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Heracleses of the Crown
I don’t want to get into the habit of retweeting what other bloggers say, it was annoying enough when Instapundit and Atrios started doing it. I also don’t want this blog to get *too* Classicist-friendly, because there’s plenty of Modern Greece stuff to talk about that has nothing to do with The Antick Burden. But this novel form commented on at The Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ Blog is too interesting not to pass on to Classicists.
(And yes, I get much of my material from Sarantakos. That’s why I keep calling the blog The Magnificent. That, and I like establishing a private language; hence “The Other Place”.)
One of Sarantakos’ concerns is good language use. So he lampoons instances in the press or from politicians of bad language use. What good and bad language use is of course a prescriptive matter—and I have to say, I’m pretty much cured of the anti-prescriptivism of linguistic orthodoxy: prescriptivisms can have their own internal linguistic reality, and they certainly have a social reality. Prescriptivism in Modern Greek is complicated, like the language itself is. It’s no longer about how Attic a form is; now it’s about how vernacular a form is, how glaring a translationism from English it is, or how boneheaded a misapplication of Attic it is.
The “first linguistic gaffe after the elections”, taken across by Sarantakos from a thread from Nikos Ligris in lexilogia.gr, was a politician’s disparaging reference to two major members of the outgoing government. He called them The Heracleses of the Crown, using an established metaphor referring to the old coat of arms of the Kingdom of Greece:
But the plural of Heracles he used was not the Classical Ἡρακλεῖς. Nor was it the vernacular Ηρακλήδες.
(I’ve already posted on why that is the plural formation for vernacular first-declension nouns. Yes, Heracles is now first declension: the third declension is dead in the vernacular. And yes, that plural *is* historically still third-declension, because the declensions hybridised.)
No, the plural form the politician used was οι Ηρακλειδείς του στέμματος.
Now, Ἡρακλειδεῖς is in no way a plural of Ἡρακλῆς. It is a plural of *Ἡρακλειδεύς, and the -ιδεύς suffix on that word was used in antiquity to denote the offspring of an animal or a family member: ἀετιδεύς “young eagle”, λυκιδεύς “young wolf”, υἱιδεύς “son of a son”, γαμβριδεύς “son of a brother in law”. LSJ has one inanimate diminutive use in an inscription, θυριδεύς “little gate = window frame”, and the most widespread use of the suffix is also diminutive rather than offspring: ἐρωτιδεύς “cupid, depiction of Eros [Cupid] in sculpture or painting”. But there is no Ancient use of the suffix as a patronymic: the Offspring of Heracles are the Heracleidae, Ἡρακλεῖδαι.
It turns out though that the fans of Heracles FC, the oldest football club in Thessalonica, have taken to calling themselves Ηρακλειδείς. Amused by their claims to antiquity, rather than to actually winning championships, fans of Ares FC and PAOK FC have taken to calling them “The Old Ladies” instead.
So we can reconstruct what happened. An Attic plural Ηρακλείς in Modern Greek is hopeless: it is homophonous with the singular Ηρακλής [iraˈklis], and it uses a third declension noone has heard of. (They would especially not have heard of it because this particular declension pattern in -κλῆς is restricted to proper names, and plurals of proper names are rare.) A vernacular plural Ηρακλήδες is still felt undignified: you can use it about your cousins called Heracles, or to express contempt about the Heracleses and Theseuses of legend (and it sounds as clunky as Heracleses does in English); but the fans of Heracles FC would never refer to themselves so commonly.
(They would have decided that in the phone booth they meet in every Saturday, as an Ares FC fan might put it.)
Confronted with the lack of a useable *and* appropriate plural of Heracles, a Heracles fan a few years ago hit on the pattern of ἀετιδεύς “young eagle”, and started people using Ηρακλειδείς. Ηρακλειδείς is in a third declension just as dead in Modern Greek, but at least somewhat more familiar via Puristic.
- (As also noted in comments, the colloquial singular of that word is not Ηρακλειδεύς, but Ηρακλειδής. Because the third declension in -ευς is not *that* familiar.)
- (E-fufutos [as he Englishes himself] says ἀετιδεύς is “familiar to all those who learned about 19th Century France via Puristic writers.” Who was the French Eaglet?)
The Heracleses of the Crown in the coat of arms have always been Ἡρακλεῖς. The politician being interviewed racked his brain for a plural of Heracles—which as we saw, is awkward in Modern Greek. He remembered Heracles FC, made the association between ἐρωτιδεῖς “little cupids” and the little heraldic club-bearers, and blurted out Ηρακλειδείς. Some commenters to the thread admitted that they have done the same.
So, was this a gaffe? There’s a disagreement in the commentary to the post.
Opinion 1 (Nikos Sarantakos, Nikos “Nickel” Ligris): Yes, it’s a malapropism: an attempt to coin a la-de-da Classical plural that ends up stumbling on an unattested word that violates Classical norms, and has nothing to do with Modern Greek at any rate.
Opinion 2 (“Boukanieros”, me, Tasos “TAK” Kaplanis): It’s a new word, and it’s adorable. The analogy with cupids is clear in this particular context, and the Classical norm of it not being attached to proper names is not relevant here.
Opinion 1: What’s so “adorable” about a bastard learnèd form?
Opinion 2: There’s been a lot worse in the Athens press than Ηρακλειδείς. The Heracles FC context makes it attested, at any rate.
Opinion 1: The bastard form Ηρακλειδείς is indeed now attested for the fans (my spellchecker does not underline it!) Can we at least leave alone the established word for the coat of arms?
Opinion 2: But they’re wee little Heracleses on the coat of arms! [You’ll see the vernacular diminutive, Ηρακλάκια, more than once in the thread]
Opinion 1: There’s this notion that as soon as any fool launches some half-baked variant form online, we’ve got to annotate it and put it into our dictionaries, instead of “correcting” it. (There’s those PC scare-quotes again.)
Opinion 2: Yup. [My Anglophone readers are nodding along heartily, but note that the social histories of English and Greek are very different, and distaste for prescriptivism in English does not have the same purchase in Greece.]
The thread is ongoing, although I think people are agreeing to disagree by now. (The thread is now being derailed to talking about the Orwellian names of the new government’s ministries.) I don’t remember this much disagreement in a thread about linguistic gaffes recently, and I think it is because Opinion 1 and Opinion 2 are analysing the form differently.
Opinion 1 considers it a mistaken stab at a plural of Heracles that coins a new word by mistake. Opinion 2 considers it a serendipitous coining of a new word, that can in some contexts stand in as a plural of Heracles.
Opinion 1 considers the coinage illegitimate, as pseudo-archaic Greek in a time when pseudo-archaic Greek is no longer welcome. Opinion 2 shrugs.
Nikos will defend Opinion 1 more cogently than I have done, I suspect, because there is context to notions of correctness in Modern Greek that I’m not fully presenting here…