ουγκανιά and αντισπισισμός

By: | Post date: 2017-10-30 | Comments: 18 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Welcome to Exarchia:

But lets take a look and see if we can discover the truth. What is Exarchia? Is it right to portray the area as an evil den of anarchists and criminals living in a neighborhood that is beyond the law, something like the town of Deadwood in the HBO series? Actually it is more like a college town within the city of Athens, similar to the East Village of New York BG (Before Guiliani). Exarchia sits between the University of Athens and the Politechnion and is home to students, immigrants, Greek families of different economic strata, restaurants, cafes, computer shops, used vinyl and CD shops, terrific guitar shops, used bookshops, boutiques, clubs, bars, anarchists, drug addicts, stray dogs and just about every kind of person, except cops.

The police don’t really go to Exarchia except in extreme situations because for them just to enter the neighborhood creates trouble. So on many weekends in downtown Athens you will see police and soldiers stationed strategically on corners around Exarchia, not to keep people out, but to keep large groups of anarchists or troublemakers in. Of course when you have an area of rock clubs, cafes and restaurants in a sort of cop-free zone it attracts young people, many of high school age, and other counter-culture types. This creates something of a scene, where you can go for your nighttime entertainment never sure of what is going to happen.

A week or so ago, an anonymous group smashed the windows of a butcher trading in Exarchia, and proclaimed that they were striking a blow for αντισπισισμός. Leaving a bunch of Greeks wondering, what the hell antispisismos was.

That was not the first time the butcher’s windows were smashed. It had happened before in 2012, and proudly announced on Athens’ Indymedia. What ensued was a fascinating debate between a minority of anarchists, sympathetic to the action, and a majority of anarchists, who condemned it as destroying their relations with the local community, and a mere ουγκανιά rather than coherent revolutionary action.

Several times:

Άμα δεν ήταν κάποιου φασίστα το μαγαζί ή έστω αλυσίδα κρεοπολίο είναι τελείως fail ενέργεια και ουγκανίστικη..

If the shop did not belong to a fascist, or was at a minimum a butcher chain shop, the action is a complete fail and ouganistic

συνηθως αντιμτωπιζω με ψυχραιμια κ λογικη ακομα κ την χειροτερη μορφη ουγκανιας που γινεται στο ονομα της αναρχιας, αλλα τετοια μαλακια παει πολυ.

I am usually calm and rational about even the worst forms of ougania carried out in the name of anarchy, but this bullshit has gone too far.

Δημόσιες σχέσεις? Η αντίληψη περί μαζικότητας της εξεγερτικής, επαναστατικής διαδικασίας, μάλλον δε σου λέει τίποτα. Και το ότι ο κόσμος έχασε τη δουλειά του είναι αποτέλεσμα του καπιταλισμού, το ότι ο συγκεκριμένος είχε θέμα είναι αποτέλεσμα της ουγκανιάς. Και αυτοί οι 18 άνθρωποι τώρα μπορεί σκέφτονται, σιγά μην πάω στο ΣΩ.ΒΑ. ανέργων με τα ούγκανα που σπάνε τον κυρ Τάδε. Αναχώματα για την ανάπτυξη της ταξικής συνείδησης λοιπόν τέτοιες δράσεις, καθώς δεν είναι η ταξικότητα που μας έφαγε αλλά η παντελής έλλειψη συγκρότησης και η επικράτηση της ουγκανίλας.

What about public relations? The notion of mass engagement in an insurgent revolutionary process doesn’t seem to mean anything to you. And people losing their jobs is a result of capitalism; the fact that this person in particular has a problem, though, is a result of ougania. And now those 18 [unemployed] might well think, “right, as if I’m going to go to the Organisation for Support of the Unemployed with those ougana (neuter plural) who smashed up Mr So-and-So’s joint.” Such actions, then, are levees against the development of a class conscience: it’s not class that’s defeating us, but a complete lack of coherence and the prevalence of ouganila.

(I was even more intrigued by the responses of the action’s defenders, dismissing class concern for the ελληναράς [Greek chauvinist] Working Man eating souvlaki and sausage. Revolutionaries dismissing the proletariat. Like the majority anarchists said: we’re not fighting the same cause you are…)

Now, I recognise the suffix of ouganiá alright, as my favourite Greek slang suffix, which I have already written about at length: originally Mediaeval Greek -έα, denoting a blow or strike with a weapon (e.g. λαντζουνέα “blow with a lance”, σπαθέα “blow with a sword”), it has ended up meaning a bad action or activity characteristic of someone or something. A suitable English equivalent is -ry, as in bastardry. So an ouganiá is an activity characteristic of an ouganos.

And the ouganos has been quite productive in the condemnation by mainstream anarchists (if I can use the term). ouganism and ouganistic actions; the neuter plural ougana as an even more dismissive reference to the ouganos; ouganila as an even more derogatory variant of ouganiá, using the suffix associated with a stench.

And what’s an ούγκανος to begin with? As ever, the answer lies in slang.gr; but see if you can work it out from context.

Έλεος πια με την ουγκανιά τύπου κρέας κακό,ουγκ.Μηδενιστικός αντισπισισμός, το είδαμε κι αυτό.Έτσι να ξέρετε δεν προοθείται ούτε ο κοινωνικός, ούτε ο ταξικός αγώνας για ελευθερία παρά μόνο ο φετιχισμός της βίας

Have mercy with the ouganiá of the “Meat Bad, Ugh” school. Nihilistic antispisismos, now we’ve seen everything. You should know that this is not promoting either social or class struggle for liberation, but merely the fetishisation of violence

Cavemen in English say Ugh. Cavemen in English translated into Greek don’t say Ugh /aɡ ~ ʌɡ/ (as a proxy of /əɡ/); the transliteration has misfired to make them say /uɡ/, oug.

So an ouganos is a caveman. Anglo popular culture has ended up thinking of cavemen with some affection, long before the GEICO Caveman, and presumably as far back as The Flintstones; so no, the term has none of that affection in Greek. Here’s the slang.gr definition:

A person whose intellect and manner are reminiscent of an uncivilised barbarian, a primitive man, probably from the interjection “ugh”, because that is the only way he is considered capable of communicating. We often picture him as muscle-bound, [built like a] cupboard, and a body-builder. In Google examples, I see it is most typically used for members of Golden Dawn. Apart from them, it is often used for anarchist rioters, metal fans, and conspiracy theorists.

“You’re born human; you become an ouganos; you end up a Kasidiaris“.

And what is the antispisismos that the group smashing up the butcher’s were striking a blow for?

Give up?


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.

You also see forms more like specism in Romance languages, either because they know more about Latin, or more to the point, because species in those languages has dropped its -es inflection anyway. Wiktionary enumerates the following renderings:

Asturian: especismu m
Catalan: especisme m
Esperanto: speciismo
Finnish: spesismi (fi)
French: spécisme (fr) m, espécisme (fr) m
Greek: σπισισμός (el) m (spisismós)
Italian: specismo (it) m
Norwegian Bokmål: artssjåvinisme m, spesiesisme m, artsisme m
Polish: szowinizm gatunkowy (pl) m, dyskryminacja gatunkowa f, gatunkizm m, gatunkowizm (pl) m, especismo (pl) m
Spanish: especismo (es) m

Note that Norwegian and Polish have native formations, based on their indigenous equivalents of species. In languages more removed from Latin, well, they do what English did, whether because that’s what English did, or because they too treat Latin as opaque:

Danish: speciesisme c, artschauvinisme c
Dutch: speciesisme m
Estonian: spetsiesism
German: Speziesismus (de) m
Slovene: specizem m, speciesizem m

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.

It’s a repetition that the other languages don’t have. Reducing Latin -iēs so that it sounds identical to -ēs is a peculiarity of Anglo-Latin: the repetition of the vowel in /spiː-siːz/ doesn’t happen in Danish, Dutch, Estonian, German, or Slovene. And even if it had, it takes a language with no vowel length contrast to reduce /spiːsiːzizm̩/ to /spisizizm/—and then to suddenly realise that it’s Greek and not English after all, hastily convert /-izm̩/ back to /ismos/, get rid of the other <z> as a spelling pronunciation, and end up with the unspeakable /spisisismos/. No wonder they chopped off that syllable.

This is what happens when any yahoo in Greece with an internet connection and high school English can read Peter Singer in the original. When gatekeepers of loans into Greek were more effective for the learned register of the language (or, more to the point, when the differentiation between learned and colloquial loans used to mean anything), a formation like spisismos would never have happened. Greek would have been too proud not to translate species, which would have given ειδισμός.

And Greek would not have stopped there, either. The isms that involve a dominion or control of some sort have not traditionally been rendered with –ismos at all, but with –kratia. The old rendering of sexism, now restricted as its equivalent “male chauvinism” is in English, is φαλλοκρατία, phallocracy (“the dominion of dicks”). Determinism (which is not even a system of oppression) is rendered as ντετερμινισμός, but it is also rendered as αιτιοκρατία, aetiocracy (“cause-ocrasy”). The scholarly way of rendering speciesism, consistent with past practice in the language, would have been ειδοκρατία.

But of course, that’s not the world Greeks live in any more. It’s not a world where foreign ideas are garbed with any care in native clothing before being discussed in Greek. I wonder in fact whether they’re thought of in Greek at all, whether there is any distance allowed in the mind between σπισισμός and speciesism.


  • Trond Engen says:

    Norwegian Bokmål: artssjåvinisme m, spesiesisme m, artsisme m

    I just found this in the wild, in an article in the online semi-official science magazine forskning.no, reporting on a recent visit to Oslo by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer:

    Et av Peter Singers hovedpoenger er at mennesker utøver «spesisme» eller artssjåvinisme. Han sier at den type gruppetenkningen vi har ovenfor dyr er den samme måten å tenke på som legitimerte slaveriet. Vil vi i fremtiden se tilbake på diskriminering av dyr med skam?

    (Sidenote: ‘ovenfor’ is a mistake, a common conflation of ‘overfor’ [o:vefor] “opposite, face-to-face with; towards” with ‘ovenfor’ [o:vafor] “above”.)

    • Species chauvinism is of course much more transparent. Pardon my ignorance, but does Norwegian in general tend to favour native coinings?

      • Trond Engen says:

        What I meant to point out was just ‘spesisme’ with only one ‘is’. Then I noticed that ‘spesisme’ is written with quotation marks and ‘artssjåvinisme’ without them. That might be because the latter is more transparent or because it was seen as more established.

        What Norwegian used to favour, was calques of German coinages (or calques of German calques of Latin). Since we get our scientific lexicon from English, this flow has stopped, and there’s no clear system anymore. Depending on who imports a term, it may be used directly or more or less carefully translated. If there’s a tendency, it’s towards transposition from the rules of English latinism to those of Norwegian latinism.

  • John Cowan says:

    The WP.en article on Kasidiaris’s run-in with the journalist Liana Kanelli says that after she called him a φασίστα, he insulted her by calling her a palaeocommunist, a παλιό κομμούνι. Now clearly the second word is partly from communist, but is the -μούνι in it what makes it insulting?

    As for ugh, it must originally have represented something like [ux] that early modern Englishmen in America wrote down as they heard it, but it’s not traceable in print before The Last of the Mohicans (1826, but set in 1757). How, on the other hand, apparently has an actual Wyandot/Huron etymology, a word meaning both ‘Hello’ and ‘I have spoken’.

    • I noticed the Misrendering​ on the English Wikipedia too. The compound is not palaeo-communist, which would have had the Puristic phonology παλαιοκομμουνιστής of παλαιοκομμουνίστρια; it was παλιοκομμούνι, formed from the neuter κομμούνι “commie” plus the vernacular prefix παλιο-, which literally means “old”, but as a prefix means “decrepit”, and corresponds to “Damned” or “lousy”. So he called her a dirty commie before slapping her on live TV. The communists of Greece are, as it happens, pretty palaeo, as unreconstructed stalinists; but as a populist nationalist, Kanneli is not representative of that strain.

      I’m sure Kasidiaris would not have objected to calling Kanelli a μουνί, but Greek doesn’t happen to call either men or women cunts (though it does call them testicles); at any rate, it is indeed just a coincidence here.

    • So, unsurprisingly, “how” was a first contact word, which colonists carried with them throughout the continent, as they assumed that all indigenous people spoke the same language. That happened with several words in Australia in the same way, of which kangaroo was the most emblematic. Aboriginals to whom that word from Queensland, or other word from Sydney, were new, just assumed in turn those words were English.

      • John Cowan says:

        Second-contact, actually; first contact was with Algonquian-speakers, whereas the pre-contact Iroquoians lived well inland.

  • David Marjanović says:

    You also see forms more like specism in Romance languages, either because they know more about Latin, or more to the point, because species in those languages has dropped its -es inflection anyway.

    French does have a tradition of paying attention to such things: psychanalyse, taxinomie

    • John Cowan says:

      To the point where, when the new meter-based cabs wished to describe themselves in straightforward French as cabriolets taxe à mèttre, the Academie insisted on taximètre instead, which when clipped to a convenient four letters gave the peoples of the world an entirely new noun .

      • The Academie needs more credit than it gets, but the Academie does not seem interested enough in its public image. (That’s what happens when you’re an old authority in the modern sceptical landscape.)

        Of course, a lot of the bad press of the Academie is Anglo Francophobia, masquerading as anti prescriptivism. There was a recent instance in the New York Times.

  • Come on Nick, I’m sure you’re well acquainted with the vocabulary of the Greek left. They rarely translate such words; for example a KKE-favourite, οπορτουνισμός (opportunism) is always preferred instead of the equivalent ευνοιοκρατία or καιροσκοπισμός.

    • I’ve missed some more recent developments, clearly, and you are quite right that communist terminology was also not hellenized. And thank you so much for ευνοιοκρατία! I actually did not know that word (so my Android spell checker does), and I find it delightful!

      • ευνοιοκρατία means ‘favouritism’ rather than ‘opportunism’, for which the ‘good’ Greek equivalent is indeed καιροσκοπισμός. The word ευνοιοκρατία was notably used in political discourse in the 1950s with reference to Constantine Karamanlis having been chosen as Prime Minister by Queen Frederika rather than by his party upon his predecessor’s death.

  • The “avaton” of Exarchia is overrated. It is in fact safer than many other downtown neighbourhoods exactly because it is being monitored by police all the time. But then there are different kinds of police: regular uniforms, plainclothes and riot squads. How well they are received depends on context.

    Exarchia has also changed a lot through time. In the 60’s it used to be an aristocratic neighbourhood, according to my mom who live there. Then it became the epicenter of the punk movement, then anarchists and druggies and then it had a rebirth in the 90’s, became a bit posh for a little while, then hipsterish and generally it goes back and forth with the fluctuating trends of the various Athens “tribes”.

  • David Marjanović says:

    BTW, Polish gatunek “species” is from German Gattung “kind”, more recently also “genus” (not “species”).

  • In Greek comics (mostly translated, such as Goscinny’s Lucky Luke) etc., ουγκ is also a kind of closing word for phrases uttered by American Indians: Ο Καθιστός Ταύρος μίλησε. Ουγκ.

    • Which makes me wonder what the original French had…

      • David Marjanović says:

        Everybody knows Indians say hugh (rarely howgh) as a closing word and also as a greeting. What the gh is for is never explained.

        Cavemen in English say Ugh. Cavemen in English translated into Greek don’t say Ugh /aɡ ~ ʌɡ/ (as a proxy of /əɡ/); the transliteration has misfired to make them say /uɡ/, oug.

        Cavemen specifically may not have been involved. Everybody German-speaking knows that savages say uga-uga, whether they’re cavemen or not.

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