The Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität is complete

By: | Post date: 2017-11-02 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek

The Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität published its first fascicle in 1994 as a joint project of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Bonn, under the direction of Erich Trapp, and after a decade of preparatory work. The Lexikon started out as the Dictionary of Byzantine Greek focussing on the 9th to 12th centuries—but, in practice, it ended up covering all the neglected words between Plutarch and the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The latest fascicle appeared in 2011, and was reported on this blog.

And this year, its final fascicle has been published, ταριχευτικῶς – ὤχρωμα.

I’m reproducing the English blurb from the Academy’s print brochure, since only the German version is online:

The present 8th and last fascicle of the Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität (LBG) includes the words from ταριχευτικῶς “through embalment” to ὤχρωμα “growing pale”. In between them you will find many compounds with parallels in the language of science up to modern times (cf. The Oxford English Dictionary), especially beginning with: τετρα-, τρι-, ὑδρο-, ὑπερ-, ὑπο-, φιλο-, χειρο-, χριστο-, χρονο-, χρυσο-, ψευδο-, ψυχο-. Since the publication of the 7th fascicle, the number of editions which had to be newly excerpted or by which former editions had to be replaced has been steadily increasing. They can be found in the final accumulated list of abbreviations. And once again, it has been the electronic media which brought about further extension, first of all the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG), the most recent online version of which has once more been used for comparison after the processing of the manuscript in order to provide the highest possible actuality. Additionally, papyri have continuously been taken into account (The Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing/Institute for the Study of the Ancient World: and occasionally inscriptions (The Packard Humanities Institute: Searchable Greek Inscriptions, On the whole, in comparison to fascicle 7, there has been an increase of considerably more than ten percent. And finally, the problem that Emmanuel Kriaras’ Lexicon [of Mediaeval Vernacular Greek Writing], now directed by Ioannis Kazazis, is still engaged in the preparation of the lemmata beginning with sigma, has once again been solved for the user by the constant upgrading of an index created from already existing word registers of vernacular (and also post-Byzantine) texts, the most important works of which are named along with other lexica at the end of each entry.

The accidental anticipation of modern Hellenic coinages in Byzantium is indeed a recurring delight of Mediaeval Greek lexicography; I’ve mentioned here the instance of utopia being anticipated in the 14th century (with the meaning “absurdity”).

Readers may be aware that there is a searchable online edition of the LBG at the TLG. I was involved with getting the first 6 fascicles online, and fascicle 7 was recently added. There is am embargo of a couple of years between the Austrian Academy of Sciences publishing it, and the TLG publishing it.

I won’t be able to use this fascicle to find accounts of unrecognised words in the TLG, as I had done for previous fascicles. I am nonetheless looking forward to perusing this volume with some eagerness: for years after the appearance of Fascicle 7, I sent the Lexikon material I gathered from the TLG, both words defined in editions and in dictionaries outside the main lexicographic canon, and words not accounted for at all. I’m hoping that they’ve made some use of it.

Trapp and his team deserve to take a break, but somehow, I suspect they won’t. As the blurb says, there has been an explosion of new material since the Lexikon started—although then again, there is always is an explosion of new material, whenever you start a dictionary. Other dictionaries have acknowledged the new material by publishing addenda with every volume: Kriaras’ dictionary did so until it ground to a halt in 1997 at παραθήκη. (When it resumed publication under new management in 2006, the addenda stopped.) The Diccionario Griego–Español, perversely, stopped at Vol. 6 and redid Vol. 1, before resuming at Vol. 7. Trapp has not looked backwards in his publishing schedule—which means his team now has two decades’ worth of addenda that will be looking for publication.

That’s not the only area open for further work in Middle Greek lexicography. The dictionaries on either side of LBG–LSJ, DGE, Lampe on the one side, Kriaras, Babiniotis and Triantafyllidis on the other—are all semantic dictionaries, with some detail about the shades and ranges of meanings of words in each period. Like E.A. Sophocles before it, LBG decided to focus only on novel words, and has kept its definitions curt, rather than expanding on the meaning of words already recorded in previous lexica. That has made it possible for the Lexikon to finish; but as Trapp has acknowledged to me, it means that someone still needs to write a semantic dictionary for the period.

But there’s time enough for that. In the meantime, it’s wonderful to know that even dictionary projects do eventually reach their conclusion, and it’s all the more wonderful that this project reached its conclusion well within the lifetime of the lexicographers involved. To Erich Trapp, Elisabeth Schiffer, my TLG colleague Andreas Rhoby (who I only overlapped with for two months in 2001), and all the collaborators who have worked on the Lexikon in Vienna: the Greek language, and those who cherish it, owe you a debt. Thank you for seeing the work through.

Is the σου in καλή σου ἡμέρα out of place in Northern Greek

By: | Post date: 2017-11-01 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek

In a previous post, I mused that the use of καλή σου ἡμέρα “Good day to you” in Constantinople, in texts such as De Cerimoniis from the 10th century, was problematic—since by then the dialect split was meant to be in place, between genitive pronouns in the South (Southern Italy), and accusative pronouns in the North.

Looking at the expression more closely, I think I was wrong about that. I don’t think καλή σου ἡμέρα is at all out of place in 10th century Constantinople, or for that matter 20th century Constantinople.

For the first millennium AD, accusatives and genitives competed to replace the dative in papyri and inscriptions, as Humbert documents in his 1930 monograph. 1 Up until the 10th century, the genitive is more common, but the accusative turns up throughout the Greek-speaking world. The geographical division only sets in around the 10th century, with the monastic acts published by Trinchera and Cusa from Southern Italy on the one hand (and they really only start in the 11th century), and on the other inscriptions from Thrace and Macedonia—and texts like the De Administrando Imperio and the De Ceremoniis, both attributed to Constantine Porphyrogenitus.

The picture is muddied somewhat with nouns, where prepositional indirect objects are more common than inflected ones; and in plural personal pronouns (μας, σας, τους, τις)—which are derived from accusative forms throughout Greek, even if they are used as indirect objects or possessives.

In fact, the genitive plural pronouns, ἡμῶν, ὑμῶν, αὑτῶν, have vanished without a trace in Modern Greek. The regular developments *μῶ(ν), ἐσῶν > *σῶ(ν), *τῶ(ν) would have been insufficiently distinct from their singular counterparts μου, σου, του. Tsakonian preserved its cognates, ἁμῶν > νάμου, ὑμῶν > νύμου; but the metanalysis of their initial /n/ guaranteed that its genitive plural pronouns remained distinctive.

But with singular personal pronouns, the division is clear: δώσε μου το “give me.GEN it” south of Thessaly, δώσε με το “give me.ACC it” from Thessaly up.

Which brings us to expressions like καλή σου ἡμέρα/καλημέρα σου “Good day to you.”

Southern Greek has a suite of expressions expressing attitudes towards someone, and consisting of a nominal or interjection followed by a genitive pronoun—which we would by default interpret as indirect objects:

  • καλημέρα σου/καλή σου μέρα “good day to you”
  • καλό σου βράδυ “good evening to you”
  • καλησπέρα σου “good evening to you”
  • καληνύχτα σου “good night to you”
  • γεια σου “health to you = hello”
  • γεια χαρά σου “health and happiness to you = hello”
  • χρόνια σου πολλά “many years to you” (happy birthday, happy anniversary)
  • μπράβο σου “bravo to you = good for you!”
  • έννοια σου “worry to you = look out” (warning, threat)
  • αλί/αλοίμονό σου “woe to you = you’re in trouble (if)” (threat)
  • χαλάλι σου “it is halal (Islamically lawful) to you = I forgive you your minor transgression, because it was worth it/because I still like you”

I was going to add the Cretan ξ(ι)α σου (Cretan) “never mind, as you wish”, but that derives from εξουσία “power, right”, as in “it’s your right to think so.” In other words, that’s a straightforward possessive pronoun, and not an indirect object.

I was trying to translate those into Constantinopolitan, and it didn’t make sense to me that people up North say γεια σε, αλοίμονό σε, χαλάλι σε. I don’t think that pattern has generalised there. (If there’s an exception, it’ll be in Pontic.) And if it hasn’t, that would be consistent with the fact that Porphyrogenitus uses the accusative instead of the genitive in pronominal indirect objects—but uses the genitive in καλή σου ἡμέρα.

So why has the expected accusative in such nominal wishes or threats been avoided in Northern Greek?

I’m going to suggest three possibilities.


The first possibility is that the pronoun really isn’t an indirect object at all, but a possessor; just as the σου in ξια σου really means “that’s your right”, these expressions might have originally meant “καλή σου ἡμέρα “may your day be good”. The topicalising use of the pronoun would be consistent with that: καλή σου [ἔστω ἡ] ἡμέρα “good your [be the] day”. And γεια σου corresponds in English to the possessive in [to] your health.

Possible, but not likely. The expressions correspond to Koine expressions in which the dative is used explicitly. Two renowned instances occur in the New Testament: γεια σου “health to you” corresponds to εἰρήνη ὑμῖν “peace be with you”, and αλοίμονό σου “woe to you” to οὐαὶ ὑμῖν “woe unto you.” As it turns out, De Cerimoniis uses one of those datives itself: καλὴ ἡμέρα ὑμῖν, ἄρχοντες “good day to you, my lords”. It is more plausible that the newer expressions continued to be understood with indirect objects. And a possessive meaning would be impossible for more recent expressions like μπράβο σου “bravo to you” or χαλάλι σου “it is lawful to you”.


The second possibility is that the original expression, “good day to you”, was already well established with a genitive pronoun, before Greek dialects split along dative vs accusative indirect objects. The expression was frozen by the time the split happened, and Northern dialects kept it—and even allowed new expressions with genitive pronouns to be formed, by analogy.

That account is possible, though it’s not very satisfying linguistically. There are frozen expressions in Modern Greek based on the dative too (δόξα σοι ὁ Θεός “Glory to Thee, God” = “Thank God”), though those were preserved through the church; the preservation of the genitives in wishes doesn’t seem as well motivated.

The earliest example I can find of the expression “good day to you” however is old enough to suggest that the expression was well established. It is from the Vita of St Auxentius, which is dated to the fifth century AD; the Vita is supposed to have been written by Vendemianus, disciple of Auxentius of Bithynia, and Vendemianus died in 512. So says Google, though not Migne’s edition, which instead refers to a disciple called Sergius.

The text does not appear to have a modern edition, and who knows how reliable that date is, and whether scribes have tinkered with it. Migne’s edition says it’s from a 10th century manuscript; and it comes from the collections of saints’ lives by month due to Symeon Metaphrastes (late 10th century). (That is, “the translator”—from Koine back to a more respectable language.) Significantly in this case, the greeting with the genitive is put in the mouth of a “rustic”, and the Saint responds with a dative. Auxentius if anything shares Metaphrastes’ distaste for the vernacular, and that has made it likelier that the vernacular greeting preserved here is original to Vendemianus—and unlikelier that the vernacular greeting is an interpolation by a later scribe.

Μιᾷ δὲ τῶν ἡμερῶν πλήθους συνηγμένου τῶν ἐπιχωρίων τε καὶ πολιτικῶν καὶ τοῦ μακαρίου τὰ πρὸς σωτηρίαν διαλεγομένου, ἐπιστὰς ἄγροικος χαιρετίζων ἔλεγεν αὐτῷ· Καλή σου ἡμέρα, δέσποτά μου· τοῦ δὲ σεμνὸν ἐπιγελάσαντος, καὶ γὰρ ἦν τῷ ὄντι χαρίεις καὶ, Καλός σοι καιρὸς εἰρηκότος, οἱ παρόντες εἰς ἑαυτοὺς προσεμειδίων. ὁ δέ φησι πρὸς αὐτούς· Γραφικός ἐστι λόγος, ἀδελφοὶ, «Μὴ ἀποκρίνου ἄφρονι πρὸς τὴν ἀφροσύνην αὐτοῦ·» εἰ ἦν εἰρηκὼς, Εὐλόγησον, ἤκουσεν ἄν, ὁ Κύριος εὐλογήσει σε κατὰ τὸ συνῆθες ἡμῖν· αὐτὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ τὴν τιμὴν διὰ τῶν οἰκείων αὐτοῦ δούλων εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἀποδεχόμενος, καὶ ἑκάστῳ τὴν ἀμοιβὴν τῆς μισθαποδοσίας τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι ἀποδιδούς. Ἐπειδὴ δὲ τὴν καλήν μου ἡμέραν ἀπένειμεν, τὸν καλὸν καιρὸν ἀντέλαβεν. Οὕτως διορθωσάμενος, οὐ μόνον τὸν διαπταίσαντα, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς ἅπαντας, ἔνδον εἰσελθὼν πάλιν ἡσύχασεν.
One day, when a crowd had assembled of locals and citizens, and the blessed man was discoursing on matters of salvation, a rustic standing nearby greeting him saying “Good day to you (GEN), my lord”; and he solemnly laughed—for he truly was witty—and said: “A good season to you (DAT)”; whereupon those present smiled at him. But he said to them, “It is said in Scripture, brethren: ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly. (Prov 26:4)’ Had he said ‘Bless me,’ he would have heard back ‘The Lord will bless you’ as is our custom; for it is He who accepts honour from his servants, and grants each the reward of their desserts through his grace. But since he granted me a good day, he got a good season in return.” Correcting thus not just the person who had offended him, but all the others, he went back inside to meditate. (MPG 114 1429A.)

The story is retold by Michael Psellus, a century after Symeon Metaphrastes—with datives from both parties. But Psellus’ version makes it more explicit that those standing by found the rustic’s greeting amusing because it was colloquial:

Ἀγροῖκος γοῦν τις αὐτῷ συγγενόμενος, ὁμοῦ τε πρῶτον εἶδε καὶ ‘καλή σοι’ φησὶν ‘ἡμέρα, πάτερ Αὐξέντιε,’ τοῦτο δὴ τὸ ἐπιχώριον καὶ τοῖς πολλοῖς σύνηθες· ὁ δὲ μείλιχόν τι καὶ ἡδὺ μειδιάσας καὶ ὥσπερ εἰώθει χαριεντισάμενος, ‘καλός σοι καιρός,’ τῷ προσφθεγξαμένῳ ἀντείρηκε. τοῦ δὲ πλήθους διαχυθέντος, ‘δίκαιόν ἐστιν’ ἔφησεν ὁ πατὴρ ‘κατὰ τὴν ὁμοίαν λέξιν τοῖς διαλεγομένοις συνδιαλέγεσθαι, ἵνα καὶ μᾶλλον ὠφελοῖντο, τὰ φίλα καὶ συνήθη δεχόμενοι· […] πλὴν οὐδ’ ἐν ταῖς ἀγροικικαῖς ταύταις προσφωνήσεσί τε καὶ ἀντιφωνήσεσι τοὺς κρείττονας ἡμῶν τὸ ἔλαττον ἔχοντας ἀπηλλάχθαι δεῖ, ἀλλὰ νικᾶν τῷ πλείονι, ὥσπερ καὶ τοῦ προσειρηκότος τὴν ἡμέραν μοι δόντος αὐτὸς ἀντέδωκα τὸν καιρόν.
Now, a rustic happened to be with him, and when he saw him he said “Good day to you (DAT), father Auxentius.” This is indeed the local expression usual among the many. And he smiled gently and sweetly, and, joking as was his custom, he responded to the person who had addressed him: “A good season to you (DAT)!” When the crowd had scattered, the father said: “It is fair to converse with people with the same words that they converse with you, so that they may benefit all the more, accepting what is familiar and usual to them. […] Yet we should not let those stronger than us get away with having less, in their rustic addresses and responses; we should rather defeat them with something more. So when the person who addressed me offered me a day, I responded with a season.” (Orationes hagiographicae, 1,c 466ff)

The expression was clearly colloquial enough for St Auxentius to do some passive–aggressive ridiculing of it (“Have a good day” is the folly of a fool?!); and even in De Cerimoniis, it is a popular greeting by the assembled masses rather than a courtly one. That of course is all the more proof that it was a widely known and familiar expression.

Whether that was enough to prevent it being re-expressed as *καλή σε μέρα… well, maybe. But I’d like something more persuasive than that.


The third possibility is that, just as Southern Greek stopped short of using genitives in its plural pronouns, Northern Greek stopped short of using accusatives in its nominal wishes. Southern Greek was able to use the accusative instead, because both the accusative and the genitive had been in use there previously for indirect objects. Likewise, Northern Greek was able to use the genitive instead, because both the accusative and the genitive had been in use there.

Why would Northern Greek have hesitated to say καλημέρα σε but not δώσε με το? In the case of verbal indirect objects, Ancient Greek had precedent for both accusative- and genitive-coded objects of verbs, so introducing either as an indirect object was nothing syntactically unprecedented:

  • ζηλῶ σε τοῦ νοῦ I.envy you.ACC the.GEN mind.GEN “I envy you for your prudence”
  • ταῦθ’ ὑπέμνησ’ ὑμᾶς this.ACC I.reminded you.PL.ACC “I have reminded you of this”

On the other hand, there was no syntactic precedent for a bare predicate noun, like “peace!” or “good day!”, to be accompanied by a pronoun as a direct object: *εἰρήνη σε “peace you!” *καλὴ ἡμέρα σε “good day you!” (Or, to make it more obvious: *”peace him!” *”good day him!”)

What there was syntactic precedent for was a noun being accompanied by a genitive pronoun, as a possessive: εἰρήνη σου “your peace”, καλὴ ἡμέρα σου “your good day”. When time came to do away with the dative in those expressions, then, both the accusative and the genitive were available as alternatives, in both North and South; both were in fact current. Normally in the North the accusative prevailed, and the resulting ditransitives did not cause anyone to blink (although apparently they are now avoided in Northern Greek.) But when it came to such wishes, the accusative would result in a kind of expression noone had seen before; and the genitive, more familiar in that kind of combination, was used instead.


I like that argument. But it too has a difficulty.

The list of wishes/threats taking a genitive pronoun I gave does not involve only nouns. It involves interjections as well: μπράβο, αλοίμονο. And the distinction between interjections and nouns is going to be porous anyway, in wishes and threats. The noun “health”, for example (Ancient ὑγιεία /hyɡiéːa/), has been re-antiquated in Standard Modern Greek as υγεία /iˈʝi.a/, and is distinct from the greeting γεια /ʝa/, which can only be thought of as an interjection. Even before it was re-antiquated, I suspect it was kept distinct; the Cretan dialect I was exposed to pronounces the noun as υγειά /iˈʝa/.

Now, nouns may not take direct objects in Greek; which would explain why Northern Greek avoided καλὴ ἡμέρα σε. But interjections do take accusative indirect objects in Mediaeval Greek; and they do take accusative direct objects in Modern Greek.

For interjections taking accusative direct objects, the most obvious example in Standard Modern Greek is νά “behold! there it is!”: νά την “there she is!” νά με “here I am!” A second example, which is even more concerning for my argument, is the noun-turned-interjection anaθema “damn”: ανάθεμά τον “damn him”.

Interjections taking genitive indirect objects in Southern Modern Greek are also recorded as taking accusative indirect objects, at least in Middle and Early Modern Greek. Humbert (p. 189) gives a single instance, in the Vita Euthymii (written between 920 and 935):

(The courtier Stylian Zaoutzes, in response to Euthymius I predicting that he would perish in front of Emperor Leo VI): οὐαὶ τὴν ἡμέραν ταύτην καὶ ὅτ’ ἂν ἐγὼ ἠβουλήθην ἐνθάδε ἐλθεῖν. ἰδοὺ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἐφωδίασεν ἡμῖν τῶν εὐχῶν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀπερχόμεθα.
Woe [to] this day and [to] when I wanted to come here. For see, the Father has supplied us with his blessing, and we are departing. (§3.15)

Zaoutses’ outburst is reminiscent of both Modern ανάθεμα την ώρα και τη στιγμή που ήρθα “damn the hour and the moment when I came”, and εγώ φταίω που είπα να έρθω “it’s my fault for coming” (literally, “for saying I’d come”—which here means “considering, deciding to come”.) The example is not necessarily clear, because the accusative could be a temporal adjunct (“Woe, on this day”), and in fact is coordinated with a temporal clause (“Woe, on this day and when I wished to come here”—with the hypothetical particle ἂν stressing that he should have done no such thing.)

There is a much older instance of οὐαί taking an accusative object, however, in the Questions of Bartholomew (3rd century AD), and it is much more clear cut:

οὐαὶ τὸν ὀμνύοντα κατὰ τῆς κεφαλῆς τοῦ θεοῦ, οὐδὲ  ἐπιορκοῦντι κατ’ αὐτοῦ ἀληθῶς
Woe unto him who swears against the head of God; nor shall the true violator of an oath against him [be forgiven] (§5.5)

And there are several instances of the more modern αλί “woe” taking accusative objects:

καὶ ἀλὶ ἐμέν, <ἀλὶ ἐμέν,> ἂν μάθουν οἱ Κασίσοι
And woe unto me (ACC), woe unto me, if the Hashashin find out
(Digenes Escorial ms. 245; 15th century manuscript, 12th century text?)

καὶ σείσῃ τὸ κοντάριν του καὶ εἰπῇ τὸ ἀλί σ’ ἀλί σε
And he’ll shake his lance and say “woe to you (ACC), woe to you”
(Ptochoprodromos §4.490; 1170s?)

τρεῖς ἀλί τον καὶ ἀλὶ εἰς τὴν ψυχήν του
Thrice woe unto him (ACC) and woe to his soul (preposition “to”)
(Papa-Synodinos, Chronicle of Serres §3.28; 1630s, Serres in Greek Macedonia)

In fact, George Chortatzis writing in Crete around 1600 uses both accusative and genitive after αλί in the same play:

Πράμά ’ναι ἀδυνατότατο, καὶ μὴν τὸ βάλη ὁ νοῦς σου,
γιατ’ ἡ κερά μου τὸ γρικᾶ, κι’ ἀλὶ τοῦ ριζικοῦ σου!
It’s a most impossible matter, and you should not even consider it,
for my mistress will hear it, and woe then to your fate! (GEN) (Katzourbos I.3 322)

κι’ ὡς τό ’κουσε ἐτρόμαξε κι’ ἐπῆγε στὸ σκολειόν του,
κι’ ἂν ἔναι κι’ εὕρη τον ἐκεῖ, ἀλὶ τὸ ριζικόν του.
And when he heard it, he was frightened, and went to his school,
and if he finds him there, woe to his fate. (ACC) (Katzourbos IV 2.32)

αλοίμονό τον “woe to him (ACC)” is not possible in Standard Modern Greek, but there is fluidity in using the accusative even in 1600 Cretan—solidly genitive indirect object territory. Between “woe” + Accusative in Northern Greek plus Chortatzis, “behold!” + Accusative in Standard Greek, and “anathema!” (noun > interjection) + Accusative also in Standard Greek, the impossibility I’m claiming for Noun + Accusative Pronoun is looking less compelling.


… Maybe. Interjections are still different from nouns. In particular, interjections in Greek are much closer to verbs (and imperatives in particular) than nouns are, so them taking an accusative pronoun as a direct object is not as strange as it would be for a noun.

A minor piece of evidence for the proximity of interjections to imperatives is that in Standard Greek, clitic pronouns follow imperatives, participles, and interjections: νά τον “there he is!”, βρες τον “find him!”, βρίζοντάς τον “cursing him”. When the verb is finite, the clitic in standard Greek precedes it: τον βρήκα “I found him”, τον έβρισα “I cursed him”.

That’s a minor piece of evidence, because the criterion at work is whether the clitic host is finite or not. An imperative, a participle, and in older Greek an infinitive, are more noun-like, since they are not finite. If either a noun or an interjection ends up being a clitic host for pronouns, for whatever reason, of course it’s going to pattern with non-finite verbs instead of finite verbs. So the similarity of νά τον and βρες τον is trivial, and it does not establish that nouns and interjections are different about their likelihood of having pronoun arguments at all.

The more interesting piece of evidence, which Brian Joseph brought up decades ago, is that interjections in Greek occasionally take second person plural imperative endings—meaning that the interjection without the plural ending is already being thought of as an imperative. νά has the dialectal plural νά-τε; άντε “go on!” < Turkish haydi, which does not take an object at all, has the plural άντεστε.

If Greeks are predisposed to think of interjections as imperatives, then they are predisposed to attach direct objects to them; and regarding interjections as imperatives is prior to attaching direct objects to them (as with άντε, which doesn’t take objects at all). So seeing an accusative after an interjection should not come as a surprise, whether the accusative is for a direct object, as in “behold! him”, or for an indirect object, as in “woe to him!” It is also not a surprise for a noun that has come to be seen as an interjection, such as “anathema”.

But in earlier stages of the language—such as the stage represented by St Auxentius of Bithynia—”good day” was still understood not as an interjection but as a noun phrase, to the extent of St Auxentius ridiculing the “rustic” for “offering him a good day”, and offering a good season in return. So even if the Questions of Bartholomew, a century before St Auxentius, were comfortable having the interjection οὐαί “woe” followed by an accusative (“woe him”), a phrase like *καλή σε ἡμέρα “good day thee” would still have sounded more odd than καλή σου ἡμέρα “good day thine”, as the vernacular counterpart to καλή σοι ἡμέρα “good day to thee”. And if that discomfort with direct objects of nouns was still in place by the 10th century, then it would explain why Northern Greek never came up with καλή σε ἡμέρα, even as it was saying ἀλὶ ἐμέν “woe me!”

That’s my thinking to date; I’m interested to hear from anyone who’s already tackled this issue. (For all I know, it’s already been resolved somewhere.)

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; 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 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.

GTAGE: The Tsipras Edition Part #3

By: | Post date: 2017-10-28 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

In two previous posts, I had gone through the Golden Treasury of Anglo-Greek Expressions (GTAGE) approach to Alexis Tsipras’ odd translation of the Greek saying

We’ve eaten the donkey—and the tail has been left over for us. (Or: We’ve gone and eaten a donkey; are we to get stuck on the tail?)


There is an expression in Greece, “We have already eaten the camel, now we have the queue.”

This is the third iteration, using the material in Tripranslate: The useful app that translates 13 most wise proverbs into Tsipras English. The material is not as rich there; in fact, in patches it’s lame (and there are better suggestions in the comments). But there’s a couple of interesting bits still; and I had said I was going to do this a couple of weeks ago.

I’ll pause to comment on the site it comes from: Luben?

Luben is a transliteration of λούμπεν. Λούμπεν in turn is a word that originates in a Latin-alphabet language, and that’s not what it sounds like there. It’s lumpen:


Of or relating to social outcasts.
Of or relating to the lumpenproletariat.

Lumpenproletariat is a term that was originally coined by Karl Marx to describe the layer of the working class that is unlikely ever to achieve class consciousness and is therefore lost to socially useful production, of no use to the revolutionary struggle, and perhaps even an impediment to the realization of a classless society. The word is derived from the German word Lumpenproletarier, “Lumpen” literally meaning “miscreant” as well as “rag”. The Marxist Internet Archive writes that “[lumpenproletariat] identifies the class of outcast, degenerated and submerged elements that make up a section of the population of industrial centers” which include “beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals, tramps, chronic unemployed or unemployables, persons who have been cast out by industry, and all sorts of declassed, degraded or degenerated elements.”

The word is used in English, but it shouldn’t be that surprising that, especially in its truncated form, it is far more commonly used in Greek.

Ancient Greek /mb/ and /mp/ ended up pronounced in Modern Greek as [mb], and many dialects of Modern Greek, such as Cretan, ended up pronouncing it as [b]—as do Standard Greek speakers under 60. The distinction between [mb] and [b] is not phonemic, which means that native speakers of Modern Greek are unaware of it: they’d have no reason to think that /lu[m]ben/ is actually <lumpen> originally.

(They would of course differentiate them if they’re bilingual with one of those languages; manuscripts from the Cretan Renaissance in Latin script, for instance, do differentiate <mp>, <mb> and <b>—to the extent that editions of those texts in Greek script (Fortounatos) resort to diacritics to differentiate them. But to pick up on the spelling of <lumpen>, you’d have to be either bilingual in German, or bilingual in English plus exposed to Marxism in English.)

I’m going to quickly dispatch the Tsipranslate offerings consisting purely of replacing random animals with “camel”:

Σκυλί που γαβγίζει δε δαγκώνει: A camel that barks does not bite
“All bark and no bite”, the original being “a dog”.
Το λέω στο σκύλο μου κι ο σκύλος στην ουρά του: I tell it to my camel and my camel tells it to its queue
Original: I tell it to my dog and the dog tells it to its tail.
Του δίναν γάιδαρο και τον κοίταζε στα δόντια: He was offered a camel, and he was looking it at its teeth.
Original: “donkey”. Corresponds to “looking a gift horse in the mouth”
Τρία πουλάκια κάθονταν: Three little camels sitting.
Original: “little birds”. The phrase is a misconstrual of a ballad, with the typical use of magical animals in ballad:

Τρία πουλάκια κάθονταν στου Διάκου το ταμπούρι
το ’να τηράει τη Λειβαδιά και τ’ άλλο το Ζητούνι,
το τρίτο το καλύτερο μοιρολογάει και λέει
Three little birds sat at Diakos’ fort.
One watches Livadia, the other watches Zitouni [Lamia],
the third and best one laments and says…

Because the birds are looking in different directions, the phrase now proverbially means to someone being absent-minded, not paying attention.

Κάλλιο γαϊδουρόδενε παρά γαϊδουρογύρευε: Better camel-tie, than camel-toe
Original: Better to tie up a donkey than to go looking for a donkey, with the oddity of making “tie a donkey” and “seek a donkey” single verbs. I guess “camel-tie” made “camel-toe” inevitable.

A few more are deliberate misrenderings of ambiguous words:

Μαζί με τον βασιλικό ποτίζεται και η γλάστρα: Together with the monarchists the pot is also watered
Properly: “Together with the basil plant, the flower pot also is watered”, referring to unintended benefits for third parties. (Do we have a saying for that in English.) Basil means “the royal plant”, βασιλικός, and the adjective “royal” is also applies to royalists.
Η περιέργεια σκότωσε τη γάτα: The weirdness killed the camel
Curiosity killed the cat, of course; Greek uses the same word for the active sense (curiosity, finding things curious), and the passive sense (weirdness, being found curious by others).
Σιγά τον πολυέλαιο: Slow the very oil
An old, old instance in GTAGE: πολυέλαιος “many-oil” is the word for a candelabra, which consisted of multiple oil lamps. There is a large class of “slow the X” expressions, meaning “big deal!”, all of which are also popular in GTAGE; “slow!” there means “take it easy,” so “take it easy on the eggs/the vegetables/the candelabra” is (somehow) a proverbial encouragement not to become overwrought.
Αλλού βαρούν τα όργανα αλλού χορεύει η νύφη: Elsewhere hurt the organs, elsewhere dances the bride
“The instruments strike up in one place, the bride dances in another.” Organon (which is cognate with ergon “work”) is the Greek word used for an instrument in general, and for a musical instrument in particular; that’s why pipe organs (reintroduced to the West as a Byzantine present to Charlemagne’s father) are called that. Organs of the body are so called because they are also considered to be instruments. Musical instruments are struck in vernacular Greek, and thence they strike (up) intransitively. Which the GTAGE rendering mangles in turn to the organs hurting.

As commenter Apostolos Zafeirakoglou pointed out, “Guys, you’ve made a little mistake. νύφη in English is “camel”.

Ο σκοπός αγιάζει τα μέσα: The guard justifies the media
As far back as Homer, the word skopos was ambiguous between someone doing the watching (a watchman, a guard), and something you watch out for (a literal target, a mark for an archer, in Homer; the metaphorical meaning “aim, intention” dates from Plato.)

Media in Greek are μέσα μαζικής ενημέρωσης “means (of mass communications). In rendering media as “means”, Greek is merely recapitulating the metaphor of Latin media: as a channel of communication, they are what is in between the sender and the recipient, and the mechanism through which the communication happens.

So. “Guard” is ambiguous with “aim, intention”, and “media” with “means”. This is of course merely “the ends justify the means”; and the Tripranslate translator has betrayed his familiarity with the English version: the Greek says not “justify”, but “sanctify, hallow”.

As indeed pointed out by commenter Anna Paparizou Fatsi: it should read “the guard saints the media”.

This is also a misrendering of a kind-of ambiguous word, if you allow misaccentuation:

Σπίτι δίχως Γιάννη προκοπή δεν κάνει: A home without John Paki does not make
“A house without a John in it will have (“make”) no prosperity (/prokoˈpi/).” If you mis-stress /prokoˈpi/ you get the accusative of the proper name Prokopis /proˈkopi/. The current president of Greece is Prokopis Pavlopoulos, and his nickname is Pakis.
I didn’t think that was funny, but several people on Facebook seem to have.

And that leaves this:

Τον αράπη κι αν τον πλένεις το σαπούνι σου χαλάς: The afroamerican as much as you wash, your soap you break
“If you wash a moor, you’re wasting [ruining] your soap.” The original is as old as Aesop (Washing the Ethiopian white). The less problematic current rendering of the sense is from Aesop’s contemporary Jeremiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, about leopards changing their spots; but Jeremiah also used the same expression as Aesop: “Can the Nubian change his skin or the leopard his spots?”

I momentarily contemplated leaving this one out, but of course that would be whitewashing itself. Yes, the saying in current Western society is reasonably construed as racist. No, the saying in ancient society—and I’d suggest even in early modern European society—was exoticising rather than racist per se. (“How strange, black people have a different skin colour, which is emblematic of people’s nature not changing” vs “Black people have a different skin colour, which is emblematic of them being filthy or morally corrupt.”) The Wikipedia article has a good run down of how the interpretation of the saying evolved to the worse in Western Europe.

Of course, if you don’t see black people in daily life, it’s easy to exoticise them; the appearance of the arapis “moor” in Greek folk tale in fact is all about exoticism. (That’s also why I’m rendering arapis as the old word Moor in this context.) Sometimes the Moor is benevolent, sometimes he is malevolent; but consistently, the Moor is otherworldly, and supernatural: he occupies the same role as ogres or fairies occupy in other fairy tales. He’s not an ordinary human like the Greeks and Turks that show up in fairy tales.

If you don’t see black people in daily life, sure; it is worth pointing out, though, that Greeks in the Ottoman Empire did have the opportunity to see black people—Sudanese Muslims that moved to Greece, either as slaves or as porters. In fact, the vernacular word for black people, arapis, is derived from Arab. There was a recent article on the black Greeks of the village Avato in Thrace; the khalikoutides of Crete, who ended up expelled to Turkey as Muslims, are better known. The black Greeks of Thrace have plenty of prejudice to recount (“What are you doing here?”); and the fact that χαλικούτης in Cretan now means “filthy, outcast” is likely not just a reference to the poor living conditions of the Sudanese porters in Khania.

Did Tzetzes write the first attested instance of μουνί?

By: | Post date: 2017-10-27 | Comments: 9 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Literature, Mediaeval Greek

The first recorded instance of μουνί “cunt”, as I reported in 2010, is in the epilogue of John Tzetzes’ Theogony, written in the 1140s (based on when the patron who commissioned it was active). The next attestations are from the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds (1364), and the excommunication of a priest (1383).

At the time, Tasos Kaplanis pointed out that the phrase sounded too modern to be from Tzetzes himself, and wondered whether it might not be due to a later scribe.

Nick, I am not quite sure that this passage from V is not a later addition by the scribe in the 14th century.

It is not because this να γαμεί το μουνίν σου παπάς is over-colloquial or too vulgar, it is mainly because this would be the only occurrence of να + verb form (in my view, an indicative, as in modern Greek, in Kazhdan’s and TLG’s spelling, a subjunctive) in Tzetzis’s works and one of the earliest attestations of this use of να + verb form (in the place of an AGr infinitive) ever, together with those in Digenis and Glykas.

Please, correct me if I am wrong, but if this is so (and at least as regards Tzetzis’s works in the TLG this appears to be so), then it would be more possible to attribute the passage to the 14th century scribe of V than to Tzetzis himself.

I addressed those doubts at the time, but recently George Baloglou has suggested a detailed review of the vernacular Greek of the epilogue, in case it yields any clues about the date of the mention of the word itself.

As a reminder: the word comes up in the epilogue to Tzetzes’ poem, in which he shows off his language skills by giving some pleasantries with Greek translation in Cuman, Turkish, Latin, Ossetian, Arabic and Russian, and some antisemitism in Hebrew. The mention of “cunt” is in the Ossetian section:

To Alans I say in their tongue:
“Good day, my lord, my lady, where are you from?
Tapankhas mesfili khsina korthi kanda,” and so on.
(dæ ban xʷærz, mæ sfili, (æ)xsinjæ kurθi kændæ)
If an Alan lady has a priest as a boyfriend, she will hear such words:
“Aren’t you ashamed, my lady, to have a priest fuck your cunt?
(οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθέντριά μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς;)
To farnetz kintzi mesfili kaitz fua saunge.”
(du farnitz, kintzæ mæ sfili, kajci fæ wa sawgin?)
[Literally: “Aren’t you ashamed, my lady, to have a love affair with the priest?”]

Now, the null hypothesis is that Tzetzes wrote the multilingual show-off piece. The alternative hypothesis that I rejected was that a later scribe wrote it instead.

The sentence containing the word occurs in only one manuscript; but the alternative hypothesis is easy to reject. We know that there was an epilogue to the poem from the earliest manuscript, from the late 13th century—although that manuscript decided to drop it: “We left out the entire epilogue, because it just went on too long.” We know that Tzetzes was half-Georgian himself, and had written on relations between Alans, Georgians, and Abkhaz. We know that he liked to boast about his intellectual achievements, which is why Hunger (the editor of the most recent edition of the epilogue) thought the epilogue had to be original.

And the alternative would be that an anonymous scribe, years later in the much-constricted Greek world of the 13th or 14th century, could still have summoned up knowledge of Ossetian, Cuman and Russian—with the Ossetian roughly corresponding in meaning to “to have a priest fuck your cunt”. Too hard to credit. It is far likelier that the Old Ossetian “kaitz fua saunge” [kajci fæ wa sawgin] came straight from Tzetztes.

But that’s not the only hypothesis in play. “kaitz fua saunge” may have come straight from Tzetzes; but νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς may not have. It is still possible that a scribe spiced up the language of Tzetzes in transmission. Kaplanis has noted concern about the vernacular form νά. We can also note that the monin, the Northern Italian word for “monkey” (and “cat” and “cunt”) is reported in the Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch as first attested in 1340.

So as George Baloglou suggested, we should look at the vernacular Greek words used in the translation more closely.

The Early Modern Greek glosses occur in the three manuscripts that preserve the epilogue, all from the 15th century. The Casanatensis gives up at verse 15 of the language demonstration, but the three manuscripts are clearly transmitting the same text. I’m presenting their texts separately, and commenting on their language to the extent I can.

Casanatensis (1413)

4 [Cumans] καλημέρα σου, αὐθέντριά μου, καλημέρα σου, αὐθέντα μου.
Good day to you, my mistress, good day to you, my lord.
7 [Turks] καλημέρα σου, ἀδελφέ, ποῦ ὑπάγεις, πόθεν εἶσαι, φίλε;
Good day to you, brother, where are you going, where are you from, friend?
10 [Latins] καλῶς ἦλθες, αὐθέντα μου, καλῶς ἦλθες ἀδελφέ.
Welcome, my lord, welcome brother.
12 καὶ ἀπὸ ποίου θέματος ἦλθες;
And what theme [Latin: provintsia] have you come from?
14 πῶς, ἀδελφέ, ἦλθες εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν;
How, brother, have you come to this town?

  • καλημέρα: this is the familiar “good day” greeting of Modern Greek, and the Casanatensis writes it, like Modern Greek, as a single word; the other two manuscripts write it as two words. Trapp’s Lexikon der Byzantinischen Gräzität records καλημέρις “wish for a good day” in De Ceremoniis by Constantine Porphyrogenitus (956–959), and the corresponding καλησπέρα “good evening” in Delatte’s Anecdota Atheniensia. Kriaras’ dictionary of Early Modern Greek records καλημέρα later, in the Account of Famed Venice, Ptocholeon, and Machairas’ Chronicle—so 15th century. But given Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ earlier καλημέρις, and the fact that the other two manuscripts still write it as two words, I don’t think it a stretch that it could have been extant in Tzetzes’ time. At any rate, De Ceremoniis uses καλὴ ἡμέρα nine times: once in the identical καλὴ ἡμέρα ὑμῖν, ἄρχοντες “good day to you, my lords”, and in the formula νίκαις καλὴ ἡμέρα “a good day for victories!”
  • καλημέρα σου: the genitive for indirect objects was certainly in place in Southern Italy by the 11th century, in the monastic land deeds published by Trinchera and Cusa. 2 Seeing it in Constantinople is odd: Constantinople would have used the accusative, not the genitive. Yet De Ceremoniis also attested it in the selfsame expression: καλή σου ἡμέρα. If the expression turns up in De Ceremoniis, it is plausible two centuries later in Tzetzes.
  • καλῶς ἦλθες: This expression for “welcome” is as old as the Apocalypse of Sedrach (3rd–4th century) and the Apophthegmata Patrum (5th century); so again, it could plausibly have been used by Tzetzes.
  • θέματος: Themes are districts we associated with Middle Byzantium more than with Palaeologan Byzantium, but Wikipedia assures us that “the term remained in use as a provincial and financial circumscription until the very end of the Empire.” So we can’t use it to date the writing.

Barberinus (15th century)

4 [Cumans] καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, αὐθεντρία μου, καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, αὐθέντα μου.
7 [Turks] καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, ἀδελφέ, ποῦ ὑπάγεις, πόθεν ἧσαι, φίλε;
10 [Latins] καλῶς ἦλθες, αὐθέντα μου, καλῶς ἦλθες ἀδελφέ.
12 πόθεν ἧσαι καὶ ἀπὸ ποίου θέματος ἦλθες;
Who are you and what theme have you come from?
14 πῶς, ἀδελφέ, ἦλθες εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν;
16 πεζός, καβάριος, διὰ θαλάσσης, θέλεις ἀργ…;
On foot, on horseback, by sea, do you wish to [delay]?
19 [Alans] καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, αὐθέντα μου, ἀρχόντισσα, πόθεν ἧσαι;
Good day to you, my lord, my lady, where are you from?
24 [Arabs] ποῦ ὑπάγεις, πόθεν ἧσαι, αὐθεντρία μου; αὐθέντα μου, καλὴ ἡμέρα σου.
Where are you going, where are you from, my lady? My lord, good day to you.
27 [Russians] ὑγίαινε, ἀδελφέ, ἀδελφίτζα, καλὴ ἡμέρα σου.
May you be healthy, my brother, my dear sister, good day to you.
30 [Jews] μεμαγευμένε τυφλέ
Bewitched blind man
32  Ἑβραῖε λίθε, ὁ Κύριος ἦλθεν, ἀστραπὴ εἰς τὸ κεφάλιν σου.
Jewish stone, the Lord is come, lightning to your head.

  • καβαλλάριος: (mangled in this manuscript but not in the Vindobonensis) is Latin, and is first attested in the 6th century.
  • ἀρχόντισσα: again, already occurs in De Ceremoniis.
  • ἀδελφίτζα: the diminutive suffix -itsa (which is of course Slavic in origin, and in fact ἀδελφίτζα is Tzetzes’ translation of Old Russian sestritsa) is again old enough to be Tzetzes; Trapp LBG records εἰκονίτζα “little icon” from an Athonian act from 1142; Michael Glycas’ Prison Verses from 1158/9 feature ὡρίτσα “an hour” and γρουτίτσα “porridge”; and John Camaterus (late 12th century) uses the suffix extensively in his astrological works.

Up until now, what we have seen is vernacular, which we wouldn’t have expected to see from a scholar as pedantic as Tzetzes. But the first experiments in Early Modern Greek literature were by scholars contemporary with Tzetzes—Michael Glycas’ Prison Verses were written just a a decade later. And none of the words we have seen so far are impossible for Tzetzes’ time.

Vindobonensis (turn of 14th century)

4 [Cumans] καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, αὐθεντρία μου, καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, αὐθέντα μου.
7 [Turks] καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, ἀδελφέ, ποῦ ὑπάγεις, πόθεν ἧσαι, φίλε;
10 [Latins] καλῶς ἦλθες, αὐθέντα μου, καλῶς ἦλθες ἀδελφέ.
12 πόθεν ἧσαι καὶ ἀπὸ ποίου θέματος ἦλθες;
14 πῶς, ἀδελφέ, ἦλθες εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν;
16 πεζός, καβαλάριος, διὰ θαλάσσης, θέλεις ἀργῆσαι;
On foot, on horseback, by sea, do you wish to delay (stay)?
19 [Alans] καλὴ ἡμέρα σου, αὐθέντα μου, ἀρχόντισσα, πόθεν ἧσαι;
20a ἂν δ’ ἔχῃ Ἀλάνισσα παπᾶν φίλον, ἀκούσαις ταῦτα·
But if the Alan woman has a priest as a boyfriend, you will hear the following:
21 οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθεντρία μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς;
Are you not ashamed, my lady, to have a priest fuck your cunt?
24 [Arabs] ποῦ ὑπάγεις, πόθεν ἧσαι, αὐθεντρία μου; αὐθέντα μου, καλὴ ἡμέρα σου.
27 [Russians] ὑγίαινε, ἀδελφέ, ἀδελφήτζα, καλὴ ἡμέρα σου.
30 [Jews] μεμαγευμένε οἶκε στόμα φάραγγα καταπίνων μυίας τυφλέ
Bewitched house mouth chasm swallowing flies blind man
32  Ἑβραῖε λίθε, ὁ Κύριος ἦλθεν, ἀστραπὴ εἰς τὴν κεφαλήν σου.

As Hunger remarks, the Barberinus and the slightly earlier Vindobonensis are very closely related. In fact, the Barberinus is consistently the Vindobonensis plus mistakes (καβάριος in both Greek and Latin; an Arabic and a Russian word mangled), and minus omissions (the passage in question, and half the Hebrew gloss.) I’d be tempted to say the Barberinus is a copy of the Vindobonensis, except that the Barberinus correctly transmits sestritsa where the Vindobonensis has setritsa.

The Vindobonensis is in better condition than the Barberinus, and it preserves θέλεις ἀργῆσαι intact. If this was intended as a future tense, “will you stay?”, it would be the smoking gun for a late phrasing: Middle Greek had a large repertoire of replacement expressions for the future tense, but the volitive future is a 14th century thing, not a 12th century thing. But Tzetzes gives θέλεις ἀργῆσαι as the translation of Latin vis morare “do you want to delay?”; so an anachronistic future tense reading is unnecessary.

Now, the Ossetian is likely to come from Tzetzes himself. That means that Tzetzes must also have glossed it in the original; subsequent scribes are unlikely to have sought out Alans to translate Tzetzes’ Ossetian for them.

But might a scribe have gotten up to mischief here?

  • The Old Ossetian is the less explicit “have a love affair with the priest”. Tzetzes would not have censored the Ossetian (why bother, if you don’t censor the Greek); but he may well not have known the more explicit Ossetian. On the other hand, the Greek he wrote down may not have been as explicit either. The discrepancy between the two is at least suspicious.
  • As Kaplanis pointed out, this is very, very early for ἵνα to be written down as νά (ἵνα > unstressed ινα > να by deletion of unstressed initial syllable.) As I retorted, we know from metrical evidence that ἵνα was unstressed in Romanus Melodus, 600 years before Tzetzes. Again, there are errant earlier instances, including one instance in De Ceremoniis (Bonn edition p. 693), and a couple of Athonian instances—e.g. in 1034 from Esphigmenou monastery:

    Πλακία δὲ ὄσα χρίζη ἠ καθ’ ημῶν μονὴ ἤγουν τῶν Καταδεμόνων νὰ μη κολύετε παρα των διαδόχων (καὶ) παντοίων διᾶκατόχων τῆς κατ’ εσὲ μονῆς
    As much of Plakia creek as is claimed by our monastery, namely Katademonon, shall not be impeded by the heirs and any administrators of your monastery.

    And of course it is abundantly used by Michael Glycas in his Prison Verses, as Kaplanis concedes. Tzetzes may not have written in the vernacular at all; but if Tzetzes did choose to write glosses in the same language as Glycas and at the same time as Glycas, he would have used the same νά.

  • The modern word for priest παπᾶς, finally, is first attested as early as the fourth century in papyri, and is cited in a proverb by Glycas:

    Ἡ παπαδιὰ παρέπεσεν, ἐξύβρισε τὴν κοίτην
    καὶ καθαιροῦσιν τὸν παπᾶν!
    The priest’s wife has slipped, she has sworn at the bed,
    and the priest ends up defrocked! (270–271)

    As it turns out, Tzetzes himself uses the word several times.

So linguistically, nothing in Tzetzes’ epilogue is implausible linguistically: pretty much every modern feature was already seen either in Porphyrogenitus two centuries before, or at the latest in Glycas one decade later.

The only suggestions that the verse might have been modernised by a later scribe are:

  1. monìn, the Venetian word that is either the direct origin of μουνί “cunt”, or the vehicle for Arabic maimūn coming to mean “cat > cunt”, is not attested before 1340. Of course, if μουνί actually does have a Greek etymology, that doesn’t matter; and even if it doesn’t, silence is not proof, especially when it comes to taboo words.
  2. The Ossetian is not saying what the Greek is saying; and the scandalous notion of a lady having an affair with a priest might just have motivated a scribe (and we only have one scribe’s text) to spice up the language.
  3. We have no precedent for Tzetzes experimenting in the vernacular. In fact, Tzetzes bristles in the Theogony proper of having to write a simpler text for his patron than he’d have preferred, including the use of political verse rather than the hexameters he’d have preferred. 3 Tzetzes’ epilogue was a court party piece, and court party pieces were how a lot of Early Modern Greek writing started—the Ptochoprodromos poems certainly, and the Jeffreys found some more instances that Google is not helping me remember. But if Tzetzes resented using the political verse in the Theogony, it’s odd that he’d use vernacular glosses in its epilogue.

… What, you want a conclusion?

Some discomfort with the possibility that Tzetzes’ actually wrote the verse with μουνίν in it as it is now recorded. But not enough to decide he didn’t do it. The null hypothesis stays.

PAWAG is back as Words In Progress

By: | Post date: 2017-10-24 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics

The PAWAG—Poorly Attested Words of Ancient Greek site has been relaunched as Words In Progress: Supplementary Lexicon of Ancient Greek.

The site is an initiative by Franco Montanari who is responsible for the Vocabolario della lingua greca (recently translated into English as the new Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek):

The WiP – Words in Progress website is an online freely consultable database that is continuously enriched. It represents an on-going supplement to the major currently used dictionaries of Ancient and Byzantine Greek and seeks to provide a scientific tool for scholars of Greek and more generally of the Ancient Greek and Latin world.

Drawing its inspiration from the over ten years of experience of PAWAG – Poorly Attested Words in Ancient Greek, of which the materials form the basis for the new website, Words in Progress aims to expand its objectives by detailing corrections and additions of many different kinds, in order to record recent progress in the updating and enlargement of lexica of Ancient and Byzantine Greek. Its primary focus of activity concerns the recording of new words, but attention is also devoted to previously unknown sources, novel acceptations and improvements of all kinds involving the entries in the main existing dictionaries.

Most of the words in PAWAG are attested in one or another of the current Greek dictionaries, between LSJ, DGE, Lampe, Montanari, and Trapp; but as I found using it for the TLG, it also has many lemmata that were not elsewhere attested. And an online database for unattested words of Greek that the public can contribute to is always going to be a good thing.

I’m still not in love with its interface, by the way, which I now find somewhat fussy. But at least now it’s in Unicode and not SPIonic!

Early Modern Greek site

By: | Post date: 2017-10-24 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Literature, Mediaeval Greek

The Early Modern Greek site is back after being inactive for a while, and its curator Notis Toufexis is making up for lost time posting new entries on editions and digitised manuscripts. There is also an associated Facebook group.

μουνί < maimūn

By: | Post date: 2017-10-24 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’ve just discussed Kostas Karapotosoglou’s proposed Greek etymology for μουνί “cunt”, which he advanced in 2008 as an alternative to both the problematic Greek proposals to date, and the Italian proposals to date, which Italians themselves are not enthusiastic enough (although Tasos Kaplanis has argued for one here.)

In the Italian proposal article, I noted that the word also turns up in Occitan:

mouni in Occitan, reported as meaning variously “cunt”, “monkey”, and “cat”.

The same homophony between “cunt” and “monkey” also applies in Venetian. I further noted there a third possible etymology: Arabic maimūn “monkey”.

If the word for “cunt” came from Italian or Greek, then it is a coincidence that it sounds identical in Venetian and Occitan to the word they have borrowed from Arabic for “monkey”. And coincidences do happen. If the word for “cunt” does in fact originate from Arabic maimūn “monkey”, then that’s no coincidence. The homophony was avoided in Greek, because Greek took μαϊμού “monkey” directly from Arabic maimūn, and did not need to take it from Venetian monna.

Over at Nikos Sarantakos’ blog, Karapotosoglou has just posted the relevant entry from the Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. The FEW takes it as a given that the Occitan (and, as it turns out, Arpitan) word originates in “monkey”. Here’s what it says, under maimūn (p. 117). (Pardon me for not expanding the abbreviations: the online guide was not comprehensive or friendly enough for me to work it out, and I wasn’t strongly motivated to anyway.)

2e. Female genitals: Stéph. monna “vulva”. – Rouchi moniche, slang id. DelvEr, monique, mouniche Sainéau Par 309, Paris moniche (Villatte; B); saint. mouniche, ard. “vulva of a little girl” Vauch, Lyon mounichi “female genitals”, Gren. monichi. — Npr. mouniflo. — Dauph. monon Ch.

The meaning “female genitals” (e above) also turns up in Northern and Central Italy (see RF 14, 522), Comelico mǫna ARom 10, 143, Modern Greek το μουνί (< Italian) Kr Jber 5, 368

Does that solve the issue?

Well, not quite. The Arabic origin of the word could explain it turning up in Sicilian and in Southern Italian Greek, without the need to appeal to Venetian influence there. Then again, Kaplanis has argued that monna “my lady” was in use throughout Italy. So in fact, the presence of the word in Southern Italy could be explained by any of Greek, Italian, or Arabic.

For the Arabic derivation to work, we would have to accept that people chose to call female genitals “monkeys”. I mean…

… really?

Are there any other secondary meanings to “monkey” that might be a little more plausible, in explaining that transition?

Actually, there are, but you have to keep reading to find them. This is the list of secondary meanings of words derived from maimūn “monkey” from the FEW. (That’s Occitan not Italian, but the relevant sense does show up in Italy as well.)

  • 2a. Ugly, grumpy person
  • 2b. Grimace
  • 2c. Bugbear
  • 2d. Child
  • 2e. Female genitals
  • 2f. Old cow
    • No, it’s not that one
  • 2g. (Drunken) Noise
  • 2h. Deaf
  • 2i. Stupid
  • 2j. Doll

A lot of these you’ll find in English too. Maybe not the cow. Or “deaf”.

Oh, I’m not done:

  • 2l. Other animals.

Oh? What other animals?

Mdauph. pr. mouno “cat”, Toulouse id. D., vel. mouna. Pr. Barc. mounet m. “little cat”; mdauph. mꭒnę́to “little female cat”, Nice mouneta. Bearn. mounoû, -oûne “male cat, female cat”, Ariège, HGar. mꭒnꭒ́ “cat call” ALG 463. Lim. mounasso “female cat”; mounassaria “patisserie”, Blim. mounossorio “all kinds of porridge or crepes”.

Bast. mamǫnęt “badger”.

Npr. mouno “gadus merlangus” [whiting], Nice mouna, Palavas id. RLR 23,142.

BRhône mounino “raja aquila” [now Myliobatis aquila, eagle ray], Cette mourina. Barbier RLR 52, 105; 56, 218; RlFn 11, 160, 171.

See any animals in that list that are more usually used to name female genitals after?

No, not whiting.

Now. Remember that FEW cited a paper in Kr Jber when it mentioned Greek μουνί as coming from Italian. Kr Jber, Googling tells me, is Kritischer Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte der Romanischen Philologie, a Romance linguistics journal. And the paper cited there is by none other than the greatest Greek historical linguist who ever drew breath, Hubert Pernot. In fact, this issue of the journal was intended as an encyclopaedia of Romance philology, and his article is the Modern Greek bit. 4 Here’s Pernot’s paragraph; as always my translation, and I’ve supplied Boerio’s definition of Venetian monìn:

Modern Greek calls feminine genitals μουνί. The initial proposed etymology was Greek βουνί “mountain”. Psichari (EPh Ngr LXXX) thought, more reasonably, that it was múnno, Venetian monna (Boerio, s.v. mona); but I don’t think, as he does, that we should take the sense “monkey” as our starting point. Wouldn’t the meaning “cat” be preferable? Somavera II 306,3 does render mona (animal) as ἡ μαϊμοῦ μὲ τὴν οὐρὰν (cf. I 249,3 gatto sariano “tabby cat”) and “nature [genitals] of a woman”, but he also gives gatta “cat”. So I would link Greek μουνί directly to Venetian monìn (with a closed o, a nasal i and a barely audible n) = mu[s]cino (Boerio, s.v. monìn: [“a name for a cat, or used to call a cat”]). Cf. French chat “pussy”, despite the ingenuity of the spelling chas. D. Hesseling informs me that the Dutch word poes “pussy cat” has the meaning of μουνί in Afrikaans. In Modern Greek the word γάτα “cat” itself is a Venetian loan.

(Yes, Pernot is citing his mate Hesseling again. And I’m not finding it particularly difficult to imaging them chatting about this.)

And yes, I am writing this in yet another language in which a word for “cat” has been conflated with a word for female genitals, although which meaning came first is not actually as obvious as you’d think.

Pernot, incidentally, is citing Somavera’s 1700 Italian–Modern Greek dictionary, which I had previously cited, misreading sariano as fariano. It claims that the Italian loanword μούνα in Greek meant “monkey” or “tabby cat”—which is consistent with the word being ambiguous between the two in Italian.

I’d defer to any Arabists reading as to whether “monkey” > “cat” had already happened within Arabic. If it had not, then an Arabic origin of μουνί in maimūn would not have given μουνί its semantics; that would have happened once the word had also come to mean “cat”, in Northern Italy and Southern France.

… whereupon once again Sicily and Southern Italian Greece are a problem, because that meaning shift would have had to have happened there independently.

So. We have three languages that Greek μουνί, Venetian (and Northern Italian) mona ~ monìn, Calabrian Greek munno, Erice Sicilian munnu, and Occitan monna ~ moniche could have come from: Arabic (“monkey” > “cat”); Italian (“my lady”? “Simona”?); Greek (“mountain”? “lip”? “bed”? “down”? “red fig”?).

Once the intermediate meaning “cat” is introduced, Arabic “monkey” looks somewhat more attractive. Italian makes more sense as the vector for transmitting the word, since Venetians were the ones doing the travelling. But I’m not coming away with any more conviction about which of the three etymologies is best.

μουνί < monna "my lady"

By: | Post date: 2017-10-23 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’d mentioned in the previous post that Italianists, at least, believe that Venetian monín “cunt” derives from Greek μουνί “cunt”, rather than vice versa. We know that the word was current in both Venetian and Greek at the same time, and in fact it had made it into the Mediterranean Lingua Franca, as monín de gassa, a kind of knot known in English as “cut splice”. (Or, unbowdlerised, “cunt splice”.)

Deriving monín from μουνί is annoying for Greek etymologists, because that means they still have to come up with a Greek origin for the word; and none of the Greek etymologies proposed for μουνί have been convincing. (Karapotosoglou’s recent derivation from an old word for figs is more convincing, but it too has some issues.

At the conclusion of my final 2010 post, Tasos Kaplanis had reasserted his opinion that the Greek word has an Italian etymology after all, deriving it from Monna “my lady”. Since this blog is going to be googled a lot, I think it only fair to promote our exchange from that comment section into an article.

TAK: Nick, you have done a great job collecting all the evidence and I am afraid I cannot do the same. But since we need to end this mounology, please allow me to present my hypothesis.

Monna in Italian is a form with syncope for Madonna (= My Lady) already attested in the XIII century, according to Palazzi-Folena (I copy the entry):
monna [da m(ad)onna, mia signora; sec. XIII] sf. titolo che si dava nel Medioevo alle donne maritate, madonna: monna Filippa ; dim. monnìna.

Monna could have easily become Mona – I don’t know when, but it is certainly attested as such by Somavera in his Italian-Greek Dictionary; I copy from p.306:
Mona. Κυράτζα, η, κυαράτζα, η.
Mona. v. Gatta
Mona. (animale) Η μαϊμού με την ουράν (ζώον)
Mona. v. Natura della donna.

I copied all the relevant entries, but I will only discuss the first one (= lady) in relation with the fourth (= cunt).

The main reason you rejected the Venetian etymology was that it lacked a Latin origin. But the word “Monna” (= lady) was already there in Italian in the 13th century and if you go to trecanni you will see that the word also had ironical uses that questioned the dignity and the character of the ladies that it referred to…

What I see here is a rather classical and easy to grasp “totum pro parte” synecdochical use of the word [the lady became her most significant body part, i.e. her pudendum…]

If we went from Monna>Mona>Ven. mona>Ven. monin>MGr μουνίν or more directly from the diminutive monnina>monnin (with or without intervention of Ven. monin)>MGr μουνίν is something that may be difficult to investigate (I am not an Italianist and I do not quite know when and where the dim. monnina was used).

However, I believe that instead of going through all the acrobatic postulations of all Greek etymologies (from βινείν, μνους, ευνή, etc.), we should accept this direct route, which makes perfect sense, at least to me.

Now, one may ask why Italianists didn’t think of Monna; perhaps they got confused due to the semantic relevance between Venetian mona and modern Greek μουνίν and started looking for a common ancestor which they could not find; who knows.

opoudjis: […] Moreover, it’s not that there was no Romance etymology at all, though I may have implied it: Cortelazzo himself says there’s been no shortage of attempts to explain monna. The real challenge is still the distribution of monnu in Southern Italy, which points to Greek and not Venetian or Vulgar Latin as a source…

[In that, I am referring to the following argument:]

But the compelling argument Moutsos mentions is where else the word shows up in Italy. Gerhard Rohlfs noted that “cunt” is munno in the Greek of Bova, Calabria; and munnu in the Siciliano of Erice. It would be odd for a Venetian form to show up in the Calabrian and Sicilian hinterland. (OK, Bova and Erice are pretty close to the sea, but still.) Southern Italian Greek is archaic, with much influence on the Romance dialects that replaced it—that’s why Rohlfs became interested in it. The word didn’t get into Southern Italy from Latin: it’s much likelier to have gotten there from Greek than from Venetian.

That doesn’t necessarily mean *Ancient* Greek: Southern Italy only became cut off from Byzantium in the 11th century, and Greek was used as a legal language for several centuries longer.

Given Southern Italy, and the lack of a Latin etymon, I’m inclined to go with a Greek origin, then. The one remaining oddity is the ending: if it was difficult to accept mon-a becoming μουν-ίν, it is also difficult to accept μουν-ίν becoming mon-a. But it’s entirely possible that mona was backformed from monín, and that monín was the original form that entered Venetian.

TAK: Nick, the distribution of monnu/munnu/munno in Southern Italy as well as in other places (in Italy I mean) is well attested but with a totally different meaning and etymology: < mondo, i.e world.
Check out this:

What does Rohlfs exactly say?

I see no necessity for a Greek etymology (all the more because there is NO convincing Greek etymology…). On the contrary, Monna/Mona (as in Mona Lisa) is Panitalian, the texts referred to in trecanni (Dante, Boccacio) are also very well known and the step you have to make from Mona (Lady) to mona (cunt, with a totum pro parte synecdoche) is very small when compared with all the unattested jumps of all Greek etymologies…

So, I guess we disagree.

This debate does need an Italianist; we’re both agreed on that…

μουνί < αἱμώνιον

By: | Post date: 2017-10-23 | Comments: 4 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

In Etymologies and attestation of μουνί, I had reviewed the proposed etymologies of Modern Greek μουνί “cunt”. By far the easiest course would have been to derive μουνί from Venetian monín “cunt”; but it turns out that the Venetian word likely originates from the Greek, rather than vice versa.

The etymologies I reviewed were listed in a paper from 1975, and none of them were great. They were bad enough that Tasos Kaplanis and I debated in comments whether we should be trying for a Romance etymology, after all.

Anon delivered, pointing out that a recent paper did provide a Greek etymology for μουνί. Sarantakos reminded me of it when I reposted a link to my posts on μουνί, and I realised that I never went through that article properly. 5 It turns out that the paper’s author, Kostas Karapotosoglou, summarised his paper on Sarantakos’ blog; and I’ll work off that—though the journal is one of the few journals on Greek that still turns up at Melbourne University.

So, we start with Athenaeus. Athenaeus wrote the Deipnosophists, a pedantic account of a banquet in which the dinner guests provide all sorts of information that we would not otherwise have about Antiquity:

It is an immense store-house of information, chiefly on matters connected with dining, but also containing remarks on music, songs, dances, games, courtesans, and luxury.

One of the many pieces of information it supplies is the names of different variants of figs. And one of the variants of fig he names is haimōnios, which derives from the word for blood, haima:

τῶν δ’ ἐν Πάρῳ τῇ νήσῳ—διάφορα γὰρ κἀνταῦθα γίνεται σῦκα τὰ καλούμενα παρὰ τοῖς Παρίοις αἱμώνια, ταὐτὰ ὄντα τοῖς Λυδίοις καλουμένοις, ἅπερ διὰ τὸ ἐρυθρῶδες καὶ τῆς προσηγορίας ταύτης ἔτυχεν—Ἀρχίλοχος μνημονεύει λέγων οὕτως· «ἔα Πάρον καὶ σῦκα κεῖνα καὶ θαλάσσιον βίον.»

And as for figs from the isle of Paros (for there are various figs there too, which the Parians call haimōnios; they are the same as those called Lydian, and they happened to get that name because of their red colour), Archilochus mentions them saying: “away with Paros, and those figs, and the seaman’s life.” (Deipnosophists 3.19)

Archilochus was himself from Paros. The word isn’t mentioned elsewhere in Ancient literature (and Athenaeus is all we know of Archilochus’ verse). Eustathius of Thessalonica cites Athenaeus in his commentary on the Odyssey, and one scholiast of the Odyssey uses the word as a missing link in his fanciful etymology of amnion “bowl in which the blood of sacrificial victims was caught”. (The term was already extended in antiquity to “inner membrane round the foetus”: it’s the amniotic sac.) And that’s it.

So this is presumably a one-off local word for a kind of fig, that never went anywhere else. Athenaeus himself says that the usual name for them was Lydian figs.

Fast forward to 2007. Volume V of Trapp’s dictionary of mediaeval Greek has come out. Trapp has lots of good etymologies, but etymologies can always be improved; and Karapotosoglou writes a paper going through what he’s finding in the volume. In the last page of his paper, he reports on a discovery he’s made in Trapp:

μώνια, τά? “figs”. τὰ σῦκα LudwAnek 70,2.

LudwAnek is a work that shows up very often in Trapp: it is a series of mediaeval spelling dictionaries which Arthur Ludwich published in 14 different fascicles, attributed to Pseudo-Herodian 6 You can see the entry online, but it doesn’t tell you anything more than Trapp does: among a bunch of words starting with /mo/, including Moab and Moses, μόλις “just now” and μωραίνω “drive crazy”, μώνια is listed with the gloss “figs”.

We don’t know when the dictionary was written. (We know it wasn’t by the actual Herodian, so it’d have been some time after the 2nd century AD.) We don’t know what kind of vocabulary is in it. Ancient Greek dictionaries are infuriatingly curt like that. If someone has written a thesis analysing the vocabulary in it (and Trapp’s work on it will have made that much easier), we can work out whether it’s plausible that it has vernacular words in it.

But to Karapotosoglou, this does look like the missing link. We know that figs in Ancient Greek were used to refer to female genitalia. We know that a haimōnion (plural haimōnia) was a kind of fig. We know that in a dictionary written sometime after Athenaeus, mōnia is a word for figs. And we know that vernacular Greek dropped unstressed initial /e/: so the development haimōnia > /eˈmonia/ > /ˈmonia/ would have been completely regular.

And as he argues, you can get from /ˈmoni(o)n/ (the singular of /ˈmonia/) to /muˈni/ straightforwardly in Modern Greek:

ενώ μορφολογικά η λ. εξελίχθηκε σε *μωνίον –*μωνίν – μουνίν, με κατέβασμα του τόνου, πβλ.θρόνος (116) – θρόνιον – θρονί, σπάθιον – σπαθί, καθως και το δημώδη τύπο αιμωνιό = είδος σύκου (Πάρος) και τροπή του ο – ου από την επίδραση του χειλικού μ

Morphologically the word developed as *μωνίον –*μωνίν – μουνίν, with the accent descending; cf. θρόνος (116) – θρόνιον – θρονί, σπάθιον – σπαθί, as well as the vernacular form αιμωνιό “kind of fig” (Paros) and /o/ > /u/ under the influence of labial /m/.

If we accept that haimōnion survived into Modern Greek, then all the phonological developments proposed are plausible, although one is questionable:

  • eˈmonion: Koine pronunciation of haimōnion
  • ˈmonion: Regular deletion of initial unstressed e- in most dialects of Greek
  • monˈion: The diminutive neuter suffix -ion was both accented and unaccented, and the accent on the suffix did indeed routinely shift on the path from Ancient to Modern Greek, e.g. spátʰion “sword” > ˈspaθion > spaˈθion > spaˈθi
  • moˈnin: The -o- routinely dropped off in the diminutive suffix -ion, and this was already happening by 500 AD.
    • This change did not apply to -ion when it was not a diminutive suffix: skʰoleîon “school” > sxoˈlion > skoˈljo [skoˈʎo]
  • muˈnin: Though it is not regular, o > u does occur in Greek near labials: e.g. kōnōpion “mosquito” > kunupi.
  • muˈni: Final /n/ drops off in most contexts and most dialects of Greek.

So it can all happen, with one caveat: for monˈion > monˈin to happen, the word had to be considered a diminutive; otherwise, it would have ended up as monˈjo [moˈɲo]. But it wasn’t a diminutive; -ion here is an adjectival ending. The analogy is not impossible; it’s not obvious, either.

The development Karapotosoglou posits still sounds more plausible than the rest of the proposed etymologies, although I’m still uneasy at the notion that an obscure word from one island survived as long as it did.

But in defending the stress shift, Karapotosoglou drops a bombshell that needs a lot more scrutiny:

the vernacular form αιμωνιό “kind of fig” (Paros)

The claim is that the ancient Parian fig name has survived from the time of Athenaeus (if not Archilochus), and is still used on the isle of Paros to this day. And sure enough, if you look up the online Historical Dictionary of the Academy of Athens (the Modern Greek dialect dictionary), there it is:

αἱμωνι̮ὸ τό, Πάρ. Ἐκ τοῦ ἀρχ. οὐσ. αἱμώνιον. Σῦκον ὀνομαστὸν ἔχον τὴν σάρκα αἱματόχρουν καὶ τὸν φλοιὸν ὑπέρυθρον. Συνών. κοκκινόσυκο.

emoˈnjo [emoˈɲo] (neut), Paros. From the ancient noun haimōnion. A fig so called for having blood-coloured flesh and a pink skin. Synonym: kokinosiko “red-fig”.

That is too good to be true.

I mean, seriously. It is too. good. to be true.

There’s two things to note about the form, both of which do not work in Karapotosoglou’s favour:

  • The form does not end in -ˈi, but in -ˈjo. That’s what you’d predict a non-diminutive -ˈion form to end up as—as we noted: monˈjo. But the whole point of the haimōnion etymology of muˈni was that it was treated like a diminutive.
  • It does not drop its initial unstressed e-. The whole point of the haimōnion etymology of muˈni is that the word did drop its initial unstressed e-.

The fact that the initial unstressed e- did not drop off makes the form even more too good to be true.

The sources that the Historical Dictionary has used are of variable quality. Some are by dialectologists employed by the Academy of Athens. Some are by random schoolteachers and antiquarians who submitted their manuscripts to the Academy, and to its predecessors. So it’s worth digging a little further.

The lemma turns up in the first volume of the dictionary, published in 1933.

The Institute for Language and Speech Processing has put up a Flash-based browser of the provenance of the manuscripts of the Historical Dictionary. (Rush to use it while Flash is still supported. sigh.) We’re looking for sources from Paros, from before 1933. The browser has:

  • Ms 87. I. Protodikos. 1870. Glossary. 800 pp, A5.
  • Ms. 367. I. Kakridis. before 1922. Pariaka [journal] Vol. 1 pp. 1-44. 95 pp, 16o small.
  • Ms. 408. I. Kakridis. 1924. Vocabulary of Lefkes, Paros. 170 pp, very small.
  • Ms. 458. A. Papadopoulos. before 1929. Vocabulary of Lefkes, Paros. 30 pp, small.
  • Ms. 545. N. Kypraios. 1928/33. Folklore of Paros Island. 42 pp, A4.

Now of these scholars, Anthimos Papadopoulos was a director of the Historical Dictionary, and a good scholar; he wrote the Historical Dictionary of Pontic, and a series of papers on the origin of phrasal expressions. Ioannis Kakridis was one of the great Greek classicists, and the time frame is right—he’d have been 21 years old in 1922, and he completed his PhD in 1925. German Wikipedia confirms he worked at the Historical Dictionary from 1924–1931. They are both serious enough scholars to have earned the benefit of the doubt.

N. Kypraios wrote two more manuscripts on Paros folklore for the Historical Dictionary. Folklore could at a pinch include agricultural practices, but I think it less likely that the fig name comes from him.

That leaves us with 800 pp of Parian words from I. Protodikos, from a time when Greeks were rabidly trying to prove their continuity from antiquity, and before the advent of good practices in dialectology as we now recognise it.

Yes, it’s a big deal to accuse a scholar of falsifying evidence, even if they are from the bad old days of Greek lexicography. Especially when I don’t know whether the form is record by Protodikos, as opposed to Papadopoulos or Kakridis. All I’m saying is, I’d want to see corroboration from elsewhere of the survival of haimōnion in Paros.

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    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. Jeffreys, Elizabeth & Jeffreys, Michael. 1986. The Oral Background of Byzantine Popular Poetry. Oral Tradition 1/3: 504–547. p. 512

    4. Pernot, Hubert. 1903. Mittel- und Neugriechisch. Kritischer Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte der Romanischen Philologie 5: 358–372.

    5. Kostas Karapotosoglou. 2007. Ετυμολογικά στο πέμπτο τεύχος του Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität [Etymological issues around the fifth volume of the Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität], Ελληνικά 57: 385-388.

    6. Ludwich, A. 1905-1912. Anekdota zur griechischen Orthographie I–XIV. Verzeichnis der Vorlesungen der Universität Königsberg. Königsberg 1905–1912