] There are a dozen words doing the rounds in everybody’s vocabulary. On the other hand, 80% of TV series use Kaliarda. I used the word dzus when I had a column in Telerama. Playwrights rarely use Kaliarda in theatre, and limit it to revues. But many actors may use the odd word while improvising.
- Compare I guess the recent popularisation in English of Polari zhoosh via Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the earlier widespread Polari naff. That level of popularity of Polari takes me by surprise, but I’m in the diaspora.
- lugra “evil” is also given as a Kaliarda word that has become common Greek slang; but Petropoulos notes that “the [common] people use the word”, meaning that it was already not specific to Kaliarda.
There is a 2012 Masters thesis at Northeastern Illinois University by Galini V. Gkartzonika, An Ethnographic Analysis of Kaliarda : the Greek Gay Variety. Her thesis does not appear to be online, but it is cited in Paul Michaels’ thesis on Deaf Gay Male language and identity in Britain, and Gkartzonika herself has a Prezi presentation on her work. Gkartzonika surveyed 9 people: 5 women, 3 men, 1 “transsexual”, 24–32 years old and 59 years old. (I’m reasonably sure the 59 year old is Paola Revenioti, on which more next post.) Her findings:
- Kaliarda speakers are a subset of the Greek LGBTQ community.
- It is used as a group identity marker (obvi), and was used as a secret language.
- Kaliarda is no longer a secret language, because of TV and theatre.
- The Prezi examples of Kaliarda are only partially glossed:
- In ανάσαινε τον μπόμπο “keep breathing the ˈbobo” = “give me a blow job”, ˈbobo is clearly a bon-bon, a sweet (Petropoulos gives it as boˈbona, with a more overt feminine ending).
- In Άβελε κουράβελε κουραβελοάβελε ιτς και νάκα “fuck and get fucked, otherwise we’re lost” = “you only live once”, the unglossed its “not at all, nothing” < Turkish hiç “nothing” is well-established in Greek slang. (its ke naka “nothing and not” seems to mean “if nothing (like that), then no (to everything)”)
- I don’t know where naka “no, not” comes from; it doesn’t seem to be Romani. The synonym of naka, nuku, is Arvanitika nukë (cf. Lefkada dialect νούκου “no”), and naka may just be a distortion of nuku.
- The etymological richness of the original Kaliarda does not survive
- From Michaels’ summary: “However, one research participants of Gkartzonika’s was a person known as Blacky who asserted that originally gay people did not use Kaliarda and that it was only the transvestites and the transsexuals so as to be protected by the police. He claims that it was some time later that gay people then started using Kaliarda too. When this did happen, it then took on the eventual role similar to that of Polari, which was as; “an amusing variety that was fun and enjoyable” (Gkartzonika n.p.: 26). In this respect, the gay people and the trans- people are forming links to each others’ somewhat different communities through the use of speech even though the original motivation for the use is quite different.”
- This dichotomy between trans people who originally spoke Kaliarda, and gay speakers who appropriated it, is quite ahistorical. Blacky (likeliest in their 20s) is of course not talking about the Athens maypole dancers of the 1920s, or the street queans Petropoulos interviewed in 1968, at a time where there was no clear division between being transgender and being a gay bottom. Blacky’s statement is useless as early 20th century gay or trans history. It is, however, illuminating for the more recent history of gay identity construction.
- The claim Blacky seems to be making is “Unlike the transvestites and transexuals of yore, Kaliarda was not used as an ‘identity survival instrument’ for gay people, because apparently, they didn’t have anything to be afraid of by the time they started using Kaliarda.” But that can only mean that the dichotomy they are referring to, between trans and gay people, is post-Gay Liberation, when gays and trans people were clearly thought of as distinct groups, whereupon gays (claiming a new, male-presenting identity, including both tops and bottoms) could appropriate emblems like Kaliarda from an older identity, which was maintained more overtly by trans women (an identity originally constructed when being a bottom went hand-in-hand with being effeminate, and when tops were often regarded as hostile sexual tourists).
- In fact, I’m oddly reminded of the split between rabbinical Judaism and Christianity, as two different inheritors of temple Judaism, one more innovative than the other.
- In corroboration, Nana Hatzis’ account of being a trans sex worker in the 80s is revealing of the social pressure on gay street workers to crossdress—and the fluidity between being trans and gay that was still in place:
Was it difficult to be trans back then?
No, I think it was a lot easier. There were a lot of transvestites (τραβεστί) in Salonica, and we had brothels, we didn’t need to work the streets.
Why, are there less trans women now? Why do you say there were many back then?
Don’t forget that there were so many of us because many gays became transvestites to make money to live on, money for drugs, parties, and to give to their boyfriends. There were few then who were trans (τρανς) purely by choice, and I was one of them. Of course nowadays that’s no longer the case. Gays don’t become trans without wanting to, just for money and their boyfriends.
(Note that Nana uses the older French loanword for “transvestite” and the contemporary English loanword “trans” interchangeably; Nana of course came of age at a time when “transvestite” was the default word for trans identity, and cross-dressing and transgender identity were not as differentiated as they are now.)
- In corroboration, Nana Hatzis’ account of being a trans sex worker in the 80s is revealing of the social pressure on gay street workers to crossdress—and the fluidity between being trans and gay that was still in place:
- Gkartzonika observed Kaliarda usage in social contexts, including gay bars and everyday contact with gay and straight people. One subject said he “never uses Kaliarda words when he is among people he doesn’t feel familiarity with, even though they may be homosexuals.” On the other hand, she also noted that people can use Kaliarda without being gay, only to indicate a relaxed attitude about gay identity (“metrosexual”).
- “From the information that the research participants gave to Gkartzonika, it would appear that nowadays Kaliarda is used minimally and has ‘no primary or basic role for the Kaliarda speech community’.”
The conclusions available from these three sources are:
- A watered-down version of Kaliarda (anticipated in Petropoulos’ “external Kaliarda”) is still used as an emblematic language among gays in Greece.
- This watered-down version of Kaliarda has also penetrated into mainstream Greek slang to some extent, aided by media exposure of gay Greeks. (I suspect Pyriochos is exaggerating about 95% of Greeks knowing basic Kaliarda, but there is evidence that straight Greeks in Greece are more familiar with Kaliarda words than Greeks in the diaspora like me. As one would expect.)
- Note definition #2 of Kaliarda at slang.gr:
A dialect that isn’t exactly related to Kaliarda proper, but which is somewhat gay. It has mostly been popularised through [stereotyped] gay roles on Greek TV series, but also TV presenters like Psinakis. Characteristics include the use of feminine adjectives in all cases; words like θεά “goddess”, καλέ “dear”, μωρή “bitch!”, χρυσό μου “darling”, expressions like απιστεύτου “incredible”, etc.
- The full-fledged version of Kaliarda as a secrecy language that Petropoulos sketched, with all its content words and a few function words in Kaliarda, and with spectacular feats of humorous polyglot compounding, is long dead. Romvos’ story is fun, but it’s as weak as the “external Kaliarda” songs and curses that Petropoulos recorded. Lamentably, Petropoulos did not record discourse in Kaliarda proper at all (except possibly for a few of those curses.)
It turns out that the edition available online of Petropoulos’ Kaliarda is his second edition—which is just his first edition with an addendum. So I’m going to supplement the information I gave from his first edition.
I’m again going to limit myself to what he says about Kaliarda and his speakers, and how he engaged with it. I’m not going to go into all that he says about himself, and what a great rebel he is, and how much of a political act his publication was, and how the female linguist in 1977 who mentioned Kaliarda just tangentially should go back to the kitchen if she’s so terrified to lose her job. (p. 258: “Η φουκαριάρα, αφού τρέμει για τον μισθουλάκο της, γιατί δεν ασχολείται με την μαγειρική;”)
Petropoulos is the darling of the anarchist left in Greece for his documenting of the underworld as a political act. I’m not a fan of the anarchist left to begin with; but the kind of dissidence that tells professional women to get back in the kitchen, for whatever reason (and this wasn’t much of one), is not a dissidence I’m going to admire. And no, we did know better in 1980.
(I’m not the first not to think highly of Petropoulos; but of course that ultimately matters as little as his opinion of himself. What matters is what he recorded.)
- p. 205. Petropoulos was aware of a few words of Kaliarda from high school (in the 30s). He knew it under the Kaliarda synonym lubinistika “gay-ish, whorish”.
- Petropoulos then heard Kaliarda as a young man in Salonica, working on roadworks, and then as a security guard in the city park. He learned 50 words from “a very polite homosexual”, Menis (Kaliarda name Zoumbourlika), who had been an archimandrite and became one again later.
- p. 206–207. Petropoulos recorded Kaliarda over a year from mid 1968 to mid 1969. After identifying the gay beats of Athens, he got help from a cop in Vice (though not from the cop’s boss, who was in denial about gays existing outside of straight brothels), and then started befriending gays for information.
- p. 207. Of the underworld tribes he had encountered, only drug addicts were more closed off from outsiders than gays; and they would not respond to normal folklore methodology.
- p. 209–210. He was prosecuted for obscenity, and did eight months jail time.
- p. 213–215. He was annoyed that Alekos Sakelarios wrote an article on Kaliarda (“spoken by the most vulgar of the effeminate”) in the Ελεύθερος Κόσμος newspaper (1972–03–07) without citing him. That article already had worked out the Romani basis of Kaliarda. Sakelarios also noted the rapid speed at which Kaliarda is spoken, making it hard to understand for outsiders.
- p. 215. The earliest scholarly references to Kaliarda were: Hélène Ioannidi. 1977. Caliarda la langue secrète des homosexuels grecs. Topique 20; and Steve A. Demakopoulos. 1978. The Greek Gays Have a Word for It. Maledicta 2.1–2.
- p. 230–231. I don’t find Petropoulos’ limited correspondence with other intellectuals interesting, with the exception of the letter he got from the linguist Vasilis Foris (who was one of the pioneers of monotonic accentuation). That letter honours Foris, not only because he engages with the dictionary as both linguistic and social material (“There is material here for the study of an entire world, which is not limited to its own passions, but reacts, mocks, and pokes fun at everything around it. And most important: they’re alert to the world (είναι ξύπνιος)”), and not only for regretting that public mores don’t allow him to give the work the exposure it deserves (“Pardon me that stance if you will; and you can call it whatever you want—cowardice, etc; but prudery it is not”); but also because he asked good questions about it—which Petropoulos does not bother to answer. (He admits he made no contact with Foris before or after his letter):
- Do “upper-class gays” (κίναιδοι περιωπής) speak Kaliarda?—That is, is it exclusive to street queans, or is it used by gays in general? How do they “live” the vocabulary when they don’t hang around the tavernas and beats?
- Do provincial gays speak Kaliarda? The cant is polyglot enough that he doubts gays with less access to education (and thus foreign languages) would be able to command it.
- If avelo vakeloksekolupses means “get a divorce”, does it refer to conventional marriage, or to gay relationships? [Given that the Kaliarda for “divorce” literally means “priestly/religious unsticking”, I’d assume the former; but see the wedding parodies below.]
- p. 241–247 Petropoulos had gathered additional Kaliarda words, especially when he was in prison in 1973 over his publication of Kaliarda, and gay person Perla, who had provided him with material in 1968, ended up in Korydalos Prison as well. The new entries include gems such as papi “official document” (literally “duck” , but the word is from German Papier, which was commonly heard enough during Nazi Occupation); karofloko “cart jizz = petrol”; grandabota “big boot = Italy;” dzas-Dzusis “drives out Jesus = anti-Christ = Adolf Hitler”—Jesus himself is referred to in Kaliarda as mus-Dzusis “fake Jesus, Jesus the fake”; spiroxetopuros “Spirochaete Old Man = dictator Georgios Papadopoulos: spirochaetes are the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease and syphilis; biskototekno “biscuit twink = supporter of Papadopoulos”, named after Papadopoulos brand biscuits.
- p. 247–248 More information on the anomalous category of the pustomangas, the “faggot spiv” (which we already noted was the only instance Kaliarda uses the derogatory straight term pustis, for a thuggishly straight-acting gay).
This is the right opportunity to refer to a particular class of homosexuals, the so-called pustomangas, which has long since vanished. The pustomangas was also a passive homosexual, but at the same time was very aggressive. The pustomangas did not act effeminately, he hanged out with mangas (spivs), and when necessary, he’d pull a knife on you. You had to be very brave to insult a pustomangas. The pustomangas has more to do with the underworld, than with catamites.
Several renowned pustomangas lived in Metaxourgeio before the war. I printed a photo of Mitsia in my Rebetiko Songs. Mitsia was the best known pustomangas of Salonica. It appears that the famous Manolia was also a pustomangas. [Petropoulos noted in the first edition that she was killed by communist partisans.] I don’t know the names of other pustomangas.
- p. 248–249 Petropoulos gives more Kaliarda parodies of songs, including Seferis/Theodorakis’ legendary On the secret beach (Στο περιγιάλι το κρυφό). Like public cursing, songs only have a few words of Kaliarda, as they are intended to be understood by bystanders, sung at gay tavernas. The Secret Beach parody for example, uses Kaliarda words for “take” (= fondle), “cunt” (bis), “saw”, “fucking”, “petting”, and “arsehole”. At 7 words out of 49, used just for obscenities, it’s not Kaliarda in full flower.
- p. 250. There was a parody Wedding Service in Kaliarda, which even Petropoulos hesitates to reprint. The wedding service parody was used in weddings between bottoms (πούστηδων, with Petropoulos using the straight derogatory word) and twinks (τεκνών, with Petropoulos using the Kaliarda term that has since become standard slang).
- The first edition noted maypole festivities by gays in Athens before the War during Mardi Gras; there were also Mardi Gras festivities in Salonica, renting out Glaros taverna with the permission of the police.
- Petropoulos thinks there are 5000 words of Kaliarda, and rushed to publish his 3000 words so as not to be anticipated by someone else, to his professed shame.
- p. 251. “Kaliarda must have picked up new words by now, but I am no longer the right person to talk to about that. [Petropoulos had already moved to Paris.] Let the lazy shits (κοπρίτες) of our universities continue the work.”
- p. 251–254 Petropoulos concedes that there is a lot of Romani in Kaliarda, and that he wasn’t well-placed to pick up on it. He received correspondence on the Romani words in Kaliarda from various specialists, including the classicist Gordon Messing. (Messing has two major claims to fame: he revised Smyth’s grammar of Ancient Greek for reprinting in 1956; and he published in 1981 a glossary of the Romani of Agia Varvara, one of the main Roma communities of Greece.)
- p. 251. Although he accepts at least some of her Romani etymologies, Petropoulos has several disagreements with Ioannidi’s study:
- Female prostitutes do not speak Kaliarda
- Ioannidi is too caught up with a philological approach to language: she does not have a “feel” for language, and she is too attached to the theoretical approach of folklorist Nikolaos Politis and linguist Manolis Triantaphyllidis (who had recorded the Romani-based builders’ cant Dortika).
- Ioannidi thinks Kaliarda is a secrecy language (cant), but is to some degree different from other cants. Petropoulos thinks the difference between Kaliarda and other cants is radical—that Kaliarda is much more an artificial language than other cants are.
- p. 254–256. Petropoulos reviewed the 1979 autobiography of “transvestite” “Betty” (Elisavet Vakalidou, born Periklis Vakalidis, and the first edition was under her birth name—and I’m tickled pink that she’s using “Elisabeth” as her formal chosen name). Betty’s website is offline, but there’s plenty of material about her online anyway.
Betty’s language is a mixture of Kaliarda, mainstream slang, cultured jargon (which Petropoulos also calls Kolonaki argot, after the affluent suburb of Athens), and cants of other marginalised groups, such as pimps, prisoners, or soldiers. Some of her Kaliarda is “external Kaliarda”, by which Petropoulos means (p. 257) Kaliarda for external consumption, standard Greek with faint Kaliarda elements. (As we will see, “external Kaliarda” is what survives now.) He distinguishes the following terms in Betty’s book:
- Kaliarda proper: mori, konsava duzur. mori is “hey you (fem, impolite); bitch!” in Greek; konsava is French comment ça va “how are you” (also used as an expression of incredulity); duzur is not listed in Petropoulos’ dictionary, but I assume it’s French toujours “always”.
- External Kaliarda: m’ eperne “he was taking me = he was fucking me”; kaname gave “we were begging”; gave is presumably a pseudo-French form of gavos “blind” (which beggars often pretended to be), and the light verb used is standard kano instead of the typical Kaliarda avelo; enxirismeni/xirurɣimeni “operated on” (? trans woman who has had gender-affirming surgery?); sort-taim “short time” (quickie?), tin ksepetakse “he flung her” (had a quickie?), to kra ke to kru “the (interjections) kra and kru” (kra as in krazo, to publicly ridicule, particularly gays, so public ridicule of gays?), ixe pola suksu-muksu “he had a lot of blah-blah” [I’m surprised to see this as Kaliarda at all], ton ekðilosa “I expressed him” (?), ksetsibukiazi tus fadarus “she’s blowing soldiers”, ftoxoaɣapitike “pauper/lover!” None of these actually look particularly Kaliarda to me at all, which I guess is why Petropoulos put them in the “external” category.
- p. 258. Petropoulos accuses Triantafyllidis of a lack of integrity in not working on Kaliarda or the slang of the underworld.
- Petropoulos’ mentions Napoleon Lapathiotis’ 1938 sonnet Vao Gao Dao, wondering whether it was Kaliarda or some sort of language game. As the recent article on the poem at Nikos Sarantakos’ blog details, it was a parody of surrealism in nonsense Greek. There’s no reason to think it had anything to do with Kaliarda, apart from the fact that it is not in standard Greek, and that Lapathiotis was gay.
- p. 259. There is also a verse by poet Marinos Sigouros which looks like Kaliarda, but Romani is a more obvious explanation.
- p. 259–260. In 1979, lyricist K. Panagiotopoulos and composer K. Sfetsas asked for permission to record a political Kaliarda song. (From this article by Timos Angelou, we know it was featured in the revue “There’s a cat on my head” (Στο κεφάλι μου μια γάτα) at the Rialto theatre.) They were refused.
What Petropoulos had not picked up on in his first edition was that the base of the distinctive lexicon of Kaliarda is Romani—something that he had emended by the second edition.
In his magisterial post but—or, the influences of Romani on Kaliarda, slang.gr user Poniroskilo has compared Petropoulos’ vocabulary against the ROMLEX database of Romani dialects and I. Alexiou’s dictionary of Romani, and come up with the following list of core Romani vocabulary in Kaliarda. (I’m adding a column for Dortika, though Triantafyllidis did not publish a lot of his material, and his published article only went through words starting with mu.)
|aˈvelo give, take, do, put, take out, want, have||avel, avela, avol be, become, come, arrive|
|ðiˈkelo see, look; dik look||dikhel see, look, inspect|
|irakˈlja woman, iraklo buxom woman||rakli, rakhli non-Roma girl|
|ˈkakna, kakˈni chicken||khajni chicken|
|kaliarˈda Greek gay cant < kaliarˈdos ugly, evil, strange||kaljardo black, African, blackened, dishonoured < kalo black|
|kaˈtes, kaˈte that||kate, kathe here|
|kuˈlo turd, shit||khul turd, shit|
|kuraˈvelta sex, kuraˈvelo to have sex as a top||kuřipe sex, kurela to have sex|
|laˈtsos beautiful, good||lačho good, beautiful|
|luˈbina gay||lubni, lumbi, lumli whore, slut|
|manˈdo bread||manro, mandro bread||manˈdo|
|mol water, liquid, alcoholic drink||mol wine||mol wine|
|muˈdzo vagina||mindž vagina, vulgar word for girl or girlfriend > English minge|
|balaˈmo middle-aged client of male prostitute||balamo, balamno boss, judge, non-Roma; in Sepeči Romani dialect (Volos): ethnic Greek||balaˈmos man, human; boss, householder|
|baˈros, baˈlos fat||baro big, tall||baˈros big|
|but very||but very, many||but very|
|peˈle testicle||pelo, pl. pele testicles|
|ˈpuli anus||bul arse|
|puˈros old||phuro old, grandfather|
|ˈrelo fart||ril fart (in the Sepeči Romani dialect of Volos)|
|tekˈno boy, young man, small||tikno small, dainty|
|tiraˈxo shoe||tirax shoe (in the Sepeči Romani dialect of Volos)|
|ˈdzazo drive out, leave, flee||džal, džala, džal-tar leave, depart, distance oneself, go||ˈdzala leave!|
|tsurˈno theft, especially of the wallet of a top by the bottom’s friend hiding under the bed||čor thief, robber|
|ˈxalo eat||xal, hal eat||xaljon|
(The multivalent verbs avelo and dzazo are light verbs, a type common in the borrowing of verbs into other languages: nouns are easier to borrow than verbs, so languages often borrow the nouns, and use vague verbs like “do” with them. In fact, contemporary Greek does that routinely with online communication verbs taken from English notions: κάνω subscribe, κάνω add, κάνω like.)
In his 2005 study2, César Montoliu concludes that “Kaliardá is not a mixed Gypsy language. It is rather a slang or a professional jargon with an important Romani element in it.” Poniroskilo also cites Sofronis Chatzisavvidis of Thessalonica University (article no longer online) as saying that 15% of the Kaliarda vocabulary is Romani.
Montoliu adds his hypothesis “that it first appeared in a Romani speaking environment connected with male prostitution.” The smoking gun is in fact in Poniroskilo’s list, in the entry for balamo, as slang.gr commenter Vrastaman was delighted to realise:
Vrastaman: I always wondered where the dick [πού στον πούτσο] those two communities intersected. I never realised the obvious, that they intersected on dick! You found the missing link under balamo which explains everything. Respect!
Iron: It’d also be interesting to make a list of those words which have ended up in everyday Greek slang: τεκνό, πουρό, τζάζω, λουμπίνα, κουλό etc.
- tekˈno “toyboy, twink”,
- puˈro “dirty old man”,
- ˈdzazo “to send away, to get rid of”,
- luˈbina, variously defined on slang.gr “whore” (explained here as derived from the pseudonym of a well-paid female sex worker of the 1930s—clearly itself taken from the Romani for “whore”), “gay bottom”, and “cunning and conniving”,
- kuˈlo Kaliarda: “turd”; Standard Greek slang has meanings derived from its normal meaning “lame”: “nonsensical, unreasonable” (possibly independently from English lame); “left hand” in Koutsavakika—although one commenter speculates that the meaning “nonsense” derives from Kaliarda
John Black: Obviously, Vrasta. Gays would give 20 drachmas to a horny Gypsy kid, or buy him a cheese pie, and he’d stick it in them (τους τον φέρμαρε). See Giannaris’ classic film From the Edge of the City, although the male prostitutes in that film are ex-Soviet Pontic Greeks (ρουπούδες), not Roma.
- John Black’s ρουπούδες is an acronym, using the unofficial Greek syllabic alphabet: ρου που = ΡΠ = Ρωσσο-Πόντιοι “Russian Pontians”.
Having given what little information Petropoulos gives about the gay community that spoke Kaliarda, I am moving on to discussion of the cant itself. I’m putting Petropoulos’ own linguistic observations up first, with some comments of my own. I’m going to be vacillating between Greek and IPA for this, because I want to make sure this is accessible to people familiar with its source languages.
- p. 10. Just as the rebetiko toughs (the koutsavakides or manges) had their own slang, Koutsavakika, gays had their own cant, which they called:
- καλιαρντή, καλιάρντω, καλιαρντά [all from the kaliarda adjective καλιαρντός “ugly, strange”],
- λουμπινίστικα [from kaliarda λουμπίνα “gay”],
- φραγκολουμπινίστικα “Westerner kaliarda” [referring to the high representation of Western European vocabulary—or to the precedent of “Frank” in expressions of mixed identity; cf. Frangolevantinika “Frankish Levantine”, the use of Roman script for Greek by Catholics]
- τζιναβωτά [from kaliarda τζινάβω “to understand, to be initiated”]
- λατινικά “Latin”, βαθιά λατινικά “deep Latin”
- ετρούσκα “Etruscan”
- λιάρντω [truncation of καλιάρντω]
- ντούρα λιάρντα “hard Kaliarda”
- p. 10, p. 12. Of those terms, Kaliarda proper has some 300-400 words. Liardo and dura liarda (and presumably “deep Latin”) refer to “a katharevousa, as it were, of Kaliarda”—that is, to a more prestigious, elite variant of the cant (and not, as Greek Wikipedia misunderstood it, a version more influenced from Greek Puristic), spoken by a small group of initiates, recently formed, and featuring deliberately distorted words and new coinages; e.g. ðiˈkelo “to see, look” > kuˈelo, aˈvelo “to give, take, do, put, take out, want, have” > vuˈelo; ˈɡrifi “nail” < French griffe replaced by ɣeraˈkili < γεράκι “hawk”.
- Kaliarda has a distinctive intonation, and is spoken very fast—Petropoulos believes that was so as to preserve the secrecy of the cant. It also is spoken with gesticulation and effeminate posing (p. 13).
- p. 11. Kaliarda is becoming popularised outside its speaker base in other circles, notably actors. [In the case of Polari, it was the reverse direction: Italian ice-cream vendors > carnival and circus workers > actors > gays.] Koutsavakika too had become popularised among the bourgeoisie in the 1950s. [And as the slang.gr commenters note, Petropoulos’ own book contributed to popularising Kaliarda.]
- p. 12. Builders and traditional healers (“quacks”, κομπογιαννίτες) had their own cants as well. [For an extensive account of Greek cants, see this blog article by Angeliki Kardara: the professions she lists include fishermen, tinsmiths, barrel-makers, goldsmiths, builders, traditional healers, tailors, and metalworkers in general]
- Kaliarda is constantly developing. Gays draw on the Greek vernacular, Turkish, Italian, French and English. They do not use German or Russian; and Koutsavakika itself used only one German word, spreˈxaro < sprechen “to speak”.
- Koutsavakika has minimal contact with Kaliarda. There are 12 Kaliarda words in Koutsavakika, and those are already widespread in general slang; there are 10 Koutsavakika words in Kaliarda.
- p. 13. Kaliarda words are distorted words of Modern Greek (e.g. ˈduma < duˈmani < Turkish duman “smoke”), or rely on easily unravelled semantic shift (e.g. taˈpsi < Turkish tepsi: “baking pan” in Standard Greek, “mirror” in Kaliarda)
- Kaliarda relies on compounding extensively, and three-part compounds are routine.
- slang.gr user aias.ath, who was already familiar with Kaliarda from neighbours in the 60s, reports that “Often certain words may seem to us uneconomical, but gays usually accomodate them by changing endings, cutting out or doubling syllables, so they could fit into flowing speech without hiatuses or redundant syllables. So for the uninitiated Kaliarda would sound like shifting sands, without actually being such.” [aias.ath also refers to Kaliarda speakers as “catamites”, but I think there’s been enough of that.]
- Speakers take pride in their command of Kaliarda: the question beˈnavis ta kaliarˈda? “do you speak Kaliarda?” is proudly answered with ke ta dziˈnavo ke ta beˈnavo “I both speak it and understand it”
- “The reader of this dictionary will see emerging from the structure ad spirit of Kaliarda words a panorama of the pagan, epicurean, conspiratorial, anarchic, apolitical and purely urban world of the catamites, where disrespect for religion contends with contempt towards feminine sexual gifts, and where various apposite caustic epithets ridicule both provincials and the police.”
- p. 183. The dictionary includes 3000 words of Kaliarda; a tenth are Dura Liarda. [The majority of them are opportunistic jocular compounds.]
- Kaliarda dates from Modern Greek urbanisation. The lemmata βλακοψαλιδού, κρυσταλλοσινού and οκτάρης can be dated:
- vlakopsaliˈðu “stupid scissor chick” = “censorship”, which became prominent with the Metaxas regime of 1936
- kristalosiˈnu “crystal cinema chick” = “television”
- okˈtaris “eighter” = “member of parliament”, from their monthly salary of eight thousand drachmas. [Petropoulos does not say when that was their salary.]
- More relevant for dating is aias.ath’s reference to venizeloðosˈmeni “Given Away By Venizelos” as a name for Constantinople (referring to the Treaty of Lausanne signed by Venizelos in 1923), and the verb bairaktaˈrizo “to punish”, referring to Athens Police chief Dimitrios Bairaktaris (1893–1897), who persecuted the koustavakis during his tenure.
- “The epigrammatic character of Kaliarda words is extraordinary”:
- ˈafados “invisible, disappeared” = “God”
- vaˈvelo “Babel chick” = “polyglot”
- ɡodoˈkodra “counter-God” = “hell”
- kavɣaðokuˈtu “argument box chick” = “radio”
- maxmurˈlokaro “sleepyhead cart” = “road roller”
[It gets much more clever than that.]
- Kaliarda often uses feminine suffixes on nouns and adjectives, either colloquial (καραπλατού, λούμπω) or pseudo-foreign (ροσολιμαντέ). [The -ού and -ω feminine suffixes are derogatory, and also feature in slang proper. The -ˈe ending is common in Greek slang, and derives from French -é.]
- karaplaˈtu kara- (Turkish: “black”; Greek: augmentative, intensifier) + plati “back” + -ˈu “fem.” = “damned back thing (fem.)” = “shawl”
- ˈlubo “gay” < Kaliarda lubina (fem.) “gay” + -o “fem.”
- rosolimaˈde “licking” < roˈsoli “saliva” < rosolio “Italian rose petal liquer”.
- p. 184. Koutsavakika is a slang, injecting words into what is basically Modern Greek. Kaliarda is almost a complete language on its own, with distinct forms for most content words [and for a few function words; e.g. ˈdzakata “when”, kaˈtes, kaˈte, kaˈte “that”]
- Kaliarda verbs are usually formed from nouns, rather than the reverse.
- Kaliarda has ten colour terms: green, red, black, purple, yellow, blue, brown, light blue, royal blue, white.
- Adjectives are often feminine only: κρύφω ˈkrifo “secret” instead of κρυφός -ή -ό.
- p. 185. Kaliarda has a lot of words for genitals and sex, but no word for pleasure; sol means “sweetness” in general.
- Kaliarda has specific terms for all regions of Greece, for significant parts of Athens, for major tourist attractions, and for Paris and London.
- dzinaˈvotopos “in-the-know place” = “London”, because of the pioneering recognition of gay rights in the UK in the 60s. (The attitude that Britain was a gay mecca was also held among straight Greeks.)
- muˈdzotopos “cunt place” = “Paris”, as an easy contrast with London (place characterised as a straight mecca as opposed to a gay mecca)
- turiˈstofaka “tourist trap” = “The Acropolis”
- kseroskaˈtu “dry turd (fem.)” = “Epirus” (whose inhabitants were proverbially miserly, drawing on the saying that a miser would dry his own turds to eat as rusks)
- teˈromudza “land palm” = “Peloponnese” (shaped like a palm)
- teroɡaˈmila “land camel” = “Central Greece, Rumeli” (so called because it is mountainous)
- Kaliarda has its own proverbs; e.g. τζάκατα δικέλεις ντούμα χορχόρα αβέλεις τ’ άχατα “when you see smoke, you will have fire there”. (“Where there’s smoke there’s fire” is an English saying; it is not a Standard Greek saying.)
Supplemental to the previous post, I’ll add aias.ath’s own recollections:
The notion that Kaliarda peaked during the [1967–1974] dictatorship is incorrect. At that time (1971) the late outcast scholar Petropoulos published his work, but I recall that earlier than that we would go to Stakas’ taverna (Acharnai stop), who sang almost exclusively in Kaliarda. The taverna was full of older gays, whose conduct was at the limits of decency, and who seemed to me to be indulging in nostalgia. All sorts of curiousity seekers were also present, like us, university students at the time, attracted to the margins of society through our petit bourgeois mores. My father’s and godfather’s testimony, who were slumming it in the 20s, was that Kaliarda was at its peak then, when there was a true communicative use for it. I also recall that in the 60s, when I was a child, a company of well-off gays spoke Kaliarda in a neighbouring house, so that I wouldn’t understand what they were saying. When the book was published, it all looked familiar to me, so I learned it immediately; and I greatly upset them by understanding what they were saying, so they stopped speaking it, and I missed out on getting any practice.
I’ve namechecked Kaliarda, the gay Greek cant, several times on this blog. There is still a dearth of English-language information on Kaliarda; and since this blog is about making Greek linguistics more googlable in English, I’m going to attempt to remedy that. In this post, I’m going to start by giving what information is to hand on the speakers of Kaliarda; I’ll discuss the cant itself in subsequent posts.
The account we have of Kaliarda and its speakers is by Elias Petropoulos, who wrote his account in 1971.3 He made his name researching the underworld of petty criminals and drug users, and the rebetiko music culture that arose from it. His documentation of Kaliarda was part of his mission to document marginal urban subcultures. Having any respect towards the particular subculture of effeminate gay men was not part of his mission, and it’s pretty difficult to read the book without grimacing at the contempt dressed up as compassion in it. If anything, his use of official and often derogatory terminology—“paederasts” (who seem to just be tops), κίναιδοι “catamites”, θηλυπρεπείς “effeminate”, ομοφυλόφιλοι “homosexuals”—obfuscates what classes of people he is actually talking about.
Kaliarda is a cant: “the jargon or argot of a group, often employed to exclude or mislead people outside the group.” In particular, it was the cant of street queans and other effeminate gay men in Athens in the early to middle 20th century. In the aftermath of gay liberation and changes in social attitudes, the need for a secrecy language has attenuated, as it has for other gay cants (such as Italian-based Polari of English). There are emblematically gay linguistic mannerisms in popular culture, promulgated by personalities like Ilias Psinakis (and the eccentric variant that TV presenter Malvina Karali had made her own in the 90s); but the consensus is that Kaliarda as a living cant has died out.
Given that constructions of gender-diverse identities are very different in the West now than they were just a generation ago, it’s worth defining street queans explicitly—the more so as I don’t find an unproblematic headword on Wikipedia to link to.
Street queans (more commonly spelled queens, of course; the quean spelling is a bit of etymological antiquarianism) were socially marginalised gay men who dressed as women and went by female names, and who worked as sex workers. The modern Western category of transgender can be applied to them, but with some risk: modern Western understanding of gender decouples gender identification, gender presentation, and sexuality, and allows all of them to be non-binary. The world street queans worked in was a work in which gender identification, gender presentation, and sexuality were tightly coupled, and binary: being (passive) gay, being a cross-dresser, and being transgender were conflated; and the only way those societies were prepared to make sense of a man being a bottom was by having her put on a dress.
The speakers of Kaliarda were a cohesive social group, who associated with each other, had their own tavernas and beats, were persecuted by the police, and were socially marginalised. They were gay, they were bottoms (and spoke in derogatory terms about tops), and they referred to themselves with feminine terms. Some of them were prostitutes, and some of them we would now refer to as trans women. But while street queans looks like a convenient way to refer to them (with the associated romance of Stonewall), they weren’t all living on the streets; Petropoulos takes some delight in enumerating former politicians among them. And because of Petropoulos’ lack of detail, it’s hard to tell how many of them cross-dressed, or how often.
The speakers of Kaliarda can’t only have been street queans; but none of the terms ready to hand, like “trans women” or “gay men”, quite work. Certainly not the term they were originally described as by Petropoulos, “catamites”. I’m going to refer to them as “gay” in these posts, because I have to call them something.
For a self-proclaimed folklorist, Petropoulos does not actually capture all that much information about the Kaliarda speakers. This is what he does capture about the speakers, as distinct from the cant:
- p. 9. Almost all of the 300 semi-legal (straight) brothels of Athens had gay service staff (υπηρέτες “servants”)
- Cross-dressing gays circulated in beats after midnight, including behind the Athens Hilton, Metaxourgeio, and Colonus.
- The mainstream slang term for that particular group (which Petropoulos calls πλανόδιοι κίναιδοι “wandering catamites”, and which I’ve termed street queans) was φτωχομπινέδες, “pauper bottoms”.
- p. 11. “Catamites belong, at least marginally, to the underworld. But the underworld spits them back out. Catamites belong to the underworld in the same way that con artists or paedophiles do. Allowing for exceptions, catamites are a cohesive community. It includes the effeminate who wander through pitch-dark parks at night or who congregate with tops in impoverished entertainment centres, and they all know each other well.”
- p. 185. Gays had their own tavernas, in which they would order food in kaliarda, with the waiter yelling the order back to the cook in kaliarda.
- p. 186. Petropoulos gives a long list of nicknames of gays; the professions or other details he occasionally indicates are useful for giving background to the community:
- Tasia the dziveˈlu (“lesbian?”), Monica, Manolia: killed by ELAS communist partisans
- Homeria the Stinker (βρώμη) (worked at the Athens Race Track)
- Haritakena [= Haritakis’ Wife] the Cunt-Bumper (πλακομούνα) (= lesbian: “because he is married”)
- Julia the Cloth Fence (ανεμόπανα) (worked in a hotel laundry)
- Georgia the Phlegm Chick (ροχάλω) (hotel cleaner, which included emptying spitoons)
- Gogo Risen From The Dead (νεκραναστημένη) (had attempted suicide)
- Jo the Doctress (γιατρίνα) (had been a medical student)
- Joan of Arc (had burned their house down in a lover’s quarrel)
- Lamprini the Unspeaking (αμίλητη) (former government minister)
- Vangelio Who Shat Herself (χεσμένη) (former government minister)
- Constance the Bike Pump (τρόμπα) (former politician)
- Taka the Hit Record Chick (πλακοσουξετζού) (works in a record company)
- p. 187. Gays gossiped, and argued “like women”: rarely coming to blows, and usually limiting themselves to insults and curses, often in Standard Greek for the benefit of bystanders. Petropoulos gives a page of insults, and they are in Kaliarda.
- p. 188. Gays would make up lyrics to popular songs, and would dance the romaˈno-kiliˈbe to them in their tavernas (a variant of the tsifteteli), to the accompaniment of zills or glasses in their hands
- p. 189. “Strange though it may seem, mortal hatred separates catamites from tops (κολομπαράδες), as can be seen in certain words of Kaliarda referring to the latter. It is also known that catamites never associate with paederasts. They avoid the word ˈpustis (the Standard Greek derogatory word for bottoms) and its derivatives; the one exception is πουστόμαγκας.”
- pusˈtomaɡas “tough catamite”. [The mangas was the tough, streetwise criminal of the rebetiko subculture; the term appears to condemn antisocial, mangas-like behaviour among gays, by using the straight mangas’ own terminology against it: you are acting like a mangas, but you are what the mangas themselves would call a faggot (pustis).]
- p. 190. The one socially accepted open interaction of gays with broader Athenian society was during Carnival (the Sunday before Lent and the Monday at the start of Lent), as part of the koulouma celebrations at the Columns (of Olympian Zeus): a troupe of gays would set up a ɣaitaˈnaki, a maypole dance (itself a longstanding Carnival tradition), until the 1930s. I’ll quote Petropoulos at some length:
There was a single maypole for all of Athens. It consisted of homosexuals and was accompanied by a rudimentary orchestra: clarinet, trumpet, drum. One man carried the pole and set it up whenever the troupe was to dance. The pole-carrier was dressed as a clown. The dancers were no more than twenty; half dressed in male Spanish costumes, and the other half dressed as cabaret chanteuses, dancing as couples. The costumes were rented.
The maypole did not stay at the Columns. Starting there it did the rounds of the neighbourhoods and the whole crew, along with the hangers on following, would set up the maypole in every crossroads and alley. Then each dancer would take one of the colourful ribbons hanging from the top of the pole with both hands, and started dancing, until the ribbons were artfully wound around the pole. The ribbons were unwound in the same way. In the meantime the musicians would play allegro pieces (usually a polka for the winding and a mazurka for the unwinding), while various clowns would gather coins in tins, which they drummed with spectacular exaggerated movements. The common people loved the maypole. Everyone gave fifty lepta, one drachma, or two drachma coins. Money rained down from windows, even when times were hard. There was much clever teasing to be heard. The dancers often started singing (they had no tambourines), to a kalamatianos:
Three sisters were we, three daughters brought up well
One God took, the other Thanasis took [married]
The third and best, was picked up by the cop van
By nightfall, the maypole went around Syntagma, Plaka, and Psiri, and often went down to Peiraeus, ending up late at night in a taverna, where the dancers, musicians and clowns would share their profits. Or, they took their agreed salary if a smalltime businessman had taken charge of the maypole.
That was what took place with the maypole, which was the only open public event for homosexuals, and which the police occasionally banned. The maypole was only presented in the capital, and occasionally in Thessalonica.
I was asked to weigh in a couple of weeks ago on Facebook, on the provenance of the contemporary Greek slang word αγορίνα. It’s a term I myself, being in the diaspora, had not heard before this year, and I was suitably taken aback when I did first hear it. (“She’s calling me a female boy? Was it something I said?”)
The complications of the word are fascinating enough to deserve a post here. In fact, they’ll get two.
The morphology of the word are obvious enough. αγόρι “boy” (ultimately from Ancient Greek άωρος “unripe, untimely”) + feminine suffix -ίνα.
The semantics of the word are as complicated as you would expect from a word that switches the gender of “boy” to feminine.
The added frisson to the complicatedness of the semantics is, that your likely guess of what the word means is informed by the contemporary Zeitgeist; and your guess is mostly wrong—but wrong in interesting ways.
A feminine suffix on “boy” can have, at least, four interpretations:
- A boy who acts/is perceived as a girl
- A girl who acts/is perceived as a boy
- A boy who acts/is perceived as a boy—where the feminine suffix is used for a secondary meaning, and does not directly refer to gender
- A girl who acts/is perceived as a girl, defined as the female counterpart to a boy
With the increased visibility of transgender people and transgender issues, #1 would likely be the default interpretation for people in the modern West; cf. ladyboy in English. But αγορίνα was coined in a different social environment; one in which (a) transgender people were less visible; (b) transgender identity was much more nebulous, and in fact conflated routinely with both gay identity and cross-dressing identity.
As it turns out, the Greek word means #2, “tomboy”, in a rural context, and #3, “darling boy”, where the feminine suffix was used originally as an expression of endearment by mothers, and apparently now in slang among men. (The Facebook thread I was asked it from dismissed it as Greek “bro” speak.) #4 is rare (it seems to require you to have forgotten any distinct word for “girl”), but it is attested in dialect; there is a more widespread variant as an omen name, given to girls to express the wish that the next child be a boy. The genderfuck meaning inherent in #1 is possible, and it seems to colour the slang usage; but the historical precedent for genderfuck in Modern Greek, kaliarda, would have found αγορίνα too bland to bother with.
That αγορίνα would have been interpreted as “tomboy” in a more gender-conservative millieu should, I trust, not come as a surprise. The grammatical gender of αγορίνα inheres in its suffix, and an interpretation aligning grammatical to biological gender is less confronting to gender norms than an interpretation that differentiates grammatical from biological gender, and aligns it to behavioural gender: a tomboy is still a girl. After all, while Greeks have tomboys in traditional society, they are not the challenge to common understanding of gender that, say, the sworn virgins of northern Albania are; the tomboy can be dismissed safely as “just a phase”. (Rural norms would have seen to that.)
The interpretation as “darling boy” is somewhat more convoluted, and it does rely on a disconnect between grammatical gender and biological gender.
The semi-randomness of grammatical gender already makes it possible for there to be a disconnect between the two. So long as the predicate noun is an abstraction, men will not take offence if they are called a βεντέτα (French vedette) “a star”, or a προσωπικότητα “personality > VIP”. Similarly, the feminine augmentative -άρα can be used for macho males with impunity, although I have the impression that the masculine augmentative -αράς is more common; one will certainly see both the vocatives παιχτάρα “mighty soccer player (fem.)” and παιχταρά “mighty soccer player (masc.)”
But that’s because there’s content in the feminine morpheme that men can regard as manly praise, outweighing an incidental feminine gender. In the case of αγορίνα, or similar formations, that is not the case: the sole meaning of the feminine morpheme is to indicate that the referent is feminine. So a Greek straight man will take offence if he is called a γιατρίνα “female doctor (colloquial)” or an αθηναία “Athenian woman”.
So how is meaning #3, where the boy’s gender is not problematised, even possible?
The clue to #3 is in a different disconnect between grammatical and biological gender. Cross-linguistically, the neuter gender is associated not only with inanimate entities, that have no gender, but also with sexually immature entities, which do not yet express gender socially. As an extension of that meaning, neuters have come to have a hypocoristic meaning: they express affection, they indicate that something is cute—just as we think presexual children are cute. They can even be extended to one’s lover to express affection, even though the point of having a lover is some degree of sexual expression. So just as English uses baby as a term of affection, Greek can use neuters—even neuter pronouns. Απού τη χέρα το βαστώ και πάλι αναζητώ το, says the Cretan folk song: “I hold it by the hand, and I’m still missing it”—where “it” refers to one’s beloved, not in order to dehumanise them or misgender them, but as a sign of affection.
There is, it turns out, a subterranean current of Greek using feminine forms to refer to males, as a sign of affection: “darling boy, dear boy”. That current has to be subterranean enough not to lead to offence to straight men in traditional society. So it can’t be used in traditional Greek straight society, with a straight face, by straight men, or towards straight men. (There’s a reason for those “straight” qualifiers, and I’ll come to it.) It has to have been used in a social context where the referent’s masculinity is not seriously challenged, so that the secondary meaning of the feminine—someone society regards as lovely and loveable—is still accessible.
It is possible, and it’s more readily possible in Greek than in English (to judge by the snickering I seem to be faintly hearing.) It happens between a mother and her son during childhood.
- Not used by a straight man: check.
- Not used towards a straight man: check.
- Not liable to be construed as an insult: check.
- Not used by someone seen as threatening to gender norms: check.
I can’t find online corroboration, but I’m sure my mother called me κανακάρα “darling (fem.)” as well as κανακάρη “darling (masc.)”; and I have an only partly suppressed memory of my grandmother calling me καλή μου “my dear (fem.)”, and me hoping at the time that it was a speech error.
Moerover, senses #2 “tomboy”, #3 “dear boy”, and #4 “girl” are all attested in Greek dialect, as of 1933, when the first volume of the Academy of Athens’ Historical Dictionary of Modern Greek (in reality the Modern Greek dialect dictionary) came out:
- ἀγωροκόριτσο, τό (lit. “boy-girl”) (Kos, Imbros, Samos) 1. Young woman, maiden having the conduct, the manners of a male child: Δε dρέπισι να τρέχ’ς όξου σαν αγουρουκόρ’τσου; “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, running around outside like a tomboy?” (Imbros) Αυτή είν’ αγουρουκόρ’τσου “She is a tomboy”. (Samos). 2. Maiden having the aspect of a male child (Kos etc.)
- This is the Standard Modern Greek for “tomboy”
- ἀγῶρα, ἡ. (Epirus; Syros: Ermoupolis). 1. Girl (Epirus). Song: Εμπάτ’, αγώρες, στο χορό να μάθετε τραγούδια “Enter the dance, girls, to learn songs”. The word is also used as a proper name (Macedonia). 2. Male child, boy, usually as a term of endearment addressed to a male child (Syros: Ermoupolis): Έλ’, αγώρα μου! “Come, my boy!”
- ἀγωρίτσα, ἡ (Peloponnese: Arcadia, Kalavryta) Girl. The word is also used as a proper name: Thessaly (Karditsa), Thrace.
- ἀγωροῦ, ἡ. (Thrace: Saranta Ekklisies (now Kırklareli, Turkey), Aenus (now Enez, Turkey), Komotini) Girl having the conduct, the manners of a young man. Τι αγωρού είσαι, μωρή! “What sort of a tomboy are you, damn you!” (Saranta Ekklisies) Αυτή είναι αγωρού “She is a tomboy” (ibid.) The word is also used as a proper name: Thrace.
- ἀγώρω, ἡ. (Eastern Rumelia: Karyes (now Oreshnik, Bulgaria), Thrace: Saranta Ekklisies) 1. Girl, maiden having the conduct, the manners of a young man (Saranta Ekklisies): Πού ήσουν, μωρή αγώρω; “Where were you, you damn tomboy?”. 2. Girl, maiden (Karyes): Song: Άνοιξ’ άνοιξ’ αγώρω μου, ήρθαν τα μαύρα μάτια “Open up, open up, my girl, the dark eyes [i.e. the person with dark eyes] have arrived.” The word is also used as a proper name: Thessaly, Thrace.
- ἀγωρῖνα, ἡ. (Thrace: Saranta Ekklisies, Selybria (now Silivri, Turkey)) 1. Girl having the conduct, the manners of a young man (Saranta Ekklisies): Πού ήσου, μωρή αγωρίνα; (πού εγύριζες έξω, όπως οι νέοι;) “Where were you, you damn tomboy?” (that is, where were you wandering outside, like young men do?) (Saranta Ekklisies) 2. Male child, boy, usually term of endearment addressing a male child (Thrace: Selybria): Αγωρίνα μου! “My dear boy!”
You’ll notice a disproportionate representation of the broader region of Thrace (including the parts of geographic Thrace that are now in Bulgaria and Turkey). I would not pay much attention to that. Volume I of the Historical Dictionary came out in 1933. The Academy of Athens was in the process of copying the manuscripts of the Philological Association of Constantinople, when the Greco-Turkish War happened, and (as far as I know) decided there was no Philological Association of Constantinople to return the materials to. The Philological Association of Constantinople had been gathering dialect material for fifty years, while the Academy only started in the 1910s. So we would expect Thrace (the rural neighbourhood of Constantinople) to be overrepresented in Vol. 1.
We would also expect terms like “tomboy” to be underrepresented in general, the way the dictionary’s data was gathered: up until the 50s, data was gathered as glossaries of unusual words, rather than being extracted from running text. The form appears to be widespread enough not to have been seen as particularly exotic.
Pause, finally, for the old-fashioned spelling of ἀγωρ- with an omega. That’s the kind of etymological spelling that made all the sense in the world in the 1930s, and that has been abandoned now, becoming the contrarian preserve of Babiniotis. The spelling rule used to be: if a marked spelling of a vowel (<η, ω, αι>, etc) can be found somewhere in the history of a vernacular form, it should be preserved in the spelling of that form. The spelling rule has now become: if the marked spelling in the history of a vernacular form is not blindingly obvious, ignore it and used the unmarked spelling instead (<ι, ο, ε>). αγόρι < ἄωρος is not blindingly obvious; hence αγόρι is no longer spelled with an omega.
Now, the forms line up against their definitions like so:
|form||girl||omen name||tomboy||term of endearment to boy|
I don’t know that any particular correlations can be drawn between the meanings, with the exception of the omen name, which to me patterns strongly with the meaning “girl”. (“You’re a girl, but I wish you were a boy, so I’ll call you Female Boy.”) Αγορού is used as an omen name but not in the meaning “girl”; but αγορού and αγόρω are from the same area and are related—-ού is the modern reflex of Ancient -ώ—so I suspect that αγορού did also mean “girl”.
So αγόρα in Ermoupolis, and αγορίνα in Thrace, already meant “boy as a term of endearment”, with no direct indication of femininity, in 1933. The fact that the form turns up in Ermoupolis is itself significant: Ermoupolis was founded by refugees during the Greek War of Independence, and it was identified as an early site for the formation of Standard Modern Greek as a dialect koine. The use of αγόρα as a term of endearment there is consistent with that use of feminine endearments for boys being pandialectal. And the fact that αγορίνα was only attested in Thrace is likely a coincidence due to gaps in data collection, rather than providing a Thracian (or Constantinopolitan) lineage for the modern slang use of the term.
So much for 1933. The word αγορίνα does not turn up in Danguitsis’ dictionary of slang from 1967,4 nor Zahos’ dictionary from 1981.5 On Google Books, it turns up somewhere in a 1941 journal on Thracian dialect. It shows up in the second edition of Vlastos’ Thesaurus, from 1989, as a hyponym of “girl”; but it does not show up in the first edition from 1931 (although αγοροκόριτσο and αγριοκόριτσο “wild girl” do). Koulakis’ Μεγάλο ετυμολογικό λεξικό της νεοελληνικής γλώσσας from 1993 gives it only as “tomboy”, and so does Demetrakos’ dictionary from 1953.
On the other hand, the Triantafyllidis Institute’s dictionary (1998) gives it as “term of endearment for a boy, or more generally for a familiar male person”. Babiniotis (2nd ed, 2005) lists it under αγώρι (because that’s how he spells it), as “term of endearment used in address”. And the Papyros dictionary, Λεξικό της Ελληνικής Γλώσσας 2006, which is a reworking of Demetrakos, has “tomboy; (as term of endearment) dear boy”. (No, I don’t own the Academy of Athens’ new Dictionary Of Modern Greek Usage. Yet.)
There are gaps enough in the record that it’s not 100% clear what happened; but what seems to have happened is that the motherly use of αγορίνα has generalised recently, to a term that can be used by and to grown straight men. In the process, the older meaning “tomboy” has been displaced; in the Facebook thread that started this, a user expressed surprised at my announcement of that older meaning.
But the use of αγορίνα among straight men can’t be just an idle generalisation. All the senses of αγορίνα to this point have been safe for the patriarchy: criticising girls’ failure to adhere to gender norms; wishing girls were boys; women expressing intimacy towards their prepubescent sons strictly within the hearth. None of those senses questions a man’s virility in the public sphere. Bros calling each other αγορίνα does not follow that pattern.
I find no evidence that sense #1, “effeminate boy”, ever existed for αγορίνα; but it can exist, and people react to its current use as if it does exist. If straight men are suddenly calling each other in Greece αγορίνα, they aren’t likely to be doing so with a straight face. The term is something of a challenge—even if it’s only as mild a challenge as the use of ladies by coaches towards sportsmen in English. The reactions towards the word on slang.gr deserve their own article—as does the fact that Greek street queans of the 1960s did not use the word αγορίνα in sense #1, and wouldn’t have.
Latin and Greek both had an indicative tense called the Future Perfect. The tense described a event occurring in future time, but with perfective aspect—something complete in the future. The future perfect fits neatly into the matrix of possible tenses of Greek: it has the reduplication of Greek perfect tenses, but the -s- ending of future tenses.
European languages that have constructions with comparable meaning have had them called the same thing, which is no surprise: the description of verb tense and aspect in European languages was done in the shadow of the description devised for classical languages.
Now, there was a Perfect tense in Greek and Latin, denoting past completed actions, and there was an Imperfect tense in Greek and Latin, denoting past ongoing actions. Moreover, the adjectives perfect and imperfect generalised in meaning, from referring to completeness vs incompleteness, to referring to perfection vs flaw. So “Future Imperfect” was inevitable as a witticism (Get it? It’s Future, right? But it’s Not Perfect At All!!!), and it may be unearthed on Google as both the title of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, and a TV Tropes appellation for flawed reconstructions of the past.
It turns out that Coptic has a Future Imperfect tense after all. And as I discovered when going through Humbert’s account of the Greek dative,6 while Greek inscriptions and papyri in Egypt are normally in correct (if often vernacular) Greek, there is an instance of the Future Imperfect that has made it into Greek, in a late Nubian inscription: the fifth century Silko inscription on the Temple of Kalabsha.
The Future Imperfect is a straightforward combination in Coptic, of the imperfect prefix or particle, and the future prefix. If I can reconstruct from Wikipedia’s grammar:
- nere pə-tʲoeis krine ən-nə-Laos “The Lord was judging the nations”
- pə-tʲoeis na-krine ən-nə-Laos “The Lord will judge the nations”
- nere pə-tʲoeis na-krine ən-nə-Laos “The Lord will was judging the nations”
Similarly in the Silko inscription, the future imperfect is a combination of the augment of Greek past tenses (imperfect, aorist, and perfect), and the -s- ending of future tenses: ἐ-φιλονικ-ήσ-ουσιν “will was combatting”.
Ἐγὼ Σιλκω, βασιλίσκος Νουβάδων καὶ ὅλων τῶν Αἰθιόπων, ἦλθον εἰς Ταλμιν και Ταφιν. Ἅπαξ δύο ἐπολέμησα μετὰ τῶν Βλεμύων, καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἔδωκέν μοι τὸ νίκημα. Μετὰ τῶν τριῶν ἅπαξ ἐνίκησα πάλιν καὶ ἐκράτησα τὰς πόλεις αὐτῶν. Ἐκαθέσθην μετὰ τῶν ὄχλων μου τὸ μὲν πρῶτον ἅπαξ, ἐνίκησα αὐτῶν καὶ αὐτοὶ ἠξίωσάν με. Ἐποίησα εἰρήνην μετ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ὤμοσάν μοι τὰ εἴδωλα αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπίστευσα τὸν ὅρκον αὐτῶν, ὡς καλοί εἰσιν ἄνθρωποι. Ἀναχωρήθην εἰς τὰ ἄνω μέρη μου. Ὅτε ἐγεγονέμην βασιλίσκος, οὐκ ἀπῆλθον ὅλως ὀπίσω ἄλλων βασιλέων, ἀλλὰ ἀκμὴν ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν. Οἳ γὰρ φιλονικοῦσιν μετ’ ἐμοῦ, οὐκ ἀφῶ αὐτοὺς καθεζόμενοι εἰς χώραν αὐτῶν, εἰ μὴ κατηξίωσάν με καὶ παρακαλοῦσιν. Ἐγὼ γὰρ εἰς κάτω μέρη λέων εἰμι καὶ εἰς ἄνω μέρη ἄρξ εἰμι. Ἐπολέμησα μετὰ τῶν Βλεμύων ἀπὸ Πριμεως ἕως Τελμεως ἐν ἅπαξ, καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι Νουβάδων ἀνωτέρω ἐπόρθησα τὰς χώρας αὐτῶν, ἐπειδὴ ἐφιλονικήσουσιν μετ’ ἐμοῦ. Οἱ δεσπόται τῶν ἄλλων ἐθνῶν, οἳ φιλονεικοῦσιν μετ’ ἐμοῦ, οὐκ ἀφῶ αὐτοὺς καθεσθῆναι εἰς τὴν σκιάν, εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ ἡλίου ἔξω, καὶ οὐκ ἔδωκαν νηρὸν ἔσω εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτῶν. Οἱ γὰρ ἀντίδικοί μου ἁρπάζω τῶν γυναικῶν καὶ τὰ παιδία αὐτῶν.
I, Silko, king of the Noubades and all the Ethiopians, came twice to Talmis and Taphis. I warred with the Blemmys and God gave me victory. For a third time I defeated them again, and I took possession of their towns, I occupied them with my troops. At the first time I defeated them, they subjugated themselves to me, and I made peace with them. They swore for me to their idols. And I trusted their oaths and that they were decent people, I withdrew to my upper part of the country. When I became king, I was not ranking behind the other kings, by any means, but rather in front of them. Those who contend with me—I do not let them dwell in their country unless they give me esteem and devotion. For my bottom half is a lion and my top half is a bear. I have warred with the Blemmys from Primis to Telmis at the same time. Also the others, above the Noubades—I have laid waste to their areas because they “will were contending” with me. The rulers of the other peoples who contend with me—I do not allow them to sit in the shade, but keep them rather in the sun outside, and they did not drink water inside their houses. But my adversaries: I drag away their women and children.
All very Ozymandias. But that still doesn’t quite tell us what the future imperfect means. How do Coptic grammars gloss it?
When they get around the awkwardness of accounts like “casting the past into the future”, they turn out to give a straightforward rendering in English:
“I would contend.”
Well shit. By that notion, English has a future imperfect. And Greek definitely has a future imperfect.
Would, after all, is merely the past tense of will. If I will contend is the way of expressing the future in Modern English, then the past tense of will is used to cast the future event into the past. And presenting a future event as being in the past is a strategy for expressing a hypothetical. A future event from the perspective of the present, after all, is not guaranteed to take place: it is a hypothetical that “I will contend”. If we situate that hypothetical in the past, and don’t add the information that it did in fact take place, then we are asserting that the hypothetical remained unrealised. The other tribes would contend with Silko; but he laid waste to them before they got very far.
(The other English form for this makes it even more explict: I was going to contend.)
The same occurs in Modern Greek. The particle θα, derived like will from the verb for “I want to”, combines with present tenses to express futurity. In fact, Modern Greek has three present tenses in the subjunctive, which θα can combine with: a progressive, leading to a future progressive; a punctual (perfective), leading to a future punctual (which is in fact the unmarked tense); and a perfect tense (formed itself with an auxiliary), which leads to a future perfect. θα φιλονικώ “I will be contending”, θα φιλονικήσω “I will contend”, θα έχω φιλονικήσει “I will have contended.”
Already, there’s a mismatch with the traditional, Classical Greek-derived account of tenses. I called the punctual subjunctive φιλονικήσω a present tense. That dates from Hesse’s account of Greek verbs from 1980 at least7 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it dates from structuralists like André Mirambel. It does not match the history of the Greek verb: that form is historically the aorist subjunctive. But the ancient patterning is not the most economical way to make sense of Modern Greek verb tenses; a 2×2 matrix of present vs past, perfective vs imperfective is far more sensible.
But Greek does the same as Coptic and English does, in combining θα with past tenses to express counterfactuals:
- θα φιλονικούσα (Future + imperfect = past imperfective): I would contend
- θα είχα φιλονικήσει (Future + pluperfect): I would have contended
- θα φιλονίκησα (Future + aorist = past perfective): I must have contended (I don’t know that to be the case, but I conclude it is so from indirect evidence)
But traditional grammars of Modern Greek don’t call these tenses Future Imperfect, Future Pluperfect, and Future Aorist. In fact, they don’t list them as tenses at all: you will never see them mentioned in grammars, showing verb conjugation. You will only see them in accounts of syntax.
And the reason for that is that those tenses did not exist in Ancient Greek in the same mood (which is why Ancient Greek never bothered to come up with a Future Imperfect, outside of the L2 Greek of Silko). Ancient Greek certainly had ways of expressing those concepts; but it did not use the indicative to do so, like Modern Greek (and English) do. Those concepts were the territory of the Optative in Ancient Greek: the modern Future Imperfect and Future Pluperfect correspond to the Ancient Present and Future Optative with ἄν, in both main clause and conditional clause use. The Future Aorist (“must have contended”) appears to have been expressed with the optative too, at least in Herodotus:
1829. The present and aorist are rarely used of the past: (a) in Hom. of past possibility: καί νύ κεν ἔνθ᾽ ἀπόλοιτο and now he might have perished E 311 (Attic ἀπώλετο ἄν, 1784), ἀλλὰ τί κεν ῥέξαιμι; but what could I do? T 90. (b) in Hdt. of a mild assertion: ταῦτα μὲν καὶ φθόνῳ ἂν εἴποιεν they may have said this out of envy 9. 71, εἴησαν δ᾽ ἂν οὖτοι Κρῆτες these would prove to be (might be, must have been) Cretans 1. 2. Both uses are doubtful in Attic prose.
“Speciesism” was a better choice than “specism” for the English word. Even an English speaker who was perfectly fluent in Latin would have chosen “speciesism” if they had any taste at all. To the extent that “speciesism” is ungainly, it is the fault of the word “species” itself, an absolute perfect storm of fifth-declension awfulness. This is a word which can drive English speakers to grotesques like “specieses” and “species’” through pluralization alone. It is no innocent in this matter. (Oh, all right, it’s the fault of the English-speaking community, for not finding a better way to borrow it. Same deal.)
“Specism” would be pronounced “spekkism” by literally everybody. It would be mistaken for prejudice against people who wear glasses. Conversely, people trying to type it would almost immediately create an awkwardly well-attested variant “speciesm.” Some people would get confused and end up at “speciesism” anyway. It would have been the “octopodes” of isms.
“What about ‘fascism’?” a straw man sneers. “Are you saying that should be ‘fascesism’?” Well, if the word was meant to emphasize the connection to fasces rather than just name the ideology uniquely, then yes — it should have been “fascesism” (and pronounced with an /s/ rather than an /S/, at that). But it wasn’t; it was borrowed direct from Italian as a sort of semi-proper noun (and note that “did you know that fascism is from fasces which is a bundle of sticks??” is one of those facts that surprise people in their teens; the connection is completely opaque to us).
Cross-Counterpoint: “Speciesism” Is Actually Good Derivational Morphology, On Which Continental Europe Does Not Have a Monopoly
The “-ism” of “speciesism” is not the same as the “-ism” of anarchism, although of course they are related. The OED recognizes this and currently has two (2) draft additions ready to drop into its definition of “-ism”:
a. Forming nouns with the sense ‘belief in the superiority of one —— over another’; as racism, sexism, speciesism, etc.
b. Forming nouns with the sense ‘discrimination or prejudice against on the basis of ——’; as ageism, bodyism, heightism, faceism, lookism, sizeism, weightism, etc.
As the examples show, in English, we form words of this type by adding “-ism” to a word chosen to represent the concept, and that’s that. Some people might prefer to leave the “e” out of words like “ableism” and “sizeism”, but that’s as far as it goes; in any case this doesn’t affect pronunciation. “Lookism” is interesting; I assume it’s based on “looks” and the “s” was dropped for some reason, but perhaps it is from “look” (“I don’t like the look of him”). Note that we also have “ableism” rather than “abilitism” or “ablenessism” or similar. This “-ism” suffix can attach to anything — any kind of word with any ending shape. If anything there seems to be a preference for attachment to words that weren’t borrowed from Latin or its descendants. Classicists are welcome to their opinion, but they shouldn’t imagine themselves to have any authoritative standing in the matter.
In short, “speciesism” is not only a perfectly good word, it’s actually the best word that could have been created by applying that “ism” to the word “species,” which is itself one of the low points of English eclecticism.
In my post on the formation of speciesism, I noted that
Speciesism is a coinage so clueless about how Latin works, it could only have been coined in English, and in English after people stopped learning classical languages, at that. (It dates from 1970.) The -es in Latin is an inflection. You never ever put derivational suffixes like -ism after inflections. Except if you have no idea about the language you’re putting the suffixes onto, to begin with. The Latinically correct way of coining the word would have been specism, and you do indeed see that as a less frequent alternative to speciesism.
Now, Greek avoided spisisismos, and rendered the term as spisismos as the main rendering of speciesism (although Wikipedia does also list σπισισισμός.) I’d like to think that Greeks recognised the inflection in speci-es-ism, and had their linguistic sensibilities offended, as fellow speakers of a highly inflected language. It’s far likelier that they simply threw a haplology at the problem: /sp-is-is-mos/ already sounds ludicrous enough, /sp-is-is-is-mos/ could not be taken seriously by anyone.
I was heartened to see commenter Pepe [Georgios-Perikles Schinas], at Nikos Sarantakos’ blog, expressing those offended linguistic sensibilities. Just so you don’t think I’m making this stuff up.
It features the delightful Greek slang word καφρίλα, the stench (-ila, i.e. characteristic) of a kafros (someone who does not give a crap about bothering other people; derived, as it turns out, from kaffir “infidel to Islam” via Italian cafro.)
Pepe, 31 October, 2017 13:42 :
That was no haplology. That was a correction of an error.
Speciesism is an English word derived from an unassimilated Latin loan, species, and a productive ending also borrowed from Latin (-ism < Latin -ismus, ultimate derivation from Greek though that is irrelevant here.) So it is a purely Latin word, which was formed now and not when Latin was a living language.
But it was formed utterly irregularly. Sticking derivational (or inflectional) endings on a complete word to generate a new one is the kind of boorishness [καφρίλα] that would be committed only by someone unaware that there are languages outside of American English; and who isn’t even that deeply familiar with American English itself. Seen very superficially, English words look like they are derived in that way. They aren’t of course in English, and even less so in Latin. It’s as if we tried to derive an equivalent word in Greek from eid-os and ended up saying eid-os-ismos.
I think that a Latin speaker would not even think in such a way as to come up with deriving such forms; but if forced to he would say speciismus or, by contraction, specismus. So speci(i)sm in English. Therefore, now that we are left with conventional hellenisation of the English, σπισισμός (because directly from Latin it would be σπεκι(ι)σμός.)
I’m sure that the Greek antispecisisist window-smashers had that in mind, and corrected the extraneous -si-.
Maria, 31 October, 2017 16:53
A pedantic note: the ending on 5th declension nouns is -ie- and not -e-, so spec-ie-s > spec-ism(us).
Pepe, 31 October, 2017 17:21:
At any rate, the corresponding Latin or Greek terms of sundry sciences and disciplines are usually formed correctly, by scientists or intellectuals who were neither Greeks nor, of course, ancient Romans. And typically they were neither linguists nor classicists, so those linguistic mechanisms were not part of their ground knowledge. But they were familiar with those mechanisms: something that demonstrates a certain broad-mindedness. The ill-formed speciesism, so we read, was not formed by the window-smashers, but possibly by a British psychologist. And fine, he didn’t know any Latin: that in itself does not show narrow-mindedness. But he didn’t even realise that somewhere in between English and Latin, there was something that he did not know about. That leaves a bad impression. I’ll acquit him for insufficient evidence (“the term was coined or popularised by the British psychologist Richard Ryder in 1973″), but there is a shadow cast over somebody.