Kaliarda XXX: Kaliarda etymologies

By: | Post date: 2018-01-05 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I am drawing this sequence to a close with posts on noteworthy classes of Kaliarda words from Petrpoulos’ dictionary.

To begin with: I have already posted (and updated) the Romani words in Kaliarda; the Italian words are given in Minniti-Gonias have already been discussed; and the Turkish, French, and English words have been sign-posted by Petropoulos. This is an etymological addendum. (In the following, asterisked forms are not Dura Liarda, but are from the addendum to Petropoulos.)

Albanian words:

black woman < vajzë “girl”
almond (etymon not given by Petropoulos)
to shit < muti “shit”
beautiful < bukurë
coffin < duvdes “to die”

(I have not been able to confirm these, and these will be Arvanitika, not standard Albanian.)

Spanish words:

cockroach < cucaracha
other < otro (if not French autre)
city square < plaza

To these we need to add Ladino semelja “penis”: this is clearly Lubunca similya “penis” < Ladino semilya “seed”. semelja is a missing link to the Ottoman Empire, since Ladino was spoken widely in Constantinople and Salonica—but not in Athens, whose Jews were Romaniote (Greek-speaking). We know that Kaliarda was spoken in Athens before Salonica became part of Greece in 1912, so semelja proves what the lack of Italian in Lubunca seemingly disproves—that Kaliarda and Lubunca share at least some common ancestry.

The much longer list is that whose etymologies defeated Petropoulos. There are by my reckoning eight Romani stems that Montoliu found and that I have not—though I’m quite sure develo ~ dzevelo and dapavelo are two of them.

Unknown Etymologies:

(avelo) napses
to chat; napsiaris is an informant, and Petropoulos derives it from anapso “to light (a fire)”
(vuelo) foria
to pressure
absurd; aθoritiazo to act stupidly, riskily; to gamble
church (Petropoulos claims Venetian bangolo “brothel”, but Minniti-Gonias has not found that word in Boerio. He also suggests vakla “rod” < Latin bacillus)
charming (of men)
arrival; elamano “to arrive” (< ela mu “come on”?)
kajoros, kajos
director (Turkish cayır “quickly, noisily”?)
to influence
to correct
matchstick (kendo “to pierce; to set alight”; hence kenda “fire” does not have an unknown etymology. See also kerikende “matchstick” < keri “candle” + kenda)
tickle (kara- “augmentative” + English laugh?)
vomit (onomatopoeia?)
to make noise in a bar for or against a singer (< French claque?)
gossip (cf. kuskus “ibid.)
kros krose
kruakis, kruu, kruiko
to back up, cf. kaklamaro to influence
nasty, bitch. lugra ~ rugla is Lefkada dialect for snot, and derives from Ancient Greek ῥύγχος “nose”


ears, luparo “to hear”
sea (Petropoulos: Italian luto “sludge”?)
cuckold; hence mandalobaltas “prosecution of adultery, adultery”: “cuckold trial”
end, full stop (looks like “honey”); buromeliðo “song meliði” is a musical note
kapamas (in Greek: lamb or veal stewed in butter, tomato and spices)
argument (Turkish barhana “big inn”?)
big (English big?)
bilo delo
to coat
flower (French bois “forest”?)
interesting, wonderful
sweet, smart, cultured
bulkume, purkume
sperm, ejaculation
to bury
clothes, thread, cloth
to begin
he, pl. danakati “they.masc” (dan “he” + kate “that”?)
she, pl. danakate “they.fem” (dan “he” + kate “that”?)
it, pl. dunakata “they.neut” (duni + kate “that”?)
to surrender (Romani? cf. tapavel “to make someone beat someone up”; daravel “to intimidate”)
develo, dzevelo
to desire, to want (Romani? Romani devel “God” does not have a clear relation)
gossip, nonsense
tooth (French dent?)
cram school, enlightenment, oven (all of which are I presume slang for “place where someone becomes in-the-know”): cf. French discorder?
hated and repulsive gay
lazy: doko- (?) + Greek maxmurlis “sleepy-head” < Turkish mahmur
expensive: ostensibly Greek kse- “un-” + Italian pensare “to think”, so “maddening”?
carnival: para-ndinome “to cross-dress”?
nearby: French près “near”?
phone receiver: radar? radaro means “to read”
sarmela, sermela
penis: related to semelja “penis”?
to admire
I can: English can?
innocent, indifferent
how much; fem. sekonsa, neut. sekonso
(elastic) spring
to rot, to shrink (from tsixla “thrush (bird); skinny person”?)
evil eye
unkempt hair
true, and tendu “truth”
dzasbanaðiko, dzasbanotsarðo
insane asylum: “away X shop, away X hut” (dzaslos “away”, dzasnionio “away mind” and dzatestos “away head” mean “insane”; ban resembles banio “bath” < Italian bagno)
leucorrhoea, vaginal discharge
to leave
stockings (dzuro is “urine”)
Smyrna, Izmir: “Turk Χ?”
turla susta
dizziness: lit. “swelling bounce/spring”
child; hence tsulukano “pregnant”
fire (Italian freddo “cold”?)
place: related to xafto “to swallow”?
hiding place; xusaro “to hide”
that place; xutu “?” + topos “place”
excited, psamono “to get excited”
hospital: amino “?” (“defence?”) + barotsarðo “sickness hut”
bear; hence ɡurumotos “hairy” (cf. bear)
to look admiringly, to sweet-talk
photography: “X? crystal”
case; *kumusukulia bandoleer, cartridge belt: “case turds”
razor (Italian lisciare “to smooth”?)
*dzaz bilo
unlucky: “away X?” (cf. bilo delo “mirror”)
to froth: < fari “stallion”? Hence *faraniasmenos “furious” (“frothing at the mouth”)

Kaliarda XXIX: 1904, addendum

By: | Post date: 2018-01-04 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I just noted that Nikos Sarantakos posted on his blog a report on the 1904 attestation of Kaliarda. I neglected to mention that he posted a full scan of the 1904 article (1904–11–25), which includes a couple of paragraphs left out in Spatholouro’s transcription, which I’d previously posted here.

“Our journal is able to announce a journalistic success today. When we gave the truly difficult mission to our contributor Bichtis [“Pest, Sexual Harrasser”] of discovering the friends in Constantinople and collecting Makris’ correspondence towards them, we were convinced of his capability and his success, for he is a young man full of energy, zeal, and smarts, a proper spitfire. He literally has the devil inside. But he has exceeded our expectation.”

  • The “friends” are obviously queers in Istanbul. (I really should have been using that term instead of “gays” all along.)
  • I have no idea who Makris was, and what his correspondence involved, but there may be hints of it in previous issues of the magazine.

“Constantinople, 21 November. … Constantinople too has her Twelve, just like our Athens. The difference is that her circle is larger than the Omonia Square one, for more members have entered it here.”

  • Why yes, some of those italics are deliberate. The whole magazine did that, not just this article.
  • The reference to the Twelve, this confirms, is purely conventional (“Council of Elders = Queers”), since in fact there are numerically more queers in Istanbul than Athens.

“We all know that (the) language/tongue is only useful for women. Now it is confirmed that men use it too. Language/Tongue in both cases plays the major part.”

  • I initially thought this was indirect confirmation that Kaliarda was already familiar as the language of cis female prostitutes. But in context, it’s likely just some artless sexism plus a double entendre: “Women are all talk (tongue); but it turns out (queer) men can use their tongues for the same purpose as women. Why no, I was just referring to the use of language by both! Get your mind out of the gutter!”

“Before going further I will write on the language of the Twelve here [in Constantinople], since this is the same language as that of our Twelve [in Athens]. This is also quite important in our case, as that is what Makris’ letters are written in.”

  • Again, the explicit identification of Athens Lubinistika from 1904 with Istanbul Lubunca; and the old Italian vocabulary which differentiates the two is not included in the glossary.

“The report of our correspondent is quite detailed, including among others the history of our Twelve and the names, or rather pseudonyms, by which the Athens and Peiraeus members of this curious company are known, along with the age of each; we will be continuing it in many issues of our magazine.”

  • And indeed, while the following issue (1904–12–02) is missing from the Greek National Library and the ΕΛΙΑ press archives, the issue after that, 1904–12–09, did publish names of the “Twelve in Peiraeus”; I already noted the presence of masculine, feminine and neuter names, in contrast with the exclusively feminine names reported for 1971 by Petropoulos.
  • The 1904–12–16 issue left out its report on “The Twelve” for lack of space; the issue after that, 1904–12–23, is likewise missing from ΕΛΙΑ. The 1904–12–09 issue likely has a few more gems though.

Kaliarda XXVIII: Sarantakos

By: | Post date: 2017-12-30 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Nikos Sarantakos has just published on his blog a report on Spatholouro’s finds in his blog comments of early attestation of Kaliarda, as already reported here. My thanks to him for disseminating Spatholouro’s findings more widely, as they deserve.

There’s not a lot of new information in the article, but he does mention that Manganareas’ journal Πεταχτό Κόρτε “Fleeting Flirt”,

despite its editor’s activist credentials, was one of the risque magazines of the time, with half-naked women drawn on the front cover, with cartoons with innuendo-laced captions showing ladies in negliges, with poems and witticisms full of double entendres, often italicised (e.g. “every female reader should give it to her friend—the magazine, that is.”) […] As you can see on the front cover above, the magazine shows dozens of pseudonyms of contributes, but I would not be surprised if the entire content was written by Manganaras with 2 or 3 collaborators.

Sarantakos also raises a criticism of Petropoulos’ work that is worth discussing: the lengthly witticisms in the dictionary don’t seem to be conventionalised parts of a normal cant vocabulary, but one-off opportunistic inventions, which his consultants happened to come up with:

But users of cants don’t use it so much to communicate, as to not be understood by outsiders. They don’t need to devise words for all aspects of life, because the mainstream language is enough for that. They need 100–200 basic words for their immediate interests (money, client, beautiful, ugly, small, big.)

The sense I get every time I leaf through Petropoulos’ Kaliarda is that many, if not most of those words were made up by a small group for fun, building on the existing model of Kaliarda vocabulary. I open up Petropoulos at random at <R>, and read these entries:

  • rena: queen [French reine]
  • renovlastos: “queen sprout”: heir to the throne
  • renoɣlastra: “queen flowerpot”: palace
  • renokaθiki: “queen chamberpot”: crown
  • renokatsikaðero: “queen goatville man (= hillbilly)”: evzone (royal guard, in traditional rural garb)
  • renos: king
  • renoskamnu: “queen stool”: throne
  • renotekno: “queen child”: prince

The compounds are very witty and inventive, and I bet the people who made them up had a lot of fun doing so; but I would be surprised if they were ever widespread among Kaliarda speakers. I fear that Petropoulos, yielding to the passion of the collector, bolstered his collection by recording the opportunistic formations of a small group.

I agree with Sarantakos that it’s unlikely that these witticisms were conventionalised—that “queen chamberpot” was the regular word for “crown”, used more than mainstream stema or korona (whenever crowns did come up in conversation). I disagree that they were out of bounds for being recorded.

Kaliarda at the beginning may well have been as limited as Dortika, when it really was being used as a secrecy language, by sex workers and gays. The minimal records we have of older Kaliarda concur: they don’t have the compounds, the jokes, and the allusions that Petropoulos recorded. (Of course, they were quite basic vocabularies, so there’d be no room for them anyway.)

But Petropoulos says that wit is a major component of speaking Kaliarda; in fact, wit is also emphasised in accounts of the much more parsimonious Lubunca, and were clearly also at work in Polari. Even in 1928, Hatzidakis says much the same about Kaliarda—that the experience of hearing any word of it is unforgettable; and I find it hard to believe that it was unforgettable merely for using a couple of Romani words in a mincing accent. Even if the coinage “queen chamberpot” was not conventionalised for “crown”, and was the invention of one particular Kaliarda speaker, I suspect that kind of coinage happened among Kaliarda speakers all the time.

And beyond that, the linguistic patterns of the coinages are revealing of how the language work. dzasberdepurotsarðo is rechercé for “National Benefaction”, and “house of an old man throwing away his money” is clearly one-off. But I doubt this was the only time dzas-berde was used to refer dismissively to philanthropy; and the variant clearly permitted such four-part compounds to be formed and understood—something not without precedent in Greek, both literary and colloquial, but in a much more schematic garb than we’re used to from Greek.

I’m going to be offline for a couple of weeks. When I get back, I’ll be posting glossed highlights of the Kaliarda vocabulary, and drawing this series to a close.

Kaliarda XXVII: Biondo

By: | Post date: 2017-12-24 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Thanks to friend of this blog Kostas Karapotosoglou, I’ve consulted Raffaela Biondo’s honours thesis on Lubunca from Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice: Lubunca: Lo slang queer del turco. Usi e funzioni sociolinguistiche a Istanbul e Berlino.

The research contribution of Biondo’s thesis is a survey of attitudes towards Lubunca by gay Turks in Turkey and Germany, and the extent of their usage of it. There is some introductory material, and a glossary of Lubunca; I suspect much of this material is in Kontovas’ thesis, but I’m going through it for completeness.

  • p. 17. The slang of the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, studied by Özdemir Kaptan in 1988, is polyglot, and includes Greek, Italian, French, Armenian, Russian and English; this reflects the polyglot nature of Beyoğlu (mediaeval Pera) itself, as the Venetian and Genoese settlment, and then as the Levantine centre of Istanbul.
  • p. 27. Kontovas included as characteristic of Lubunca the use of alıkmak as a light verb, and the use of -matik, -oz, oş as derivational suffixes. (p. 117 alıkmak is based on Turkish almak “to take”; -ık- is obscure.)
  • p. 27. The first Turkish slang dictionary was Lugat-i Garibe by A. Fikri, 28 pp long, from 1889/1890. Next came Devellioğlu’s 1941 dictionary, then Hulki Aktunç’s 1990 Türkçenin Büyük Argo Sözlüğü, which is the major reference on Turkish slang. Slang studies in Turkish have intensified since the 1990s.
  • p. 84. Lubunca is also known as labunca, lubunyaca, kelavca. kelav is Lubunca for “prostitute”; lubunyaca is the older form of lubunca, from lubunya “gay bottom, trans woman” < Romani lubhni “whore”. So Lubunca lubunya, like Lubinistika/Kaliarda lubina, conflated cis female prostitutes and queers as reflexes of lubhni. (I’d been avoiding queer as too generic till now, but it’s better than ibne or gay or gay bottoms and trans woman.)
  • p. 118: lubunya has spread to general Turkish slang. labunya is a synonym of lubunya; cf. Manganaras’ recorded form labuni, which appears to correspond to later lubina.
  • p. 84. Online sources speak of 300–400 words of Lubunca; Kontovas, recall, found 158 roots. Petropoulos, it should be said, recorded 3000 words (700 roots), but guessed there were more like 5000 extant.
  • p. 85. Morphological peculiarities of Lubunca (Kontovas 2012:13–17): -iz, -ız as a non-productive nominalising suffix on verbs; productive derivative suffixes -oş (Greek), -tör, -tor (French); the use of alıkmak as a light verb.
  • p. 86. Kontovas concluded Lubunca must have originated in the final decades of the Ottoman Empire—the use of “58” as a visual pun only makes sense before the 1932 introduction of the Roman alphabet. Lubunca as we now know it was standardised in the 80s (when it was first recorded) and 90s, a time which speakers consider the golden age of Lubunca. (Speakers of Kaliarda would be unanimous that the golden age of that language was Petropoulos’ time.)
  • p. 87. Romani is no longer spoken by Istanbul Roma, but it was in the 60s; so Lubunca must have originated before then. The Greek in Kaliarda would date from before the exodus of Istanbul Greeks after the 1955 pogrom. (Recall that Manganaras found a language he identified with Kaliarda, spoken in Istanbul in 1904; Kontovas would not have been aware of that source.)
  • p. 88. Kontovas situates the origin of Lubunca in Beyoğlu and Şişli, where the Levantines lived, contributing their languages to Lubunca; the Roma of Istanbul also lived in Beyoğlu, and that is where trans sex workers in Istanbul work to this day. Kontovas (2012: 40)

    The engagement of Queers, Roma, and other gayrimüslim [non-Muslim] minority women in unregistered sex work during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire and early years of the Turkish Republic explains the cohabitation of social space and corresponding experience of similar social conditions that catalysed in the exchange of linguistic material exhibited by Lubunca.

  • p., 93. Lubunca is still much used in its original context of sex work, but it has spread more widely as an emblematic language, including among gay activists.
  • p. 96. Lubunca is used by both gay men and gay women, although the sexual vocabulary of Lubunca is ibne-oriented. (There does not seem to have been any takeup of Kaliarda by lesbians, and lesbians are consistently absent in the sources—though Kaliarda is certainly aware they exist.) The secrecy function of Lubunca is becoming less prominent.
  • p. 119. paparon for “policeman” got a lot of use in the 80s and 90s to refer to the policemen persecuting trans women; it is now being displaced by beybi < English baby. Already in Petropoulos’ time, paparuna had been truncated to runa, and its earlier form forgotten—Petropoulos was certainly unaware of it.
  • p. 120. belde ~ berde “money” is used almost exclusively with reference to payment for sex. One informant claimed that gays would not use belde outside of sexual contexts, but that trans people would extend it from payment for sex to payment for work in general.
  • p. 122. homoş “homosexual” and malbuş “Marlboro cigarette” are formed with the pseudo-Greek suffix -oş.
  • p. 125, 127. The same has happened with ibnoş, reclaimed from mainstream Turkish ibne, and used ironically.
  • p. 126. The Romani denyo “crazy” has generalised from Lubunca to general Turkish slang.
  • p. 132. Biondo gives a Lubunca glossary:
  • p. 133. balamoz ~ malamoz has the specific meaning “sugar daddy” (as in fact does baron < French). In Kaliarda, balamos is “client of prostitute”; both straightforwardly derive from the Romani meaning “gadjo, boss”.
  • p. 135. çaça “madam of brothel” is listed as Lubunca; it is derived from either the dance cha cha cha, or Venetian ciaciarar “to chatter”. As it turns out, mainstream Greek tsaˈtsa means the same, and is not a particularly obscure word; Greek dictionaries derive it from the nursery word ˈtsatsa “auntie”. The Greek etymology is rather more plausible than either of (Kontovas’?) suggestions, and would make this the fifth Greek word of Lubunca.
  • p. 143. The fourth Greek word of Lubunca, which Kontovas forgot to list in the excerpt I saw of his thesis (after paparon, paparun, paparos “policeman”, nonoş “bottom, transvestite, effeminate gay man” < nonos “godfather”; and nafta “middle aged man” < naftis “sailor”) is tarika “moustache”, trika “beard” < trixa “hair (follicle; body hair)”; hence (p. 123, citing Kontovas) trikacı “someone excited by body or facial hair”. (Biondo notes that trika has now fallen into disuse.)
  • p. 137. The sixth Greek word of Lubunca is hoy “no”, which may come from Greek dialectal oi “no”; the form is only attested in the “Memrise Lubunca Course”.
  • p. 139. maydanoz “hair” < “parsley” is not the seventh Greek word of Lubunca, since maydanoz is already well established in Standard Turkish as a Greek loanword.
  • p. 138. laço in Lubunca is specialised to mean “20–40 year old man; active gay; virile gay”—so in fact what Kaliarda speakers would have referred to as a kolambaras, though presumably with less of the toxicity of kulampara/ibne relations that the Kaliarda usage was characterised by, since the term is in contemporary use (“active gay” rather than “active sex tourist”). laçovari, accordingly, means “masculine”.
  • p. 139. minco has moved from meaning “vagina” to meaning “anus”, something that may reflect the more recent attestation of Lubunca compared to Kaliarda, with at least some trans women more overtly identify their anatomy as feminine. We saw that in Kaliarda, even in the 80s, mudzo was restricted to cis women by speakers who themselves identified as trans.

Kaliarda XXVI: Lubunca

By: | Post date: 2017-12-20 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Just when I thought I was done.

Anna T’s article I just posted on mentioned Nicholas Kontovas’ 2012 M.A. thesis on Lubunca, the Turkish Gay Cant that until now I only knew of from Khyuchukov & Bakker’s 1999 paper.

The first 9 pp of Kontovas’ thesis are available online. They’re actually enough to answer a lot of questions about Kaliarda.

  • The Turkish Gay Cant has a name, then, and lubunca, lubunyaca is the exact Turkish equivalent of lubinistika, the usual name for Kaliarda (at least by outsiders) before Petropoulos: “whore-language”, from Romani lubhni.
  • It’s mainly used in Istanbul, but is spreading to other big cities (just as Kaliarda was an Athens and Salonica language).
  • Its daily use is now limited to trans female sex workers in Istanbul; it was in common use among gay males in the late 20th century. (Kaliarda has also declined in Greek, although an attenuated version of it has picked up in emblematic use.)
  • Sources on Lubunca are no earlier than 1981, and many of them are roundabout (translations of queer-themed French texts); the Lubunca Sözluk [Dictionary] appeared online in 2010, and the 2008 Büyük Argo Sözlüğü [Great Slang Dictionary] by Aktunç helped Kontovas sift Lubunca from other Turkish slangs. [The pre-Petropoulos attestations of Kaliarda were unearthed in response to my posts, by blog commenters with access to digitised Greek press archives; there may be treasures waiting to be found in the Turkish archives for Lubunca as well, and we know that Manganaras explicitly said in 1904 that he found the same Gay cant in Piraeus and Istanbul.]
  • Petropoulos had a rich harvest of vocabulary for Kaliarda: 3000 headwords, 700 of them root words (and 52 of those Romani). There’s much less there for Lubunca: 153 lexemes, 85 lexical roots. That count is comparable to the 100-odd words (all root words) Triantafyllidis recorded for Dortika (and I’ve already commented that Lubunca as Khyuchukov & Bakker recorded it looked like a para-Romani, just as Dortika does).
  • Lubunca is meant to be spoken with a stereotypically “gay” or ‘camp” intonation (just as Kaliarda is).
  • We finally have an explanation for Kaliarda berde “money”, which looked like the Turkish-derived word for “curtain”. The Lubunca for “money” is belde, which is an anagram of Turkish bedel “price, cost, fine”. Metatheses are frequent components of cants, and Christodoulou had remarked on them in Greek slangs; they also appear in Kaliarda, but rather less frequently than for other slangs. The only two instances in Lubunca are bedel and şebzü < beşyüz “five hundred”.
  • Lubunca also uses written puns: ellisekiz “(notorious) bottom” < “58”, which in Arabic numerals looks like an anus and an erect penis. That kind of pun is not alien to Greek: generations have tittered over <ῳ>.
  • 26 of the 85 roots of Lubunca are Romani. We have a few additions from Khyuchukov & Bakker, and they explain a few more things about Kaliarda (particularly nakka):
    Lubunca Romani Kaliarda
    balamoz “old man” balamo “non-Roma man; boss balamos “client of prostitute”
    çavo “young gay male” çhavo “Romani boy cf. tekno “twink, child” < Rom. tikno “small”
    dik(el), tikel “to see, to glance, to look” dikhel “he sees ðikelo “to see”
    koli “sex” kolin “chest, breast”
    matiz “drunk” mato “drunk” Older Kaliarda matalo “drunk”
    nakka “nothing, none, no” na khan “not at all” naka “nothing, none, no”
    tato “bath” tato “warm”
  • So naka is not a variant of Albanian nukë, although I suspect its synonym nuku is; a few Albanian words do turn up in Kaliarda, and Arvanitika was the pre-modern language of much of Attica, including parts of Athens itself.
  • The Romani in Lubunca is at times heavily altered, and reflects a mélange of the variants of Romani common in the Balkans.
  • The next contributor to Lubunca is French with five root words: turalamak “to stroll” < tour; pişar “a piss” < pissoire; lapuş, lapış “lips, mouth, kiss” < la bouche; albuş “a kiss” < à la bouche; lavaj “anal douche, enema” < lavage. There’s a lot of French in Kaliarda; these aren’t in there, and indeed the run-in articles suggest an oral acquaintance with French, whereas Kaliarda Francisms are meticulous and clearly learnèd.
  • Greek has contributed four words, and the first is our old friend paparon, paparun, paparos “policeman”, from paparuna “poppy” (now truncated to runa in Kaliarda). We saw this was Koutsavakika slang as early as 1906; Aktunç’s slang dictionary explains it as a type of cigarette, and he is likely right.
  • The other two Greek roots are nonoş “bottom, transvestite, effeminate gay man” < nonos “godfather”; and nafta “middle aged man” < naftis “sailor”. (Kontovas counts four Greek words, but gives only three.)
  • English: gey < gay, malbuş < Marlboro cigarette, homoş < homosexual, and laki “morality police” < lackey
  • There are also a few words from Armenian, Ladino, and Arabic. The word similya “penis” < Ladino semilya “seed” may be related to the Kaliarda sarmela “penis”.
  • There are only one or two Italian lexemes: albergo “hotel” < albergo, and possible laçka “old bottom” < lascia “leave him”? That is a striking difference with Kaliarda, whose Italian component is massive, and which Montoliu explained as Levantine, i.e. Ottoman; it might be that Greeks had access to Italian vocabulary in a way that Turks did not, as fellow Christians.
  • There is one word apiece from Bulgarian, Kurdish, and Russian.
  • As with Kaliarda, there are a lot of words with uncertain etymology, and many of them are likely inventions meant to sound foreign.

Kaliarda XXV: Anna T.

By: | Post date: 2017-12-20 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

The last article I was going to look at was Anna T.‘s The Opacity of Queer Languages.

There are some good points there, although it’s in the domain of queer theory that I’m not as conversant in:

  • Kaliarda and other queer cants are neither visible nor invisible, but opaque—straight onlookers know that you’re speaking in code, they just don’t know what you’re saying.
  • They are languages of subversion, including social critique.
  • They are often multilingual patchworks:

    For instance, Polari consists of English, Italian, Yiddish, and Mediterranean Lingua Franca (a composite itself), while Kaliarda is made up of Greek, English, Italian, French, Turkish, and Romani. Bajubá or Pajubá seems to have its roots in Africa and is based on several Bantu and Yoruba African languages outfitted with Portuguese syntax. Swardspeak is a mixture of Tagalog, English, Spanish, and Japanese. Lubunca consists of Turkish, Romani, French, Greek, English, Armenian, Arabic, Italian, Bulgarian, Kurmanji, Russian, and Spanish.

  • This indicates their speakers were mobile, possibly interacting with sailors as sex workers, and possibly consciously trying to come across as more sophisticated (Paul Baker posited that for Polari, and it’s clearly the case for the French layer of Kaliarda).
  • The languages often predate contemporary notions of sexuality and gender: “who speaks or spoke these languages long before the emergence of any contemporary understanding of homosexuality, the homosexual, and notions such as trans* or queer becomes an even more sensitive topic in light of queer modes of communication.” (Something we’ve seen time and again with Kaliarda, and the pre-contemporary understanding in this case is barely 30 years ago.)
  • Kaliarda is politically incorrect and has no self-censorship; it is pejorative against oppressors, pejorative against other oppressed social groups (I’ll post some of the misogynistic and anti-semitic words later), and pejorative against the gay speakers themselves.
  • The author interprets this as “a certain adoption of the mores of the general population in addition to their own, no matter how contradictory the two may be”, for the seeming self-hate. Maybe; there’s a pervasive cynicism there, certainly. As for kicking down on other minorities, Anna T. posits that “at least by allowing for a mocking of those seen as oppressors, or by placing themselves somewhere other than the lowest position in the social hierarchy, queers can afford a moment of pleasure that derives from their deviance itself and their organizing around it.”
  • Kaliarda allows its speakers humour and joy, as a respite from oppression. It’s a countercultural kind of pleasure that has not been institutionalised, and so is not as readily accessible to historians.
  • Queer cants present a passive resistance to oppression: they don’t disrupt the status quo, but they build an alternate social space, subverting the hegemonic culture. (Anna T. spends a lot of time comparing that to John Cage’s silences.)
  • Kaliarda is quintessentially camp, and camp is itself a form of resistance to straight hegemony.
  • While writing this text I tried to create some tables with examples of words and expressions, transliterated and translated from Kaliarda and Polari into English, but I realized it was not going to work, and perhaps it was okay that it did not. What I was forcing was a transparency that didn’t want to be there. What I was trying to accomplish (and miserably failed at doing) was beautifully commented on by Celia Britton, who says that camouflaged language can only be understood in a way that respects its opacity and does not reduce it to transparency.

    I get why a social theorist will rejoice in the opacity of Kaliarda. I’m a linguist though, and I’m compelled to gloss.

Kaliarda XXIV: Korovinis and Perdikea

By: | Post date: 2017-12-20 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Trying to wrap up this series, I’ve come across two more Kaliarda texts online.

The first is a chapter from a 2010 novel by Thomas Korovinis, Ο γύρος του Θανάτου [The tour of death], with nine protagonists in Salonica of the 50s. One of them is a trans sex worker, and her narrative has a lot of Kaliarda words, though from a quick glance, they all look to be taken from Petropoulos. The text is certainly more convincing than Klynn’s or Romvos’ though, both in historicity (because alas, authentic-sounding Kaliarda is now a museum piece), and in fitting words to context.

The second piece is much smaller, but both linguistically and sociolinguistically more interesting. It’s also from 2010, from a gossip magazine: A Kaliarda Dictionary: “Maria Perdikea reveals the secret language of socialites.” (Η Μαρία Περδικέα αποκαλύπτει τη μυστική γλώσσα των socialites: the article is part of the execrable mainstream Greek press habit, pioneered by the “lifestyle” mags of the 90s, of using undigested English.)

Linguistically, the snippets of Kaliarda here look to be in live use, rather than checked against Petropoulos’ dictionary, and there are a few deviations from the language as he described it. There’s also a bit more phonetic spelling than elsewhere: more careful writers recognise that Kaliarda has Greek inflections, and spell them correctly, but the magazine author has been reluctant to; so μπενάψι instead of μπενάψει, τζιναβοτί instead of τζιναβωτή.

Kaliarda words in bold.

  1. Όταν η Τζίνα μπεν στην άλλη μούτζα, τζίναψες η νάκατις; otan i Dzina ben stin ali mudza, dzinapses i nakatis? “When Gina talked to the other woman, did you understand, or [did you understand] nothing?”
    • I was surprised to see regular aorists of benavo and dzinavo, but of course if the verbs have regular presents, they are going to have regular aorists as well.
    • The Kaliarda-ism “X or nothing” = “is X true?” has turned up elsewhere.
    • The Kaliarda use of mudza “vagina” to refer to cis women has also turned up elsewhere.
    • nakatis instead of naka “nothing” is new. I presume an analogy with Greek katiti, katitis “something” < kati, tipotis “nothing”.
    • The other surprise is the use of an indeclinable root form of a verb, ben instead of benapses (the inflected aorist benapsi does turn up further down in the article.) This is something reminiscent of Dortika, which used the verb root dʒan “leave!” as a finite verb; Kaliarda does use dik! “look!”, but only as an imperative. This may have been an uninflected form lying low in Kaliarda all these years, but I suspect instead it’s an innovative truncation.

  2. Nάκατις μπερντέ, τι μπεν να κάνω; nakatis berde, ti ben na kano? “No money, what do you think I should do?
    • Again, truncated ben for benavis, and nakatis for naka
    • The epigrammatic “nothing money” for “I have no money” is typical of Kaliarda.
    • ti ben na kano lit. “What do you say I do?” is a calque of mainstream Greek ti les na kano, and is unsurprising. The speaker has not used to opportunity to conceal “do” as avelo.
  3. Ντικ τις μούτζες με τα εξτέ, πώς δικέλουν το δικό μου, αν τολμήσει να του μπενάψι τίποτα θα μουτζοπιαστούμε dik tis mudzes me ta ekste, pos ðikelun to ðiko mu, an tolmisi na tu benapsi tipota θa mudzopiastume “Look at those women with the hair extensions, how they’re looking at my guy; if she dares say anything to him, we’ll have a catfight”
    • Unlike ben, the Romany imperative dik was recorded in Petropoulos, and is used as only an imperative, in contrast with the inflected ðikelun
    • Here the inflected aorist benapsi is used instead of the uninflected ben
    • ekste is not in Petropoulos, and is not properly Kaliarda; it is a truncation of the English loanword (hair) extensions, which is itself fairly recent. A non-Kaliarda sighting of the word is in this gossip column by Nasos Goumenidis from 2017:

      Μας κούρασες Μίνα. Οι κόλλες απο τα εξτέ και τα καρφιά στη μάνα του Παντελίδη. […] Και όλα αυτά με σέλφι που ξεχωρίζουν οι κόλλες απο τα εξτέ… σε πρώτη φάση… Πόσο σίκ ε;

      We’re sick of you Mina [Arnaouti]. Hair extension glue and sniping at Pantelidis’ mother. […] And all that with a selfie [on Facebook] where you can see the hair extension glue, right up close. How very chic.

    • No, I don’t know who Mina Arnaouti or Pantelis Pantelidis are, and I don’t care to find out.
    • The verb mudzopianome is also not in Petropoulos, but it’s transparent: Kaliarda mudzo “vagina; cis woman” and Greek pianome “grab each other” (in plural) = “grapple, argue”. Perdikea herself glosses it as “argue with a woman”, so the intended meaning is “woman-grapple”, not “grab each others’ vaginas”.
  4. Ντικ μωρή, τη λάτσα, πόσο θεά, πόσο τζιναβοτί και δικέλι άφθονα dik mori, ti latsa, poso θea, poso dzinavoti ke ðikeli afθona “Hey you, look at that beautiful woman, how much of a goddess she is, how in-the-know, and she looks abundantly [= is abundantly good-looking?]”
    • θea “goddess” is not one of Petropoulos’ words, but it is used in current stereotypical gay discourse as praise for someone female; so it would nowadays be regarded as part-and-parcel of Kaliarda.
    • ðikeli afθona “looks abundantly” is a puzzle. Perdikea glosses afθona as “to excess” (στην υπερβολή του), so it should be read as a superlative (which is not surprising). The only way I can make sense of it is replacing the Greek transitive meaning “looks” with the English intransitive meaning, “she looks amazing”. That’s absurd in Greek, and I don’t think it would be much less absurd in traditional Kaliarda, for all its parsimony. But maybe this actually is a calque from English. In these days of hair exte, that would not really surprise me.

    So linguistically, we have a contemporary use of Kaliarda that is not informed by Petropoulos or checked against him, and that is not even confident enough to spell Kaliarda endings like the Greek that they are. Petropoulos’ work is extremely well known in Greece and beyond; indeed I suspect it is why the lect is known now as Kaliarda rather than Lubinistika, the name Petropoulos first heard of it as (and the only name that turns up before him). For a writer to write about Kaliarda and not seem to be aware of Petropoulos is linguistically refreshing. Still, it is odd to see the article conclude like this, after Perdikea provided a small Kaliarda glossary:

    As you can understand, we cannot reveal any more, as those who know Kaliarda well would crucify us for revealing the secret dialect which makes their live easier.

    Triantafyllidis’ consultants were mobbed by their neighbours in 1915, so he wouldn’t reveal the secrets of their cant (unaware that they were transparent to any Roma, and to any gadjo who had read Paspati’s grammar of Romani). But we’re not in 1915. We’re not in the late 30s, when Police Captain Bourganis had already compiled his glossary of Lubinistika for the Vice Squad, or 1971, when Petropoulos had published his dictionary, or even the mid 70s, when political theatre would use Kaliarda to try and sneak songs past censorship (the vlakopsaliðu “stupid scissors chick”).

    Kaliarda, secret? In 2010?

    There’s another couple of noteworthy things with Perdikea’s article.

    The cant is described, not as the language of sex workers, or gays, or trans people, but as the “secret language of socialites”. (With socialites in English, no less.) We are now a long way away from the ftoxobineðes “pauper bottoms” (street queans) who spoke Kaliarda in the 1920s. Whatever social niche Kaliarda is filling now, the emphasis is no longer on an embattled minority protecting itself. It’s merely a secrecy language; like Greek used in the diaspora in public. (Gkartzonika’s ethnography came up with a similar conclusion.) This is how Perdikea sets the scene for it:

    There are moments I rejoice that our beloved Kaliarda dialect exists, and me and my girlfriends can communicate perfectly without anyone else understanding a thing. It’s different speaking in code with someone, and having access to key-words and speaking without fear or passion. Your sociability remains sky-high, you’re on good terms with everyone, while at the same time you insulting them seven ways to Sunday; and they just smile at you and wonder “whatever are those girls saying?

    It’s great, I suppose, that Perdikea feels that there’s a huge emotional difference between skulking in code, and yelling out and proud in code. But any difference is in the head of the manumitted speakers; they’re still very clearly speaking in code, and those onlookers smiling at them are well aware that they’re speaking in code—and likely speaking in code for good reason. I’m not convinced they’re getting away with as much as they think they are—especially with Petropoulos’ dictionary so widely known.

    I say that the Kaliarda of “socialites” is a long way from the pauper bottoms of the 1920s; but the late 60s were already a long way away too. Trans sex workers in the 70s and 80s like Paola Revenioti, Betty Vakalidou and Nana Hatzi who spoke Kaliarda were just as marginalised as their counterparts of the 20s; but Petropoulos also found former government ministers speaking Kaliarda, and we also found slang.gr commenter aias.ath recollecting that when Petropoulos’ dictionary came out, the well-to-do gays next door were annoyed that he could now understand their conversations.

    I’m left with one conundrum with Perdikea’s article. I can’t tell who she and her girlfriends are.

    Gkartzonika wrote in her master’s thesis that Kaliarda was still a gay/trans language, with only slight usage outside the LGBTQ community; Christodoulou on the other hand says that (cis) women have now started using Kaliarda as well, “to express their autonomy from men”.

    Is Maria Perdikea one such cis woman? Or is she identifying with the traditional gay and trans speakers of Kaliarda (whether or not she is trans herself)? It’s actually surprisingly hard to tell.

    My default assumption was that she was cis; that’s a cis-sexist assumption, though, based on the fact that she’s writing in a gossip column, rather than a consciousness-raising blog.

    She and her fellow speakers of Kaliarda are identified as “girls”; but Kaliarda speakers always identified themselves as feminine, and the use of feminine gender is a consistent marker in Kaliarda.

    The “goddess” of Phrase #4 is “a new and very beautiful [man]”; Perdikea glosses latsa “beautiful (fem.)” as “a good looking boyfriend” (ωραίος γκόμενος). That’s not how a straight cis woman refers to attractive men, unless it’s a straight cis woman consciously queering her discourse (which is what Christodoulou implies women are doing with Kaliarda, and something Gkartzonika also implies with “metrosexual” use of Kaliarda). But it’s completely unsurprising among ibne speaking Kaliarda, and that does remain the more plausible alternative, whether Perdikea is speaking from experience or out of empathy.

    Phrase #2 is spoken to “your (male) buddy” (κολλητό, masc); phrase #3 to “your (female) buddy” (κολλητή, fem). Phrase #3 is about the speaker feeling threatened by women (γυναίκες) expressing an interest in her boyfriend (γκόμενου); that sounds cis straight, but it doesn’t have to be. What does sound cis straight is the use of mudzopianome “minge-grapple”: the verb is reciprocal, and just as we minge-grappled would in English, mudzopiastume implies that both the rival woman and the speaker are cis women—they both have a minge.

    The distinction between cis women and ibne (the conflation of gay bottoms/cross-dressers/trans women) is baked into Kaliarda, at least as Petropoulos recorded it. The lubines referred to themselves in the feminine gender in Kaliarda consistently, but they did not have minges (it’s doubtful bottom surgery was available to them before the late 70s), and they did not refer to themselves as minges. They had forty-odd different word in Kaliarda for themselves; irakli “woman” does not appear to have been one of them either. In fact, while Nana Hatzi said she was one of the few cross-dressing sex workers in 70s Salonica who actually identified as a trans woman, she also made a point of referring to cis women as minges: “The moudzes (= minges) in our groups would ask trans women for advice on how to dress, how to put on makeup, how to have their breasts stick out.”

    So I would not expect a traditional speaker of Kaliarda to use the verb mudzopianome “minge-grapple”. But of course Kaliarda was recorded by Petropoulos 45 years ago, before trans Greek women started to have access to bottom surgery. And even in the version recorded by Petropoulos, “Haritakis’ Wife the Cunt-Bumper” (Η Χαριτάκαινα η Πλακομούνα) was so called because she was married to a cis woman; so an ibne could be called a lesbian and a minge-haver, even if jocularly. So maybe things are blurrier now with gender categorisation than they were in Petropoulos’ day; and maybe Petropoulos’ own gender categorisations were not the ones Kaliarda speakers were actually using. At least not consistently (Hatzi being the obvious counterexample).

Kaliarda XXIII: Dortika

By: | Post date: 2017-12-19 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’ve left till late a comparison of Kaliarda with Dortika, the earliest researched of the Greek para-Romani cants; and the points to be made here have already been substantively made elsewhere, including in comparison with the Turkish Gay cant (which is also clearly para-Romani), and in Sechidou’s article on Greek para-Romanis. Kaliarda is different from para-Romanis: it takes a more schematic, artificial approach to Romani vocabulary, and it was elaborated by speakers who did not particularly identify with or speak in Romani.

Information on Dortika has been provided at length by Triantafyllidis:

  • Triantafyllidis, Manolis. 1915. Τα “ντόρτικα” της Ευρυτανίας. Συμβολή στα ελληνικά “μαστόρικα”. [The Dortika of Eurytania. A contribution to Greek craftsman cants]. Δελτίο Eκπαιδευτικού Oμίλου 5. 219–231. Collected Works: 2: 33–45.
  • Triantafyllidis, Manolis. 1924. Eine zigeunerisch-griechische Geheimsprache. Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschungen 52. 1–40. Collected Works: 2: 46–85.
  • Triantafyllidis, Manolis. n.d. Griechische Geheimsprachen. Collected Works: 2: 90–140.

The most useful thing to do from a Kaliarda perspective is to compare the base Romani vocabulary of Dortika with Kaliarda where they have words in common, and comment on some of the more glaring gaps in core Romani vocabulary in Kaliarda. The etymologies that Triantafyllidis provides in his 1924 work, based mainly on Paspati’s (1870) work on Ottoman Romani, are also very useful to reproduce for Kaliarda. I’m using the Romani spelling given by Triantafyllidis’ sources.

By way of supplement, I’m adding to the table of comparisons words from a second para-Romani, the Romka of Epirus, as recorded in Soulis (1929).1

Common words with Kaliarda:

Dortika Romka Kaliarda Dortika Meaning Dortika Etymology
ˈvela  — aˈvelo to come avela “he comes”; the initial a– could have been metanalysed: θ avela < θa vela “I will come”
baˈkro  ˈbakro paˈɡro “hair, [fleece]” lamb, goat bakro “lamb”
balaˈmos balaˈmos “man, non-Roma” balaˈmos “client of prostitute” man; son-in-law balamo “non-Roma man; boss”
baˈro baˈro “sickness” shop baro “big”
baˈros baˈros “rich; householder; officer” baˈros “fat” (conflation with Romani pharo) big baro “big”; one of the few Romani words appearing in other Greek cants, meaning “householder, boss”
bik ˈbigros “big” < English big? big ?
but  but but very but “very”
ˈdzala ˈdzao, ˈdzazo go, leave djala, “he leaves”
dʒan ˈdzao, ˈdzazo to leave djan, “leave!”
ˈdzuva  tsuˈvi dzoˈvi “louse, fly, bug” < Koutsavakika “louse” louse djuv, pl. djuva “louse”
kaiˈni, ɡaɡˈni  kaxˈni kakˈni, ˈkakna hen kaini, kaghni “chicken”
kaiˈnos, ɡaɡˈnos  kaxˈnos, kaɣˈnos kakˈni, ˈkakna rooster kaini, kaghni “chicken”
ko  — kaˈte < Rom. kathe “here” that k’o “masc.dat article” < ke + o, influenced by Greek masc. article o
kuraˈvela  kaˈmela kuraˈvelta (noun), kuraˈvalo (verb) coitus kuravela, (unattested?) 3sg causative of kurava “he hits, he masturbates, [he fucks]”
 ˈluvu luˈbina “prostitute; gay bottom” prostitute lubhni, “whore”
 latsiˈos latˈsos “good, beautiful” good, beautiful, white, rich lačho, “beautiful”
manˈdo manˈdo manˈdo bread mando “bread”
maˈto  maˈtos Older Kaliarda mataˈlo drunk matto “drunk”
mol  mol mol “water, liquor” wine mol “wine”
 — mzio muˈdzo female genitals mindž “vagina”
patsarˈxa  patsaˈre; tiˈrax tiraˈxa shoes triakha “shoes” + Greek paputsia “shoes” + Greek tsaruxia “clogs” (Soulis: Romani batsari “clog” vs tiraxni “shoe”)
 peˈlos baˈla, beˈle, peˈle “testicles” penis Not clear if related, or if Kaliarda neut.pl baˈla is derived from fem.sg. ˈbala “ball”
pxiˈnela  piniliˈazu “to chat, to know, to mock”; piˈnela “talk!” (< peneliˈazo, peˈnela) beˈnavo < Romani phenav “I say” say phenela “he says”
rakˈlos  — iraˈkli “woman” < Romani rakhli “non-Roma girl” boy raklo “non-Roma boy”
ˈromis  ˈromus romaˈnas “Gypsy” smith, Gypsy? [γύφτος: ambiguous with “smith” in Greek], craftsman rom “Roma, person, husband”
san  — dziˈnavo “to know” < ˈdžanav “to know” + džiˈnav “count, to read” know djanava “to know”, though the reduction to /s/ is hard to explain
taˈba  daˈvas “beating” dap “masturbation; Older Kaliarda: beating”; dup “beating” beating; to beat tab, tap, pl. taba “beating”
tsoˈrela, tsuˈrela  tsuˈrela tsurˈno “theft (of top’s wallet by accomplice during sex)” theft čorela “he steals”
ˈxala  ˈxala “food”, xaliˈau “to eat” ˈxalo to eat khala “he eats”
ˈxasoi  ˈxala “food” xal (< khala “he eats”), xaˈlemata (+ Greek nominalisation), xalemanˈde (+ pseudo-French ending) food khashoi, khasoi “food, dish”


  • As noted, Dortika verbs are uninflected; Romka and Kaliarda verbs are inflected.
  • There is much less meaning shift in Dortika and Romka: vela only means “to come”, bakro has expanded from “lamb” to “goat”, but has not shifted to “hair”, mol has not become “water”.
  • The one clear meaning shift is of baros from “big” to “rich, householder” in Romka and in other Greek cants.
  • We have already noted that Kaliarda using a 1sg form for benavo, dzinavo < phenav, džanav is not what you’d expect of someone who actually knew Romani; the expected 3sg form phenel is what underlies Dortika uninflected pxinela, Romka piniliazu < peneliazo.
  • Soulis corrects Triantafyllidis, deriving patsarxa, patsare from a word for clog, batsari; I can’t find it on ROMLEX, but it appears related to paćarel “to wrap”.
  • There’s a clear narrative behind Kaliarda balamos “boss, gadjo” < “client of prostitute”. There’s just as clear a narrative behind the Dortika speakers, so eager to assimilate, using the word for non-Roma as the generic word for “man”, and certainly for themselves.
  • Dortika preserves distinct Romani words for “food” and “to eat”; both Romka and Kaliarda only use the verbal form for both.

The Romani words Kaliarda has not taken up, which Dortika and Romka have, are more revealing:

Dortika Romka Kaliarda Dortika Meaning Dortika Etymology
anaˈnai ˈnaka, ˈnuku < Albanian nukë? there is no, without nanai “not, there is not”
jak  jaˈko ðikelˈto “seen thing” eye yak, yag “eye”
jaku  jak “coal” xorˈxora (onomatop.) fire yak, yag “fire”; the Dortika –o > –u by analogy with foko < It. fuoco “fire”
ɡar  maʃˈno, peˈlos sarmela; bara “crowbar” penis kar “penis”
gaˈdzana, gaˈdzi  ˈɡadzo “woman” iraˈkli < Rom. rakhli “girl” married woman gadji “non-Roma woman”
kʃiˈer  ker tsarði < Turkish house kher, kxer, her “house”
ˈlava  — aˈvelo take lava “to take”
lordo, lordos  — runa < papaˈruna “poppy” (< Koutsavakika: Spatholouro has found a report from 1906) policeman lûrdo, lurẹdo “gendarme, solider”
mas  miˈaʃ ˈkarno < It. carne take mas “meat”
ˈmeko  — ˈmoko se, ˈmokolo (Koutsavakika: ˈmoko) < Old. It. moco “nothing” be silent! mek, imperative of mukâva, mekâva “to leave, to let” + -o by analogy with Greek siko “get up!” (Related to moko?)
mireˈlos  — baˈros < Romani baro “heavy” sick merela “he is dying”, merdo “dead, sick”
balaˈmi, balaˈmina  balaˈmina iraˈkli < Romani rakhli “non-Roma girl” woman balamo “non-Roma man; boss”
naˈʃto  nas ˈdzao, ˈdzazo < džav “to go” to leave nashto “left” < nashava “to leave”
ˈdela  diliˈazu aˈvelo to give dela “he gives”
diliˈnos  dilˈnos dzasˈlos, dzas-nioniˈo, ˈdzatestos “someone gone, someone whose mind is gone” mad, fool dilino “crazy”
paˈni  paˈni mol “water, liquor” < mol “wine” water pani “water”
ʃapaˈno  — laˈtsos “good, beautiful” < lačho “beautiful” good sapano “wet, moist, hazy; (German Romani) dear”
sum ˈnal  — laˈtsos “good, beautiful” < lačho “beautiful” good, beautiful Albanian shumë “very” + Romani -al + Romani sukar “beautiful”

Kaliarda has jettisoned basic Romani vocabulary such as “eye”, “fire”, and “meat”, in favour of Italian, Turkish, (possibly) Albanian, onomatopoeia, generalisations (water > wine) or circumlocutions (“seen thing” for “eye”, “gone mind” for “mad”, “heavy” for “sick”). Being an urban language, Kaliarda also doesn’t have use for rural vocabulary Dortika considers core, such as “wood”, “milk”, or “horse”. And in pursuit of schematicism, Kaliarda has jettisoned several basic verbs in favour of its two defaults: avelo “come, [have]” replaces Romani verbs for “take” and “give”, and dzazo “go” replaces the verb for “leave”. (However, Kaliarda daˈvelo “take” might be related to dela “he gives”, or even lava “to take”.)

The most Romani a lot of Greeks will have ever heard is the chorus to the 1990 song Balamos (lyrics: Dionysis Tsaknis; the music is traditional, ):

Νάς̌ μπαλαμό, νάς̌ μπαλαμό
και το λουμνό τ’ αφεντικό
νάγια ντόμλες ατζ̌έι μπαλαμό

Naš balamo, naš balamo
and that lubhni boss
naya domles adjei balamo

Get lost, gadjo, get lost, gadjo
and that disgusting boss
Don’t put up with that gadjo

That’s Romani; and some of it is Romka or Dortika; but very little of it is Kaliarda, and the way that it is not Kaliarda tells you how Kaliarda is not Romani:

  • naš “leave!”, displaced in Kaliarda by the more generic džav “to go”.
  • balamo “non-Roma, gadjo”, transmogrified in Kaliarda to “client of prostitute” (so referred to by the first speakers of Kaliarda, Roma sex workers, servicing gadjos)
  • lubhni “whore” (applied to men and women; the Greek gloss you’ll see for the word in that song is πρόστυχος “vulgar”); used by the sex workers who originally spoke Kaliarda as their self-designation, and by the gays who ended up speaking the language as one of their self-designations.

Kaliarda XXII: Minniti-Gonias

By: | Post date: 2017-12-13 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Domenica Minniti-Gonias’ study on “Italian and Heptanesian words in Greek slang” (specifically in Kaliarda)2 is significant because the Italian component of Kaliarda is one of the two core differentiators of Kaliarda from other Greek cants. (The other being its schematic approach to Romani vocabulary.) Montoliu already identified that Italian is a large and old component of Kaliarda vocabulary, and that it places the origins of Kaliarda in the Ottoman Empire, when Italian rather than French was the default Western language. (Frustratingly, no Italian turns up in the early records of Kaliarda that we have seen from 1904 through to 1938; but it doesn’t make sense that Italian would have been introduced into Kaliarda in 20th century Athens.)

Introducing Italian is how Kaliarda got to be the polyglot exuerbance it is—rather than remaining a para-Romani based on just Romani and the gadjo language, as was the case with Dortika, as seems to be the case with the Gay cant of Istanbul, and indeed as may well have been the case with the Lubinistika of sex workers.

So the study is important, and its glossary of Italian words in Kaliarda is welcome.

Though I have to say, I don’t think Minniti-Gonias got Kaliarda. She keeps referring to the “argot”, generically; but of course Kaliarda is not generic Greek slang, it is a cant of a particular subgroup (that she doesn’t say much about), and the Italian in it is not the Italian you’ll find anywhere else in Greek, and did not get there the same way it got there anywhere else in Greece. Because of that, I don’t think she makes the right historical judgements about how Italian works in Kaliarda.

Minniti-Gonias’ study wants to see Heptanesian influence, and not just Italian influence, in Kaliarda. The Ionian Islands (Heptanesa) were highly cultured, and had a disproportionate effect on the development of Modern Greek literature, particularly as they got a head start on Demotic. (And I’m not only referring to Solomos.) But I’m sceptical that the Heptanesa had that much of an effect on the language spoken in Athens. While we account for Standard Modern Greek as a dialect koine, for example, the elements that look Heptanesian (particularly verb inflections like –ome) are more readily accounted for as archaisms shared with Puristic, with Puristic as the far likelier point of origin. Likewise in this case, the fact that Kaliarda Italianisms look like Heptanesian words seems to me not borrowing, but coincidence: if early Kaliarda speakers knew Italian and wanted their words to sound Italian, they would inevitably end up generating the same words as a dialect of Greek that had had uninterrupted contact with Italian for six centuries. It does not mean that early Kaliarda speakers learned their Kaliarda from Heptanesians.

… although it should be said, Kaliarda speakers were certainly aware of Heptanesian history. A criminal record is called in Petropoulos the libro d oro; the reference is to the Libro d’Oro, the Venetian directory of noblemen—which loomed large in the history of the Ionian Islands as a means of social stratification, and that was burned ceremonially when the islands were conquered by Napoleon’s armies in 1797. But of course, Kaliarda speakers were clearly well-read in general.

  • p. 86. Minniti-Gonias has identified 660 headwords as Italian, including both root words, and compounds and derived words. Judgement calls need to be made on whether words are French or Italian, based on the morphological behaviour of the words in Greek.
    • By contrast, Montoliu identified 152 base words as Italian, 318 non-derived compounds, and 105 derived words: 575. Recall that Montoliu found more root words from Italian than Romani: 152 vs 52. There are 405 non-derived compounds and 153 derived words from Romani; 610 in total. So Italian and Romani are comparable in word count; the more clearly Romani character of Kaliarda is because of the concentration of Roman word stock in core vocabulary, and the greater use the Romani word stock has been put to in compounding.
  • p. 87. Several words Petropoulos has listed as Italian are uncertain, as their morphophonology is not consistent. Compounds have not been taken apart, because of the uncertainty around the underlying words: poetolakrimaro “to lament” could be derived from poeta “poet” or from poetare “to act like a poet”.
  • p. 88. The more assimilated terms could be Heptanesian. [I’ve indicated I’m unconvinced by this].
  • The etymology of words has been sought in Boerio’s 1856 dictionary of Venetian, because Venetian was the primary input into Heptanesian, as well as Italian cants. [But Venetian was the primary input for Italian loanwords into all of Greek, and presumably also for Italian as used in the Ottoman Empire, both until the 19th century. So we would expect Venetian anyway.]
  • There is not a lot of Italian in Koutsavakika, and what Italian there is is used identically to the same loanwords in Standard Modern Greek—whereas there has been significant semantic change of Italian words in Kaliarda. For example, verdzinos “virgin” > “penniless”, kangelo “rail” > “metal”, karo “cart” > “vehicle”, skuro “dark” > “banknote”.
    • verdzinos “penniless” is mainstream slang (as she concedes in the glossary); Kaliarda has words directly related to “virgin” and “maiden”—virdzino “girl, virign”, virdziniazo “to close” (with reference to female virginity), virdzinoskriva “stenography” (one of the few professional outlets for women in those days)
    • skuro “dark” is indeed the Kaliarda for a 1000 drachma note, because of its colour; but Petropoulos notes that in Koutsavakika it was called kafeti “brown” for the same reason. So this is not evidence of Kaliarda doing something different from Koutsavakika: skuro is already the normal Modern Greek for “dark”.
    • The other two words are Kaliarda schematic generalisations, and are used mainly in compounding.
  • Minniti-Gonias concludes from this that the slang recorded in Zahos’ dictionary (based on Koutsavakika) has been assimilated into Standard Greek, whereas Kaliarda represents a more discrete cant. I don’t think that follows at all: criminal cant was bewilderingly rich in metaphor with Greek words, as we saw in Thomopoulos’ 1934 instance of sex worker cant. The difference was that Koutsavakika did not prioritise polyglot language play, the way Kaliarda did.
  • p. 89. Core Italian vocabulary:
    • Body parts: vokio, bratelo, oki, sango, spala, testa, fatsa
      • vokio is possibly derived from bocca “mouth”, but in Kaliarda it means “window”
      • bratelo “arm” < Venetian brazzo (> Greek bratso) or It. braccio
      • oki “ear” < It. occhio “eye” (?!)
      • sango “blood” < It. sango
      • spala “bone” < Standard Greek spala “shoulder plate” < It. spalla. In this case the generalisation is likelier of the Greek word than as an Italianism
      • testa “head” < It. testa
      • fatsa “face” < Standard Greek fatsa < It. faccia. Because the word is already in colloquial Standard Greek, there is no special Italianism necessary going on here. Minniti-Gonias concedes that spala and fatsa are core Greek vocabulary.
    • Nature: lutsi, mol, soɣi, sielokapnila
      • lutsi “light” < It. luce
      • mol “water; drink”: Minniti-Gonias derives this from It. molle “soft, damp”, but the Romani etymology  > mol “wine” is obvious
      • soɣi “light” < It. sole “sun”
      • sielokapnila “cloudy day” < It. cielo “sky” + Greek kapnila “smudge”
  • The secrecy function is clearly at work, and dictates a lot of the borrowing; cf. also mondotera “globe, Earth” < It. mondo “world” + It. terra “land”; tempoxorxora “heat wave” < It. tempo “weather” + onomatopoeic xorxora “fire”. “Indeed, one could say that almost each foreign language term, and specifically every Italian term, is a metaphor.”
  • Obfuscation is achieved with metonymy (Libro d’Oro) and antonyms (kudzinos “brother” < It. cugino “cousin”, oki “ear” < It. occhio “eye”)
  • p. 90. Cants also exploit learned elements as obfuscation. Italian cants use Latin, and in fact Ancient Greek. In almodotoris “psychiatrist” < It. alma “soul” + It. dottore “doctor”, alma is learnèd Italian. popilobuso “bus” < It. popolo “people” is a calque of Learnèd Greek leoforio “people carrier”.
  • Loans are “always subject to the distinctive transformations of slang”; e.g. kameliodona, using donna “woman” rather than dama “dame”.
    • kameliodona “tuberculosis” is an allusion to the novel Camille (La Dame aux Camélias, “The Lady with the Camellias”), and the derived opera La Traviata, whose protagonist died of tuberculosis.
    • This is not a “distinctive transformations of slang”, but yet another instance of Kaliarda schematicism. In Italian, the novel is La Dama delle Camelie. But Kaliarda speakers did not take the novel name from French or Italian: they translated it from Greek Η Κυρία με τας Καμελίας. And when they sought to dress that phrase up in Italian garb, they didn’t care about the niceties of Italian differentiating between “lady” and “woman”; they just grabbed the most readily available Italian word, which was the generic word “woman”.
  • “Cants mostly derive their lexicon from dialects.” Uh, they do? They mostly derive them from colloquial, informal variants of language, obviously, but that’s because they are oral languages; they are not going to go out of their way to access dialect material, unless their speakers have ready access to that dialect. This is a preface to her claim of susbstantial Heptanesian influence on Kaliarda, which again I think is just coincidence of there being a lot of assimilated Italian in both. Singling out Corfu and Zante as loci for Kaliarda really looks to be a stretch to me.
  • Minniti-Gonias is reminded of Zante Speeches and the play Babylonia, both of which are comic popular texts with lots of exaggerated Italian and witticisms. Kaliarda is a witty language with Italian vocabulary. Of course she would be reminded of them; that’s no proof that Kaliarda speakers knew them.
    • In fact, Minniti-Gonias herself notes that Italian cants use -oso a lot to form neologisms, and that Greek cants from Epirus use the same suffix, in the form -us. This does not prove that either Italian cants or Epirot cants contact with Zante, of course; it proves that cants like derivational morphology, for reasons of lexical economy (schematicism), and that Greek cants particularly like foreign derivational morphology.p. 91. Minniti-Gonias is struck by the frequent use of the suffixes -ozos, -atsos < It. -oso, -ace to form adjectives; this reminds her of Zante dialect. Many such adjectives are in Zante dialect, and have clearly (προδήλως) been taken from there into Kaliarda: vivatsos “lively” < vivace, ɣulozos < goloso, kurɣiozos < curioso [Only vivatsos is in Kaliarda.] But in Kaliarda, they end up as nouns (amitsioza “friendship” < It. amicioso “friendly”, ofitsiozos “officer” < It. officioso “officious”, primatsos “prime minister” < It. *primace “primary”). Like Zante Greek, Kaliarda also uses Italian adjectives (mezzo) to form compounds: Zante medzoprovio, medzotraɣio “middling condition”, medzoluto < It. mezzo lutto “light mourning”; Kaliarda mesodzorna (calque of Greek mesi-meri and It. mezzo-giorno, both “mid-day”), midlanote (calque of Greek mesa-nixta and Italian mezzanotte “mid-night” with English middle).
    • Again, the presence of Italian endings that look like what Zante Greek does doesn’t mean that at all: it means that Kaliarda will exploit to the maximum any derivational mechanisms it can find in its source languages, as part of its obfuscation and its language play. The notion that Kaliarda had to wait for Zante Greek to borrow vivatsos from Italian, so that it could use it, is implausible: Montoliu’s Ottoman polyglots are not. (And Kaliarda never borrowed goloso.) Note that the -oso, -ace adjectives end up as Kaliarda nouns: Kaliarda is getting as much value it can wring out of the endings, and has no problem making words up (primace is not Italian, and an officer in Italian is ufficiale). The mezzo prefix seems to be used much more schematically in Kaliarda, too.
  • The mixing of Greek and Italian vocabulary aims towards comedy and impudence—with a footnote on Weinreich’s observations on the uses of macaronic language in literature. [Macaronic is of course exactly what Kaliarda is, and the polyglot chaos of “kularo tin esantes presanda” (Romani+Italian, Greek, Romani+Greek, Italian+French calquing Turkish) is the kind of thing you’d expect to find muttered in The Name Of The Rose.] The fact that Cretan and Heptanesian literature was also macaronic with Italian is true, but is merely a correlation with Kaliarda, not a causal relation.
  • p. 92. In comparing Kaliarda with the Italian furbesco cant, Minniti-Gonias finds interesting similarities and differences. [I don’t find them interesting at all: all they prove is that Kaliarda has Italian words in it, and there is only one metaphor shared between the two.]
    Kaliarda Furbesco
    altros “other” altro “other” > “carabinere
    amitsiozos “friend” amico “friend” > “partner in theft”
    kudzinos “brother” cugino “cousin” > “workmate, blood brother”
    pantofla “wallet” (Standard Greek: “slipper”) pantofola “slipper” > “wallet”
    pekulis “miser” pecogna “money”
    trotaro “to travel” trotta “police patrol”
  • p. 93. Minniti-Gonias takes issue with Triantafyllidis’ blanket claim that Italian is used in cants for “higher concepts”, in contrast to Romani being used for “suspect business”. I agree that this is a superficial thing to say.
  • There aren’t that many sexual words in Kaliarda, and they are used indirectly, for secrecy. Hence amorozos “lover” < It. amoroso; modernizo Kaliarda “to have sex in a modern fashion” (Standard Greek: “to act modern, to innovate”). [I guess, though these are not great examples.]
  • There is a deliberately hyperbolic use of words that sound worse than they are, for sarcastic purposes (i.e. words that are ostensively sexual, but are used for benign meanings). So skulamentozos < It. sculamento should mean “someone suffering from gonorrhoea”; in Kaliarda it just means “someone with a cold”. vizita < visita in mainstream Greek slang means a visit to a prostitute; in Kaliarda it just means what it means in Italian, a visit (with Kaliarda speakers very much aware what it means in mainstream Greek).
  • p. 94. The same pejoration applies to “criticism of attitudes and behaviours contrary to popular mores (χρηστά λαϊκά ήθη)”. Hence fabrikopartuzis “business partner” (maybe because his profiteering has become a fabrika (mainstream slang: factory; con job”; florotsarðo “villa”, maybe because the rich become effete (modern Greek slang: flori.)
    • In principle, Minniti-Gonias is correct. There is plenty of social criticism in Kaliarda, although any suggestion of moralising (χρηστά λαϊκά ήθη) is comically out of place with the deeply cynical cant. In the specific examples, I think she’s off base.
    • It’s true that fabrika means a “con job” in mainstream slang, but the Italian component of Kaliarda is old enough for a more literal meaning of fabrika (Italian fabbrica “factory”). In fact, Kaliarda has simply generalised the meaning of fabrika from “factory” to “profession”; hence fabrikadzis “professional”, afabrikos “unemployed”, fabrikaro “to have a profession”. And in the case of fabrikopartuzis, the wink is not so much in the first component of fabrika, “factory” < “business, profession” (mainstream: “con job”), as in the second: the word for “partner” derives from partuza < French partouse “group sex”. So this is not a moral judgement against businessmen, it’s a hyperbolic pejoration of business partnerships, talking about them like gang bangs.
    • As for florotsarðo, the literal meaning is “flower hut”, and flori is used routinely in Kaliarda in the meaning of “flower” (e.g. florokuto “flower box = flower pot”, florosfina “flower wedge = thorn”). Petropoulos accordingly explained florotsarðo as “house with flowers”. Minniti-Gonias is thinking of contemporary slang floros “pansy, effete young man”. But that is anachronistic: the term does not seem to be any older than the 80s. And while floros is more about effeteness than effeminacy, the trans women and crossdressers speaking Kaliarda would be the last people to criticise anyone for being a floros.
  • The secrecy terms are used by cant speakers not so much out of a need for secrecy, as for a coquettish and provocative attitude towards outsiders. There is a tendency to reverse established word meanings, making it count as an antilanguage. [Yup.]
  • Minniti-Gonias notes Triantafyllidis’ observation that Greek speakers of professional cants resorted to Italian thanks to the commercial opportunities Italy offered them for business, whether as travelling salespeople, artists, or the like. “By analogy, we could suppose that contemporary economical, social and cultural conditions (e.g. mass tourism) made contacts easy for argot speakers in the reverse direction, i.e. from Italy to Greece, and mainly the bordering Ionian Islands.”
    • … Contemporary? Mass tourism? Heptanesa? No. The Italian in Kaliarda is old; it’s not the recent layer that French and English are, and 70s package tourism does not explain a layer of Kaliarda that likely dates from a century earlier. The Ottoman languagescape, and the common Venetian and Italian layer in vernacular Greek, are a better explanation for what is going on.

In the Italian glossary, the following etymologies are worthy of attention, as not being obvious.

  • avrakiazome “to be enraged”. Petropoulos correctly worked out this was “get out of my underwear” (vraki) as a calque of the standard Greek “get out of my clothes = be enraged”; it turns out Italian has the same idiom in sbracciarsi.
  • asiɣuro “acquaintance”. Petropoulos derives it from “uncertain” (where siɣuros is itself Italian); Minniti-Gonias derives it from It. assicurare “to ensure” or Ven. seguro “commitment”.
  • vakuli “church”. Petropoulos’ appendix derives it from Ven. bagolo “brothel”, but the word is not in Boerio, and Minniti-Gonias thinks it is Romani.
  • ɡrosovotsiazo “to scream” < far la voce grossa “do a loud voice = yell at someone”
  • ɣutsa “year” < Southern Italian goccia (di tempo) “a moment, lit. a drop of time”? English watch? [Not convinced by either, but English watch has been borrowed into Kaliarda as ɣotsi]; pisketoɣutsa “second (of time)” < Sardinian pischeddu “young gay” + ɣutsa “year” [Clearly a stretch]; teknoɣutsa “minute” lit. “child (of) year”
  • ðelonɡa, deloɣo “police”: Cretan deloɣo, Zante ðeleɡu “immediately” < Genoese de longo. (The police are referred to in Greece as “immediate action”, Άμεση Δράση.) If de longo did not survive into mainstream Italian, its presence in Greek dialect makes it likely to have been known by Levantines.
  • koɣiona “comedy” < Ven. cogionar (It. coglionare) “to mock”
  • kontrosol “kiss” < It. contra “against” + sol < rosolo “tongue”. Quite possible, but sol means “sweetness” in Kaliarda, and it would be easier to derive kontrosol from it directly.
  • koza stakoza “so-so”, a distortion of the actual Italian così cosà; stakoza “so, thus”: ditto; both feature the pseudo-Italian prefix sta-
  • kularo “to defecate” < It. culo “arse”. No, it’s Romani khul “shit”
  • latsovengera “soirée” < Romani lačho “good” + Greek vegera “nighttime visit” < It. dial. vegghera.
  • leradzaro “to study” < It. leggere “to read” + Greek lera “filth” as obfuscation
  • linga < It. lingua “language” vs rosolo “tongue” < rosoli “saliva” < rosolio “rosewater liquer”. Kaliarda differentiates “tongue” and “language”; Greek does not.
  • lugimia “vegetables” < It. legume “legumes”
  • manduana “insignificant” < It. mantovana “pelmet, covering for a curtain rail”? (… But why?)
  • menato “dawn”: anagram of It. mattina or likelier [given the vowel] French matin
  • mokola, mokose (Koutsavakika moko) “be quiet!” < Old It. moco “nothing”
  • mol “water” < Ven. molo “damp, soft”. Minniti-Gonias says Romani mol “wine” can’t be ruled out; I’d say it’s definite.
  • mutsevo “to cheat” < Old It. mucciarsi “to dissemble”; she does not rule out a Romani etymology
  • biselo “to sleep” < appisolarsi “go to sleep”? The Romani proposal is pašlav “to put to sleep”
  • burgante “enema” < It. purgante
  • naka “not, without”, stanaka “not at all” < neanche “nor, not even”? (We have to explain both naka and nuku, and nuku is presumably < Albanian nukë.)
  • dopa “after” < It. dopo
  • pasiozos “past” < It. passare “to pass” [clearly made up within Kaliarda]
  • privatos, privetos “owner” < It. privato + French privé “private”; the meaning is absent from Italian; but it is preserved in privos “my own”
  • retaro “to lose” (Koutsavakika: to stutter) < It. arretare “to retreat”
  • runa “police” < Heptanesian runias “downfallen” < It. rogna “lice”. The old metaphor paparuna “poppy = police” is of course much more plausible.
  • spikramento “speech” < It. sprecamento (di fiato) “wasting (one’s breath)” according to Petropoulos; Minniti-Gonias also sees English speak + Italian -mento at work here, and I think that’s the only interpretation needed.
  • sta: pseudo-Italian prefix, turns up in stanaka “not at all”, stapikola “a little”, statuta-dzorna “today” < Greek tutos “this” + It. giorno
  • stringula “administration” < It. slang stringere “arrest”, stringitore “interrogator”
  • strusi “street”: Petropoulos guesses this is from German Strasse; Minniti-Gonias thinks the influence of Neapolitan struscë “parade of would-be brides” (νυφοπάζαρο), It. struscio “stroll” “is clear”.
  • sfilatsi “rope, spool” < Ven. sfilazzi “loose strands”
  • tuvali “handkerchief” < It. tovaglia “tablecloth”, Ven. tovagiol “handkerchief”
  • finedzaris “betrothed” < It. fidanzato “betrothed” + Greek finetsatos “refined” < It. finezza
  • floki “sperm” < Standard Greek flokos “jib; lint” < It. fiocco “snowflake”. The meaning is also attested in Koutsavakika, but not in Italian
  • xalogamela “bag for storing food” < Romani xal “eat” + It. gamella “vessel for transporting food”

Kaliarda XXI: Hatzidakis

By: | Post date: 2017-12-08 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

The discussion on Sarantakos’ blog had derailed from Kaliarda to Lupine beans, because of how Faltaits had rendered Lubinistika as Lupinarika (possibly conflating it with the Roman lupinaria). In bringing the discussion back, Spatholouro popped yet another rabbit out of his archival research.

To come back, as we should, from lupines to lubines, I had a sudden realisation yesterday that I had read in Zaimakis’ dissertation (Καταγώγια ακμάζοντα, published by Plethron), a reference to Rubinistika.

And indeed, on p. 151 he refers to an article by Aris Hatzidakis in 1928, in the newspaper Ελευθέρα Σκέψις of Iraklio, Crete, which mentions some words (like balamos, parnies, tekno) used by the dialect of bottoms and prostitutes, Rubinistika as the compiler called it probably through mishearing, without Zaimakis noticing it and correcting it to Lubinistika.

The newspaper has been tracked down, with the generous assistance of the Vikelaian Library [City Library of Iraklio], and these are some excerpts of interest:

What is this “Rubinistika”? aveˈlem ˈena dabaˈkaki, eraˈkli. That is how they ask one another for cigarettes. So is this an autonomous language?

To start off, I should note that expressions of this sort have always existed, in all times and places, that the plebeians and procurers of Ancient Rome spoke their own dialect. […] What should be stated first of all is that Rubinistika is the secrecy language of catamites and prostitutes, a kind of Pig-Latin, an idiom of the underworld.

When it dates from, I am not in the position to say. I can reveal for your interest that this secret idiom is taught by catamites to the newly-fledged [female] prostitutes of Athens in the corners of Bernitsas’ café, in the corner of Haftia and Patisia St, across the road from Marinopoulos.

The aim and reason for this vocabulary is for it not to be understood. Rubinistika borrows its mechanisms for forming words from street language (γλώσσα του πεζοδρομίου). It contracts, transforms, merges, and jumbles words in an acrobatic game of expression, in a spontaneous creation of words with no etymology and no derivation. The thought of the catamite and prostitute becomes a word, and so they enrich and perpetuate their idiom, giving it novel nuances, and the expressive power of a true language. […]

This idiom has also spread to the lower social classes which is involved with common women, and young men with perverted urges. As I’ve already mentioned, it has ended up as a language of the underworld. But it is so lively and lithe, especially as it is spoken by lost souls with wit and impudence, that as soon as you hear one word if it, you will never, ever forget it. […]

Words are images or symbols of thoughts or things, as we know, but in Rubinistika that is not always the case. Often words express concepts which don’t exist in the spoken [mainstream] language, or that have been twisted, or that have some allegorical characteristic. There are things that have no name in our everyday speech, or that have an unspecified and inexact name, and which Rubinistika nonetheless render with wondrous panache.

In other words, it is a poor vocabulary when it comes to expressing intellectual matters, but rich and very lively when it speaks of prostitution or drunkenness, and such like. Of course one should not go looking for syntax in Rubinistika. It is not a language in the literal sense. But nor can one call it a dialect. It is rather a metaphorical means of expression, and allegory plays the main role within it. With that idiom crass expressions are formulated with a wittiness that makes them tolerable.

Most importantly, Rubinistika are rich and witty when they speak about matters relating to the daily life of common women. That is why the words most used are those meaning customer (balaˈmos), mother (puˈri), money (parniˈes), 5 drachma coin (tuˈla), 25 drachma note (5 tuˈla), 50 drachma note (10 tuˈla), lover (tekˈno), hospital (xums), gendarme (papaˈruna), etc.

But isn’t that their life—maybe even all there is to their life? If you know that much, you know everything there is to know. If you’ve spoken about that much, you’ve said all that needs to be said. That’s all there is to the topic, you might say.

(Ar–es Planitis [= Aris Hatzidakis]. Excerpted from Ο γύρος του Κάστρου [A tour of Iraklio], Part Four: «Η χώρα των κλαυθμών» (Σπιναλόγκα) [The Land of Tears: Spinalonga]. Ελευθέρα Σκέψις, 1928–11–15.)

The first thing for me to say is thank you to Spatholouro for making me aware of Hatzidakis. All I knew about the intellectual life of Modern Crete before now was that Nikos Kazantzakis and Galatea Alexiou got married because they were just about the only intellectuals in Iraklio in 1910. (The Alexiou sisters would certainly have been the only marriageable female intellectuals in town.) Giannis Zaimakis’ book is about a whole generation of Cretan intellectuals a generation later; and to my astonishment, not only did Hatzidakis show an astounding maturity and open-mindedness (at least on the linguistic side) for his time and place; he did so at the age of nineteen.

(Assuming it’s the same Aris Hatzidakis that is described here as writing a play on the leper colony of Spinalonga in 1940—which is also the place this newspaper article was ostensibly about; and who Wikipedia mentions as a poet, playwright and journalist born in 1909. And really, even with Hatzidakis being the Cretan equivalent of Smith, how many of those could there have been at the time?)

There is a lot going on in Hatzidakis’ article; and I keep being astonished by it. It has specifics about the social context of Lubinistika in Athens (with details about what bar Lubinistika lessons were being given in); it has good linguistic insights about the language play and wit at work (when professional linguists like Triantafyllidis, who were well equipped to do so, avoided it); and it deals with subject matter and people that scholars and journalists then tended to avoid (although as Spatholouro has found, they avoided less than I’d feared). That an article like this should have been written at all in 1928 is astounding; and Spatholouro said as much: “It’s no small thing that someone in 1928 would dedicate an entire article analysing Lubinistika, contributing one more link to the historical course of the idiom up to our days.”

That it should have been written by a 19-year-old provincial simply beggars belief. Had the kid even been to Athens? It’s astounding enough that I have a small doubt as to whether I’ve got the right Aris Hatzidakis.

There’s two remarks that I am tempted to chalk up to immaturity. The first is the snide final remark that the entire content of the world of sex workers is fucking, money, and booze (or drugs, which I assume is what “such like” refers to). But there were plenty of 60-year-olds at the time (and at this time) capable of thoughts just as blinkered. And of course, sex workers, being as human as any bourgeois, have always had a lot more to talk about than fucking, money, and booze; but critically, they did not need a secrecy language to talk about them in.

The second is not so much a matter of youth, either, as of lack of training. “One should not go looking for syntax” and “No etymology and no derivation” is the kind of thing a non-linguist would say; and this was 1928, when syntax as we now understand it was still vestigial as a discipline—by “syntax” Hatzidakis actually meant “complicated periodic Thucydidean clauses characteristic of written language.” (It’s a point Danguitsis’ dictionary of slang still felt compelled to make four decades later.)

As for “no etymology and no derivation”: of course, there is a lot of onomatopoeia to Kaliarda, which does resist conventional etymology. But as we have seen, there is a substantial amount of conventional etymological work to be done in Kaliarda too: it’s just that not a lot of Greek intellectuals know enough Romani to do it right (and I include myself in that number). There is even more derivation in Kaliarda, and the derivation of Kaliarda is in fact prodigious—though it may have been less prodigious in its earlier variants, which were closer to para-Romani.

As I said, I don’t know whether sex worker Lubinistika had the full gamut of cynical fun that the Kaliarda Petropoulos recorded did. I’d like to think so, and Hatzidakis hints that it did; but if sex worker Lubinistika and bottom Kaliarda had diverged, he may not have been aware of it.

It is hard to tell from our minimal information how close the two variants were, and Hatzidakis’ is the first evidence of a direct connection between the two: he says that bottoms taught new female prostitutes Lubinistika. That suggests several things:

  • Montoliu believes that male Rom prostitutes was the origin of Kaliarda. The police sources believe that female Rom prostitutes was the origin of Kaliarda (though that could have been their own blinkered focus). Obviously both could be true, and given the secure cultural niche of the ibne in Ottoman society, I would not make the default Western assumption that there were more cis female sex workers than ibne sex workers.
  • But it is possible that Kaliarda originated in cis female brothels, rather than among male sex workers. Because gays worked in cis female brothels as support staff, they had ample opportunity to learn Kaliarda, and make it their own. We know that Kaliarda stopped being a para-Romani and a Rom language; that leap happened when it stopped being the language of Rom sex workers, and the transition could have been when it was taken up by the broader community of Greek gays.
  • I rejected as naive (though illuminatingly naive) Blacky’s speculation in Gkartzonika’s thesis that Kaliarda started as trans, and was taken up by gays. But if the foregoing happened, it’s something similar: it started as a Rom sex worker para-Romani (certainly cis female, possibly ibne as well), and was then taken up by a broader community of ibne (which at the time included both cis male gays and trans women).
  • What’s interesting is that by the 20th century, non-sex worker gays were teaching new sex workers Kaliarda; the reverse must have have been the case in the 19th century. That’s partly because gays were support staff anyway, and teaching Kaliarda would have been part of their job. But it may well also indicate that gays had become the custodians of Kaliarda, and inhabited the cant more fully, as an affirmed identity, than sex workers did. Maybe.
  • Which reminds me of the discomfort I felt with Croft’s argument that polyglot cants are acts of negative identity, applied to Kaliarda. The argument in isolation is sound: a language variant that is based on obfuscation does not affirm an insider identity, it blocks outsider identities, by definition. That’s all that Pig Latin does; that’s all that backward slangs do. But the sheer razzle-dazzle of the language play of Kaliarda, which Hatzidakis picked up on so early, is surely carrying an affirmation of something.

Spatholouro and Sarantakos were both sure that Rubinistika is a mishearing of Lubinistika; and what Hatzidakis recorded as aveˈlem ˈena dabaˈkaki, eraˈkli is, as Petropoulos recorded Kaliarda, ˈaveˈle mu ˈena tabaˈkaki, iraˈkli “give me a little cigarette, girl”. We could conclude that Hatzidakis had a tin ear; and his knowledge of Kaliarda could well have been second-hand, especially if he hadn’t set foot in Athens, and if neither gays nor prostitutes spoke Kaliarda in Iraklio (which is at least possible).

But it’s not completely impossible that the forms were used. As a cant, there would have been some variability in how it was articulated, especially as “Lubinistika” seems no longer to have been much of a secret as a word. The deleted vowel of ˈaveˈle m[u] looks out of place—it’s characteristic of Northern Greek; but cf. ti na ˈkan‘s < ti na kanis “what can you do?”, which Petropoulos recorded.

Although the examples are few and far between, Hatzidakis says that Lubinistika partakes of the mechanisms of word distortion which other cants (“street language”) shared, and which Christodoulou documented so exhaustively. The thing is, of course, Christodoulou kept finding Kaliarda as Petropoulos documented it was at a remove from other cants; those mechanisms are there, but they are much less commonplace. The Lubinistika of sex workers had more in common with underworld slang than later Kaliarda, and that may well be what Hatzidakis was reflecting on.

The other Kaliarda words Hatzidakis records, we have already seen, although the glosses are oriented to sex workers rather than gays (“client” generically, mother [= madam]” rather than “old woman”.)

  • The word parnies for money, which turned up in 1904, is still used in 1928. I now think Montoliu is wrong in deriving the surviving Kaliarda berdes from Romani parne. Zahos’ and Danguitsis’ mainstream slang dictionaries mention berdes as “money” without further comment—whereas Zahos explicitly says tula is from Kaliarda; I believe that the metaphorical berdes “curtain” > “money” came to Kaliarda from underworld slang, which loved metaphor so dearly. (And money was a natural area for the Lubinistika of sex workers and the underworld slang of pimps to intersect.)
  • We have also already seen paparuna “poppy” for “policeman”, which had been truncated by Petropoulos’ time to runa.
  • Making a basic unit of the 5 drachma coin (the taliro < Thaler—a cognate, as it happens, of dollar) is economical, as we’d expect of a schematic language like Kaliarda. That’s not what the cops documented: they found a set of distinct denominations, though it may derive from the underworld slang of pimps.
  • We have seen that “lover” for sex workers was a euphemism for “pimp”, via “boyfriend”. The Kaliarda tekno < Romani tikno “small”, which meant “child” or “twink” to gays and now means “toyboy” to straight women, looks out of place as “pimp”. The connection is presumably “young lover” = “boyfriend” > “‘protective’ male presence”, as opposed to a client, who is a boss (balamo), and older. I still wonder whether the gay meaning of tekno came before the sex worker meaning.
  • The one word we have not seen is xums “hospital”. In Petropoulos, xums and ˈxumsi are “prison”, and he derives them from Turkish hapis (borrowed into Greek independently as ˈxapsi); there’s a rich assortment of derived terms to corroborate it. I suspect this was the primary meaning of xums all along, and “hospital”, if it is accurate at all, may have been an overly schematic generalisation of “prison” that an impoverished para-Romani would reach at, lacking derivational tools. Petropoulos’ Kaliarda lacked no such tools, and its word for “general hospital” is baˈraðiko “sick shop” (although we have seen that its word for illness, < Romani pharo “heavy”, is overly schematic).

To end with something indirectly related to the foregoing, here’s four words based on xums from Petropoulos:

  • xums-reˈvi “prison revue” (< French revue): police inspection
  • xumsoˈkuti “prison box”: prison cell
  • xumsokaiˈmu “prison sorrow chick”: the baglamas, the small bouzouki so beloved of rebetiko players, especially because it was so easy to smuggle into prison—where they would indeed use it to sing their prison blues
  • xumsoˈvivi ðanˈtela “prison life binding”: life imprisonment. An ingenious calque of learnèd iˈsovia ðesˈma “ibid.”, lit. “equal-to-life bonds”. The other two words are Kaliarda viva “life”, as a conflation of Italian viva! “long life”, vivere “to live” and vita “life”, and Greek ðanˈtela “lace” < French dentelle—lace being formed of knots, which are a means of binding.
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  • February 2019
    M T W T F S S
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    1. Minniti-Gonias, Domenica. 2009–2010. Ιταλικές και επτανησιακές λέξεις στην ελληνική αργκό. Επιστημονική Επετηρίς της Φιλοσοφικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών 41: 85–127.