What is your favourite word in Turkish?

By: | Post date: 2016-12-20 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Other Languages

Hello, komşu [neighbour] here.

It’s a risky question to ask a Greek, because the Turkish that has ended up in Greek is not quite the Turkish of Turkey (let alone the Azeri of Iran and Azerbaijan).

  • Superficially because it’s Balkan Turkish and not Anatolian Turkish; that’s why every Greek ever will say kardaş for ‘brother’ when trying to speak Turkish, which is Balkan for kardeş, and not quite arkadaş ‘friend’ either.
  • Also because there is an emotional loading to the words which is absent in Turkish—where they are just words. In Greek, they are often obsolete, dispensed with in neoclassicism; or they are vulgar; or they are pejorative; or they are homely. But they are (now) never just blah. In American English, the closest equivalent might be Yiddishisms.
    • As an example I ran into recently: if you want to insult the state, you don’t call it just kivernisi (cognate with cybernetics) or kratos (Ancient Greek for “strength”). You use the Italian guverno (as I have, though that’s pretty much dead)—or the Turkish-derived dovleti. And that last one bites. It’s saying Tsipras is running an apparatus little better than an Ottoman outpost. (And the Ottoman outpost would be more efficient.)
  • And finally, because the words have twisted and turned in their meanings, not just their colouring.

I have contributed to an answer on the peregrinations of merak through languages Arabic has been in contact with directly, or indirectly via Turkish: What do the Turkish loanwords merak and meraklı mean in your language? That has made meraki the most expressive word in Greek for me: Nick Nicholas’ answer to What is the most beautiful word in the Greek language?

So I can’t use the same word again.

I’m going to go with khuvardas χουβαρντάς [xuvarˈdas].

Ultimately, it comes from Persian خورده khwārdā, “eaten away”. In Turkish, hovarda is about someone who eats away their savings: profligate, dissolute—someone who wastes their money. And by association, someone who wastes their money on immorality: rakish, licentious, raffish, riotous, playboy.

Well, that’s not what a khuvardas is in Greek. In Greek, it is high praise, even if in an admittedly profligate country. It is someone generous, who scatters money like joy to their companions and their community. Someone who appreciates the finer things in life, and is not afraid to pay for them. Someone you respect for how they make their money count for something in this life.

Thinking about this, it occurs to me that the Greek and the Turkish words really are describing the same character trait—from an utterly different perspective. And I know the rest of the EU, for once, side with Turkey on what the word should mean.

But myself, I have always thought of khuvardaliki (“khuvardas-hood”, Turkish hovardalık “profligacy”) as a virtue. As something that gives joy to others, and gives joy back to yourself.

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