Kaliarda XX: Tsipis, Antonakos

By: | Post date: 2017-12-07 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

Sarantakos commenter BLOG_OTI_NANAI has found more two pieces from the Police Chronicles (Αστυνομικά Χρονικά) magazine, which also confirm the association of Lubinistika with both cis female prostitutes and “catamites”.

The first comes from 1953, by K. Tsipis:

A language of similar type and intent is also widely used in brothels, the circles of catamites, ande immediately connected persons, lovers and exploiters of common women of the lower order.

This dialect contains for the most part corrupted words and phrases of Spanish, and other words both Greek and foreign, formed into symbolic concepts. Through this vehicle a mischief-making secret communication is achieved, relating in the main to the financial relations of the lower grades of prostitution. In particular this dialect, known under the name Lubinistika, serves the lower forms of such sinful relations, in its broader use among catamites, in order to conceal their intended and accomplished acts of wrongdoing from the police and other unaware parties, who are for the most part provincials. (Αστυνομικά Χρονικά, 1.1: 1953–06–01, Κοινωνία του Εγκληματίου [The society of the criminal], 13–18: p. 16)

  • Unlike his predecessors and followers in both general and police journalism, Tsipis is unaware of the Romani origins of Kaliarda—unless “Spanish” is meant to be a misconstrual of Romani via Bizet. Given that Petropoulos was only aware of the Romani origins of a couple of words, and that gadjos would have ignored Romani in general, it’s possible that the knowledge of the Romani origins of Kaliarda were relayed by Kaliarda speakers themselves in the 1930s—and that after the War those origins had been forgotten by at least some speakers.
  • There is yet another statement here that Kaliarda was unknown outside the cities, and was used as a secrecy language from the police, who were notoriously often out-of-towners. (I am inevitably reminded of the Rebetiko lyric from Πέντε Χρόνια Δικασμένος: Φύλα τσίλιες για τους βλάχους, κείνους τους δεσμοφυλάκους “Keep a lookout for the hillbillies, those wardens”.)
  • Lubinistika was known, as we have seen elsewhere, by pimps and madams, though we have also seen that pimps’ cant used more generic underworld slang. “Lovers” (ἐρασταί) from context are not clients of female or male prostitutes here (why would they know Kaliarda at all, when they were sex tourists?), nor for that matter the literal partners of sex workers: they are pimps (so a synonym of “exploiters”), and the second piece below uses αγαπητικοί (the vernacular for “lovers”) as its euphemism for pimps (“later on known as μπράβοι or τραμπούκοι ‘thugs’.”)
  • We know very little about the cis female version of Kaliarda, but the reference to “symbolic concepts” may well mean that their version had language play like the version Petropoulos recorded. Then again, criminal slang, which pimps used, is filled to the brim with metaphor, and Tsipis may have had that in mind instead.
  • In the account of Paxinos’ glossary, I had dismissed the list of currency denominations as underworld slang instead of Kaliarda, with the exception of tula “5 drachma coin”. With his explicit talk of finances, Tsipis is saying that currency denominations were very much part of Lubinistika.

The second comes from 1983, by Sarantos Antonakos, and is a history of prostitution and pimps in Greece:

It seems that organised brothels first appeared in Nafplion, and serviced mainly Bavarian officers and soldiers who had accompanied King Otto and the regency to Greece. The houses of corruption were distinct for officers and for soldiers. Their inmates were mainly Italian and Maltese women. They were directed by Italian and German women. A little later, purely Greek brothels appeared, which mainly used Rom women, “protected” by various thugs and criminals. Eventually the Rom and Maltese women collaborated, and in order to understand each other they used the Romani language, which was corrupted and gave rise to the specialised language of brothels, known as Lubinistika. (Αστυνομικά Χρονικά: Jan/Feb 1983, Ζητήματα ηθών μετά την απελευθέρωση [Morals Issues Since Independence], 40.560–561. 78–81: p. 80)

We have already seen this account, in less detail, from Leotsakos.

Once again, the police articles refer to female prostitutes and catamites, but does not explicitly refer to male prostitutes, which is where Montoliu identified Kaliarda to have originated from. This seems to be a recurring blindspot in police reports; Spatholouro has found an explicit reference to male prostitution in 1931, though he hasn’t referenced it:

I should point out in this regard that as I was researching Vourla, I came across a specialist café/bar, where men were “on offer”, in 1931 Drapetsona:

There is the renowned café of the esteemed Mr E.G., which is called the… Aristocrat Bar (Κέντρον της…Αριστοκρατίας)! In that café, the neighbours tell us unanimously, there are …men instead of women!

Kaliarda XIX: Kostas in Larissa

By: | Post date: 2017-12-06 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Commenter Kostas on Sarantakos’ blog offered the following recollection of Kaliarda from the 1970s:

I’ve already written this on another past. This is what a passive homosexual used to say, as I recollect it:
dziˈnavis ta javerˈda?
ˈama ðen ˈpesi o berˈdes ðen ˈexi kuraˈverta
θa su kuraverˈtaro ke tin ˈpulia

He went around the ouzo bars of Larissa, the regulars would make fun of him, and treat him the odd ouzo, and he’d say his own thing in a strange language. He’d say other things too, but I don’t remember them.(Nov 30)

[After my translation, and admission that I had not seen the term javerˈda.]

I may not have heard or recalled it well. javerˈda, it might also have been kaliarˈda.

But it’s no small thing for me to understand forty years later what exactly he was saying! If only it had occurred to me to write it all down and have him explain it to me himself. I might have been able today to make a small contribution to the decoding of Kaliarda. (1 Dec)

So what did he say? Kaliarda words in normal typeface.

“Do you understand Yaverda? [= Kaliarda?]”

“If no money drops, there’s no fucking.

“I’ll fuck your arse too.”


  • The sources on Kaliarda reiterate all the time that this was a language of major cities—Athens and Salonica. Kostas’ recollection would seem to be a counterexample: Larissa is not a small town, but it’s a lot smaller. Yet the eccentric figure of a wandering bottom in a country town, talking Kaliarda to straights who have no idea what he is saying, and treat him to pity drinks, suggests someone very far from home.
  • Assuming Yaverda is either a mishearing or an unattested synonym of Kaliarda (and there were dozens), the pride in understanding the initiate language is still at the forefront of the Larissa speaker’s discourse: no differently to Lapathiotis in 1938, the verb dzinavo “understand” is a big deal.
  • Petropoulos records “fucking” as kuraˈvelta, from the verb kuraˈvalo; but the sound change /lt/ > /rt/ is quite normal in Modern Greek.
  • Since the word for “money” is the Turkish for “curtain” (and Greek for “stage curtain”—and it’s recorded in Danguitsis’ and Zahos’ slang dictionaries anyway), there could be a pun here about curtains dropping; but “money drops” = “someone pays money” is already idiomatic in Greek.
  • In distinction to what Petropoulos recorded, the verb “fuck” is derived from the noun: (kuraˈvalo >) kuraˈverta > kuraverˈt-ar-o. As Sechidou has just argued, we’re used to seeing that (Italian) denominative suffix -ar- on non-Romani stems in Kaliarda; the example she gave was berθ-ˈar-o “to give birth”, and in fact, on the same page in Petropoulos, you will see kuor-ˈar-ome “to fall in love” < Italian cuore “heart”. I don’t think this means the speaker was forgetting his Kaliarda, and reinventing the verb; I think that speaks to the fluidity of the language.
  • Properly “arse” is ˈpuli; ˈpulia is “the Pleiades” (which is also a feminine singular), and this could easily be a mishearing or misremembering by Kostas, or a jocular alteration by the speaker.

Kaliarda XVIII: Sechidou

By: | Post date: 2017-12-06 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Irini Sechidou’s recent paper1 compares Kaliarda with three para-Romani languages of Greek—that is, mixed languages with some core Romani vocabulary, but which use the grammar of the gadjo language. (She does not use the term para-Romani in this paper, but she does elsewhere). The three languages are Dortika, the builders’ cant of Eurytania; the less well documented Romika of Epirus; and the still extant Romika of Finikas, Salonica, which she has worked on. (I’ve hesitated to call Dortika para-Romani, because its speakers no longer appear to have identified as Romani; but linguistically, it falls neatly into that category.)

The recurring conclusion in her paper (which Montoliu had anticipated going on just Kaliarda) is that Kaliarda is not like the others: it is not a para-Romani, but an artificial language which exploits Romani vocabulary for secrecy and language play.

Sechidou, truth be told, finds the para-Romani variants more interesting; I’m going to restrict myself to what she says about Kaliarda.

p. 561. Kaliarda is not a mixed language like Romika and Dortika, because part of its secrecy vocabulary comes from Greek or other non-Romani languages. Kaliarda is a Greek secrecy languages, which utilises vocabulary from Romani and other languages.

p. 563 Kaliarda, as a typical cant, uses a lot of word creativity and word games, including Greek neologisms.

p. 564. Dortika has over 100 content words of Romani; Finikas Romika has over 200.

Greek Para-Romani has some unassimilated Romani words (the imperative naš “go away” used with a light verb: na kanume nas “we should do naš“), and it can use Romani plurals: balame “bosses”.

p. 565. Finikas Romika also uses some phonetic transformations, appending the Romani demonstrative to conceal Greek words: ɣat-akalu “cat”, ðermat-al “leather”.

Tzitzilis (2006)2 has identified 20 core Romani words in Kaliarda; those loans are used as the basis for deriving dozens more lexemes, so that the the actual count of Romani-based vocabulary is more than 300. (Recall that Montoliu counted these more systematically, and came up with higher numbers.)

p. 566. So the basic strategy for Kaliarda vocabulary is not Romani core vocabulary, as it is for para-Romani, but neologisms through derivation and compounding, using both Greek and non-Greek vocabulary. Phonetic transformations are also used in Kaliarda (ksalimari < maksilari “pillow”, vuelo < avelo.)

Romani has a privileged role among source languages for Kaliarda: it is the source of its basic and light verbs (avelo, ðikelo, xalo, benavo, dzao “do, see, eat, speak, leave/expel”), which are highly productive. In particular, dzao has grammaticalised into the prefix dzas- “without”, e.g.

  • dzas-kanis “lame” < Kaliarda kania < Greek kani “cane”
  • dzas-futis “lame” < English foot
  • dzas-bratelos “armless” < bratelo “arm” < Italian bracetto?
  • dza-testos “mad” < Italian testa “head”
  • dzas-bar-iarikos “curative” < baro “heavy > “disease”
  • dzas-provia “hair removal” < Greek provia “fleece”
  • dzas-tekno “abortion” < Kaliarda tekno “child” < Romani tikno “small”

(And the dzas-tirax- “kick the bucket = death” compounds I had already posted about.)

Only Romani has contributed verbs directly to Kaliarda; verbs from other languages are mediated via nouns; e.g. English birth < berθa “birth” < berθ-aro “to give birth”.

p. 567. This indicates greater contact with Romani, and that Kaliarda speakers learned Romani through direct contact with Romani speakers.

In para-Romani, there is some Romani morphology, notably Romani plural suffixes for nouns, indeclinable singulars for inanimate nouns, and uninflected verb loans. (As we already saw in Triantafyllidis’ study, there is also some Romani phonology in Dortika.) In Kaliarda, the only Romani grammatical contribution is some free function words, such as apokate “over here” and axatos “this one” < akate “here”. [Once again: Kaliarda is not a Romani language, the way para-Romani languages are.]

p. 569. Para-Romani verbs, when inflected, are mostly based on the frozen 3sg form: Romani dzanela “he knows” > Romika dzanel-izo.

Sechidou does not discuss this, but Romani verbs in Kaliarda are based on either the 3rd sg form (kurav-al-o, x-al-o, av-el-o, ðik-el-o) or the 1sg form (dzin-av-o, ben-av-o). The 1sg forms are not what you would use if you were a Romani speaker, and wanted to map your native language verbs to Greek; this is yet another inconsistency that suggests that Kaliarda was elaborated by people who didn’t speak Romani well. (In fact, it suggests that Kaliarda did not go through a para-Romani phase at all—that Greek speakers jammed Romani “I know, I speak” into Greek verbs without caring about a consistent approach to Romani morphology, the way a Romani-speaker would do instinctively.

p. 570. In his writing on mixed languages as identity vehicles, William Croft3 considers mixed languages positive acts of identity, because they assert a distinct identity via the minority language whose elements they preserve. Polyglot idioms like Kaliarda, Croft identifies as negative acts of identity: because there isn’t a primary language that the idiom aligns with, those idioms are not asserting a distinct (ethnic) identity, but are only used to exclude outsiders. He treats secrecy languages using transformations of an ethnic language in the same way.

Kaliarda XVII: Bourganis, Paxinos, Faltaits

By: | Post date: 2017-12-04 | Comments: 5 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

We saw that police reporter Spiros Leotsakos reported in 1963 that police officers Paxinos and Bourganis had recorded the underworld slangs of their time, and compiled glossaries. And one of those slangs, which Leotsakos says Bourganis recorded, was Lubinistika—as the language of female prostitutes rather than gay bottoms.

The Lubinistika he recorded may not have been identical to the gay cant now better known as Kaliarda; in fact, I strongly suspect they weren’t, even in the 30s. But Kaliarda likely originated with Rom male prostitutes (balamo “non-Rom man, boss” > Kaliarda “client of prostitute”); so the two will have had a lot in common—the more so as Petropoulos reports that gay bottoms worked as support staff in cis female brothels.

The commenters at Sarantakos’ blog have kept at it, and we have three additional pieces of information. The first, found by BLOG_OTI_NANAI, is Bourganis’ obituary, which dates his occupation with Lubinistika to 1930–1941 (when he held the rank of hypastynomos, “Police Lieutenant”.)

Former Police Captain (A.M. 727) Efstathios Bourganis, son of Dimitrios, died on 1981–12–25.

The deceased was born on 1900–02–15 in the village of Kytopina, Xiromeros, in Aetolia & Acarnania prefecture. He joined the police force as a constable on 1923–06–02. He was promoted to Police Lieutenant II on 1930-08–18, Police Leutenant on 1934–09–04, and Police Captain II on 1941–03–04. He retired by his own request on 1949–04–23. His funeral took place in his home village.

The deceased was one of the most distinguished officers of the corps, and his activity has remained notable in its annals. Before World War II he was part of the team neutralising Italian spies in our country. During the Occupation, he joined other brave officers of the corps in striking many blows against the German conquerors through superhuman efforts, and undertook hundreds of sabotages against the occupying army. (From Αστυνομικά Χρονικά, Jan–Feb 1982, p. 166.)

The second, found by Spatholouro, is a study on cants published in 1930: Konstantinos Faltaits. 1930. Περίεργες λαογραφικές σελίδες: οι μυστικές συνθηματικές γλώσσες στην Ελλάδα [Curious pages of folklore: secrecy languages in Greece] Αλεξανδρινή Τέχνη [Alexandrian Art] 4.9: 289–292. He has little to say about Lubinistika specifically, but he confirms its association with female prostitutes:

Mangika [Koutsavakika] is a popular secret language, just like Koudareika [Epirot Builders’ Cant], Lupiniarika [= Lubinistika?], Korakistika [Crow-Talk, schoolyard Greek counterpart to Pig Latin], Kombogianitika [Traditional Healers’ Cant] and so many others. (p. 289)

The language used by livestock sellers is based on Romani. That is also the case for the language spoken by women of easy virtue. It appears that formerly Romani had served as the basis for many professional jargons in many parts of the world. Such languages still survive in Europe, but the number of those that learn them or know them is steadily decreasing. (p. 290.)

(Not that it’s relevant, but fascinatingly, while his surname makes him sound like one of the Bavarians that came to Greece with King Otto, Faltaits’ surname is an alteration of his grandfather’s Faltagis (Φάλταγης), the family being recorded in Skyros since 1643. Konstantinos’ father Russianised the surname to Faltáyich while working in Odessa and Tagnarog.)

The third find, also found by Spatholouro, is a newspaper report on the glossaries compiled by Police Captain Paxinos and Police Sergeant Mavrotas, that appeared in Acropolis newspaper, 1933–05–15, page 1 and page 2. It was written by “Th-s” = Stathis Thomopoulos, whose 1934 report on female sex worker Lubinistika we have already seen. I have no idea if Bourganis’ glossary was part of their more general project, ranging across underworld cants, but the time frame is right.

The article speaks of the cants as if they are the one slang with multiple names—though the ensuing discussion makes it clear that they are distinct. The “professionals of five fingers” (i.e. pickpockets) refer to their cant as “Romika”—that is, Romani. Lubinistika is the name of the cant of “the world of easy women and procurers”; and the generic term for cants was “Masonika”, by analogy with the secret practices of Freemasonry.

Commenter (and friend of this blog) Diver of Sinks thought that Romika indicated an awareness that Kaliarda is Romani-based, something that seems to have been forgotten by Petropoulos’ time. I think that’s a misleading impression given by the loose wording of the article: Romika was not the name given to Lubinistika but to pickpockets’ cant, familiar to us from Rebetiko song: it is used like “Masonic” to indicate that the language is secret, since the use of Romani-based cants like Dortika was clearly well-known. It does not necessarily mean that people realised that Lubinistika was such a cant.

These are the words of Lubinistika reported, with their somewhat florid glosses; I put Kaliarda words next to them.

Female sex worker Lubinistika Gloss Kaliarda Etymology
iraˈkliðes girls irakliˈes Romani rakhli “non-Roma girl”
ipuˈri (female) director of houses of ill repute [= madam] puˈri “old woman” Romani phuro “old man”
laˈtsi maid laˈtsi “pretty” Romani lačho “beautiful”
papaˈrunes officers of Vice Squad runes “policemen” Greek papaˈrunes “poppies”
tekˈno lover tekˈno “twink, young man” Romani tikˈno “small”
karliaˈdos the policeman who rescues them from criminals kaliarˈdos “ugly, bizarre” Romani kaljarˈdo “blackened”
kapˈsuris someone in love Greek kapˈsuris “lovelorn”, lit. “burning up”
tsakirˈdzis exploiter [= pimp] Turkish çakırcı “seller of blue-eyed women”


  • As elsewhere, iraˈkliðes has been spelled with a folk-etymological eta. The plural ending is consistent with a feminine in -i that was recently borrowed, so that Greek-speakers would have been reluctant to give the normal -es ending; but that tends to happen to masculine recent nouns, not feminines, and I wonder if the author didn’t simply supply his own fanciful Heraclids as the “daughters of Heracles”.
  • We saw ipuri in Thomopoulos’ 1934 piece too; the initial i- presumably came from the same place as the initial i- in irakli, as a metanalysed Greek feminine definite article.
  • In the 1934 piece, latsi was rendered with its normal adjectival meaning as “beautiful”.
  • kapsuris is Koutsavakika; there is a rebetiko song titled Ο Καψούρης “The Lovelorn” written by Giannis Papaioannou, and first recorded between 1943 and 1945. It is now mainstream colloquial Greek.
  • papaˈrunes “poppies” does not appear to be Koutsavakika, somewhat to my surprise.
  • τσακίρ in Greek is now only known in the collocation τσακίρ κέφια, Turkish çakır keyif, çakırkeyif, the peak euphoria reached on a night out. It was difficult enough to find a gloss online for çakır that I suspect the word is obsolete in Modern Turkish. The derived form tsakirˈdzis could have been formed within Greek (or Lubinistika), since the borrowed Turkish suffix is productive in colloquial Greek with reference to professionals or people characterised by something (taksidzis “taxi driver”, banistirdzis “peeping tom”.)

The listing continues directly with non-Romani words which do not look like Lubinistika at all, but are clearly underworld slang; some of them have survived in Greek slang to this day (ˈkarfoma “betrayal” lit. “nailing”; ˈxina “1000 drachma note” lit. “goose”, via phonetic similarity with xiliˈariko). The one word which does appear to relate to Kaliarda is duˈlaki “5 drachma coin”, a diminutive of *duˈlo. The singular duˈlo and the plural tuˈla turn up in Kaliarda as “money, coins, loose change”, and ˈdula as “5 drachma coin”. (Hence, inevitably, dulakuˈbu “money touch chick” = “bank”, duˈloprufa “money letter” = “tax query; cheque”; duˈlotsarðo “money hut” = “mansion; multi-storey building”; and dulotsarðopliviˈas “money hut pleb” = “builder, cementer”.) This is presumably Romani (slang.gr also suspects so for both duˈla and tuˈla), but I’m not seeing an obvious Romani etymon (yet).

Kaliarda XVI: Leotsakos

By: | Post date: 2017-12-02 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

Spatholouro’s finds continue. This time, he has reproduced material on Kaliarda from police reporter Spiros Leotsakos, writing in 1963 in Αστυνομικά Χρονικά [Police Chronicles].

The first excerpt, from Vol. 233, 1963–02-01, confirms the use of Kaliarda by female prostitutes—or at least of a Romani-based cant, which by then may have been quite distinct from Kaliarda. (Recall Petropoulos’ report that gay men (or transwomen) who spoke Kaliarda worked as support staff in cis female brothels in Athens.)

In those places of corruption, both Gypsy and Maltese women used the Gyspy dialect to communicate between one another, which was corrupted here and gave rise to the specialist language of brothels, the so-called “Lubinistika”. […] Mr Efstathios Bourganis, who retired as a police officer many years ago, had worked on Lubinistika in Greece during the first years of the establishment of the Police Corps in Athens. He was a Police Lieutenant at the time, working in the Athens General Security department, and in the Vice Squad in particular.

The second excerpt (Vol. 241, 1963–06–01) elaborates:

Until the City Police institution was extended to Athens and Peiraeus, those exercising the policing function found it impossible to understand the communications, even when they were physically present, between both procurers and common women, and the directives of their madams towards them, or what they were saying to her. That is because procurers would add words of criminal argot, which the police officers did not comprehend, and the women used the secret language of brothels, the renowned “lubinistika”, which, as they have indicated, was Romani, and which had been established as the language of brothels since the Middle Ages, when prostitutes were mainly Gypsies. But the new Corps could not work and enforce the law on places of corruption while secret communications were taking place in front of uncomprehending policemen. For that reason, the late Paxinos, a Police Captain at the time, learned the criminal argot, the renowned Mangika, and compiled a glossary in his book. And the then Police Lieutenant Mr Stathis Bourganis collected Lubinistika—a glossary I believe he should have published. Both of them taught both the argot of criminals and procurers, and the argot of houses of ill repute, in police officer meetings, so that officers working in the Vice Squad could understand them.

Spatholouro reports that Spyros Paxinos’ 1940 book Έγκλημα, κοινωνία, αστυνομία [Crime, Society, Police], which is otherwise a rich source of information, does not mention Kaliarda, though it does include two photos of bottoms in female clothes and their nicknames.

Petropoulos went to the Vice Squad for advice when he started researching Kaliarda; the police chief denied that there were street queans at all (though a beat cop took him aside afterwards and gave him directions), and discouraged him from continuing his researches. Had Petropoulos gone a decade earlier, it appears, he might have had more luck. As it is, Bourganis’ glossary would be quite the find.

The third excerpt (Vol. 239, 1963–05–01) seems to explain Manganaras’ usage of Twelve to refer to gays, if not Vamvakaris’.

During that period, from 1910 to 1925, another plague had become a veritable scourge for the small capital of Greece and its morals. Young men of ill repute. Homosexuality had unfortunately become widespread at the time, and corrupted youths circulated openly at night in Omonia Square and its side streets, to the extent that the expression “He frequents Omonia” or “He’s of Omonia” had come to be considered quite offensive for a man, as it would imply that he had passive homosexual tendencies. The most prominent of the ranks of those effeminate young men appear to have numbered twelve, because the following phrases were used with the same meaning: “He is one of the Twelve” or “He is of the Twelve”. They were most impudent, audacious to the point of straining incredulity: they circulated with provocative repulsive mincing, perfumed, powdered and painted, and they provoked men passing by to a repulsive degree, attempting to have relations with them.

As Googling showed, and commenters confirmed, councils of Twelve were commonplace in Ottoman Greece, so the Twelve of Peiraeus or of Omonia need not have been precisely twelve in number. (Recall that Manganaras named fourteen gays in Peiraeus.)

Kaliarda XV: Triantafyllidis’ Glancing Mention

By: | Post date: 2017-12-02 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Petropoulos in his second edition accused the linguist Manolis Triantafyllidis of academic dishonesty, in the minimal information he gave about Kaliarda in his work on cants (which we saw included his important work on the builders’ cant Dortika, which is also based on Romani); he claims Triantafyllidis had researched Kaliarda extensively, but was too scared to publish anything.

Whether or not that is true, the information Triantafyllidis gives is indeed minimal, and what little he said seems to have led to some persistent misunderstandings. But his summary work on cants4 is quite impressive when it comes to all cants but Kaliarda, as we saw in the previous post; and it’s the more impressive because it originated as a talk, given in 1947.

This is the glancing mention he makes of Kaliarda in that talk.

p. 315. In reviewing professional cants, Triantafyllidis found the following word counts for countries of origin—allowing for unclear etymologies, and for the regional variation in cants and the languages they were in contact with: 58 Slavic, 38 Aromanian, 10–12 Italian (mainly in the cants of Ioannina), 9 Turkish, 7 Arvanitika, 5–7 Romani, 2 Ladino, 1 Hebrew.

If we add Dortika and some others, the picture changes to the benefit of Romani and Italian. In mangika [= Koutsavakika] idioms, which were formed in urban centres, there are fewer foreign words. It is worth noting that Italian is sometimes used to express more abstract [“higher”] concepts, while Romani is mainly used for concepts relating to suspect business, and is usual in so called verba erotica.

Footnote: In Greek such words appear in the language of the effeminate and prostitutes, lubinistika (from Romani lubni). That idiom, outside of Greek words, also has Romani and Italian words.

… That’s it.

It’s not much, but it’s still interesting to comment on this, as another early witness to Kaliarda, 20 years before Petropoulos. (The following post on the paper by Minniti-Gonias, about Italian words in Kaliarda, has more to say about what Triantafyllidis said.)

  • Triantafyllidis uses lubinistika to refer to Kaliarda, the same word Petropoulos first heard of Kaliarda as, a few years earlier. (1947 in fact is when Petropoulos was learning Kaliarda in the Great Salonica park. Triantafyllidis at Aristotle University would have been a few kilometres away.)5 In fact, lubinistika does seem to be the most common word for Kaliarda before Petropoulos.
  • Ioannidou’s 1977 report that Kaliarda was spoken by female prostitutes presumably originates here. Petropoulos dismissed it, but we have just seen a claim that was true from 1934. (And a future post will given even more direct confirmation, from an Athens policeman.)
  • The claim which people keep having to refute, that Kaliarda is mainly a language about sex, also seems to have originated here, if only through the allusion that Romani is the language used for vocabulary about sex. As we have seen, Romani is used for a lot more than vocabulary about sex in Kaliarda, and Kaliarda in full flower was indeed a language that covered a lot of ground (though the vestigial use of the language in parodies and in emblematic use does focus on the dirty words).
  • I didn’t mention it, but Kyuchukov & Bakker expressed surprise that Romani was the basis of a gay cant, given the traditional sexual conservatism of the Rom. The Rom working as prostitutes in the Ottoman Empire, that were at the start of Kaliarda, were of course working far from the censure of their relatives. Triantafyllidis’ blanket claim that Romani is used for criminal and sexual concepts doesn’t make much sense outside of Kaliarda—it’s not what the little Dortika he has published looks like; and it seems to be a superficial conclusion.
  • Triantafyllidis mentions Italian and Romani, which Montoliu has established are the main sources of Kaliarda vocabulary, along with Turkish. He does not mention English and French. It is quite plausible that English only took hold in Kaliarda between 1947 and 1971, with the rise of English as a prestige language. French would have been harder to miss; there’s still less French than Italian, but I wonder whether Triantafyllidis ignored the French element because upper class Greek, too, had been deluged with French loans.

Kaliarda XIV: The schematicism of Kaliarda

By: | Post date: 2017-12-01 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Kaliarda is unintelligible on purpose, although you need to see extended instances for that to be obvious: not the song parodies that Petropoulos put in his appendix, which are merely Kaliarda-coloured Greek, or the Kaliarda you can find now on YouTube, but pieces like Pavrianos’ song Kaliardosynes, or indeed Klynn’s skit “Won’t One Faggot Speak Out” (Ένας Πούστης Να Μιλήσει)—for all that its Kaliarda is bookish and outsider—and noone who actually spoke Kaliarda would be so sympathetic to The People6.

Note how much of those texts is in red, the colour I used for Romani. As Montoliu was perceptive enough to pick up, Kaliarda deliberately builds new words on Romani bases, to maintain unintelligibility, and it uses its vocabulary parsimoniously, to keep it autonomous from Mainstream Greek. That means it is indeed artificial: the comparison with Esperanto was made in passing in a comment to Revenioti’s trailer on YouTube by Panos Panagis, and it’s fair. Indeed, for reasons of protecting its autonomy, Kaliarda is much more schematic than Esperanto, which itself is highly schematic among auxiliary languages. (Schematic in interlinguistics means “using a small vocabulary and compounding to maintain ease of learning”; the opposite pole is naturalistic, which involves using internationally common or familiar wordstock.)

A better comparison is the variant vocabularies that adults have to learn in societies, which rely on keeping their vocabularies low for learnability.

Like initiate languages: they can do some prodigious collapsing of lexical categories to keep vocabulary down. Kaliarda doesn’t quite do that—but the multiplicity of meanings of avelo, as a root verb (never mind its use as a light verb) is certainly unusual, and arguably artificial. As Montoliu again perceptively said, avelo would never have ended up with that range of meanings, if the speakers of Kaliarda had remained Rom: it happened because it was a Rom vocabulary taken over by gadjos as an artificial code.

… Or pidgins: Kaliarda is still Greek, and thus still flexional, so the comparison with isolating pidgins is not immediately obvious; but the prodigious compounding is the kind of thing you’d see in pidgins.

… Or, much more to the point, like cants. Which, after all, is what Kaliarda is.

I’ll come back to Triantafyllidis’ 1947 talk on cants,7 for its glancing mention of Kaliarda. But its mention of the parsimony with which cants use their vocabulary describes Kaliarda even better than the cants like Dortika which he did document.

Cants (συνθηματικές γλώσσες “password languages”) have a characteristic idiosyncrasy: given their relatively poor vocabulary, many words express concepts generically, which are kept distinct in normal speech. Dortika uses grast [< Romani grast “horse”] for horses, but also mules, and any beast of burden. The meaning “beast of burden” is most relevant, and the hearer can understand what exactly is meant from context or circumstance; or maybe they don’t, but that doesn’t really matter anyway. So the very few verbs are particularly multivalent. It’s as if the practitioners of secrecy languages worked out centuries ago the method launched in our time by English linguists and educationalists through Basic English:8 mangono [in Koutsavakika] means “take”, but also “steal”, and, followed by “a woman”, “marry”. praxalno [in Kudaritika, Epirus Builders’ Cant] is “work”, but is said of various things one can do: praxalnao ligrova “prepare food”, i.e. “cook”; but also “twirl” one’s moustache, or “strike” a bell. (p. 316)

We have seen this generic usage time and again in Kaliarda; not just with avelo meaning everything a verb can do, and dzazo meaning everything avelo does not, but also with nouns and adjectives; latsos for example being both “good” and “beautiful”. We noted that the Turkish Gay Cant was much closer to Romani, in having more concrete meanings to its words. Triantafyllidis exemplified genericness with Dortika grast; but Dortika is still closer to Romani than Kaliarda, in having more specific and less schematic word usage. For example, Dortika constrasts dʒala, dʒan with naʃto for “leave”; it has a distinct word for “sick”, mirelos < Romani merela “he is dying” (cf. Kaliarda baro “heavy thing”); it contrasts sumnal beautiful, healthy” and ʃapano “good” (cf. Kaliarda latsos for both). Recall that Dortika is a secrecy language, but its transmission was less artificial than for Kaliarda: its speakers are believed to have been hellenised Rom, as opposed to ethnic Greeks who took over a Romani idiom and elaborated on it.

It would be proper to speak here of periphrases occurring when a single-word rendering is not available. For example, absent a word for “be hungry” [Standard Greek pino], they will see θelo na tsaxtaiso “I want to eat” [in Alifiatika, Tinsmith Cant of Murgana, Epirus].

The Kaliarda use of avelo as a light verb is a logical outcome of that trend; we have indeed seen Pavrianos’ song lyric where “I am hungry” is rendered as avelo xalxalo “I want eat-eat” (or “I do hunger”, if xalxalo refers to hunger.) Kaliarda is not merely paraphrasing verbs, but systematically supplanting them with light verb locutions.

This lexical impoverishment is one of the reasons that they often come up with synoptical phrasing, in telegraphic style: [Dortika] posa stale to mas? “how much money the meat?”, i.e. “how much does the meat cost?” [Cant Not Specified] tsiukas kaloerepse “sun has turned monk [retired]” i.e. “night has fallen”. Yet cants also display the opposite phenomenon: lexical multitude. Thre are many words with identical meaning for the same thing, for concepts which are particularly emotionally salient for cant speakers. Of the 120 words I have recorded for Dortika, four are for ouzo/raki: atie, kias, mars, piki. We find that phenomenon elsewhere, e.g. in French argots. This richness in very concrete concepts has also been noted in cultures with a lower level of civilisation.

Yes, it was 1947. Petropoulos’ counting of synonyms in Kaliarda may well have been motivated by that observation: he makes a point of counting 45 synonyms for “gay [bottom], 10 for Kaliarda itself, 8 for “sperm” and “leave, escape”, 7 for “train, gossip, paederast [= top]”, and so on.

Triantafyllidis then goes on to note (p. 317) that “leave, escape” is the concept with the most synonyms in his records of cants, and on p. 315 he smirks “that’s spot on, isn’t it?”—speakers of cants are people who need to make a run for it, when whatever they are keeping secret is no longer a secret.

Kaliarda, as we have seen, is more artificial and more semantically underspecified than other cants. A lot of that artificiality has to do with its use of compounding, typically Romani-based, which is quite prodigious—and which does not seem to be paralleled in other Greek cants.

Compounding in Kaliarda—even three-part compounding—can be quite utilitarian. Take for example the listing of words relating to “death”. “Death” itself has a compound word in Kaliarda. The English idiom for dying, kick the bucket, has the Standard Greek equivalent τινάζω τα πέταλα “to fling one’s horseshoes”; it relies on the same notion of a dead body jerking straight, but refers to horses rather than people. Kaliarda brings it back to human shoes, with τζάζω τα τιραχά dzazo ta tiraxa. dzas-tirax- in turn becomes a productive morpheme for “death”:

  • dzastiraˈxaðiko “kick-the-bucket shop” = “funeral parlor”
  • dzastiraˈxas “kick-the-bucket-ist” = “executioner”
  • dzastotiraˈxakis “kick-the-bucket person (diminutive)” = “criminal, murderer”
  • dzastiraˈxokuto “kick-the-bucket box” = “coffin”
  • dzastiraxoˈmazema “kick-the-bucket gathering” = “funeral”
  • dzastiraxoˈbenama “kick-the-bucket speaking” = “eulogy”
  • dzastiraˈxosvoli “kick-the-bucket ashes”, dzastiraˈxospira “kick-the-bucket pellets” = “koliva, wheat ritually given out at funerals”
  • dzastiraxoseˈkeri “kick-the-bucket sweet”, dzastiraxoˈsolo ibid. = “poison”
  • dzastiraxoˈtrupa “kick-the-bucket hole” = “grave”
  • dzastiraxofiˈtevo “to kick-the-bucket plant”, dzastiraxoˈxono “to kick-the-bucket hide” = “to bury”

The words looks pretty elicited of course; you can see Petropoulos asking “so what other words are to do with death?” You can see a smirk in a lot of these: “planting” for “burying, for example, or “death sugar” for poison. Then again, my earliest exposure to Pidgins included “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” in Tok Pisin as mi kam long plantim Siza long graun, no long mekim laulau bilong em. Granted, that was from Brush Up Your Pidgin, which does not take Tok Pisin terribly seriously; but if you had to make up a word for “bury” or “poison” with deliberately limited resources, those coinages are not necessarily absurd.

And yet, some of the compounds are truly coloured with a darkly cynical sense of fun; and the fun-making is certainly not limited to sex, as people often assume of Kaliarda. We already saw Klynn (somewhat clumsily) insert the word for “benefactors” into his skit; this is the full cynical sequence:

  • dzaz-berde “throw away money” > “make a donation”
  • dzazberdepuros “throw-money old-man” = “national benefactor, philanthropist”
  • dzazberdepurotsarðo “throw-money old-man hut” = “public building founded by a national benefactor, such as the Zappeion Hall.

The much longer series of words prefixed with vakul- “church” display both parsimony and anticlerical humour:

  • vakulaɣlaˈrizο “church non-dozing” = “attending a church vigil”
  • vakuloˈɡastroma “church pregnancy” = “church dome”
  • vakuloˈkerasma “church treat” = “holy communion”
  • vakulokreˈmala “church hanging noose” = “marriage” (from the mainstream slang “hanging noose” for “marriage”)
  • vakulolutsopuˈros “church light old man” = “beadle” (“church light” = “candle”)
  • vakuloˈbuki “church book” = “Bible”
  • vakulomasˈtura “church being-stoned” = “incense”
  • vakuˈlomolo “church water” = “holy water”
  • vakulonisesˈte “church clothes” = “cassock”
  • vakulodavaˈdzis “church pimp” = “bishop”
  • vakulopuˈros “church old man” = “priest”
  • vakulofeˈrofusta “church iron skirt” = “church bell” (“skirt” from the shape of bells)

I look forward to giving a list of the funniest of these, but I am still groaning under a wealth of material I’m unearthing on Kaliarda (and that commenters on Sarantakos’ blog are unearthing for me.) There will be posts on:

  • Minniti-Gonia’s paper on Italian in Kaliarda
  • Sechidou’s paper comparing Kaliarda with other Romani cants and Greek Para-Romani. (I’ve rushed this draft out, because at first glance it looks like she’s already anticipated what I’m saying here.)
  • Triantafyllidis’ papers on Dortika
  • Triantafyllidis’ glancing comments on Kaliarda
  • Spatholouro’s find of police attention to Kaliarda from 1963
  • A snippet of Kaliarda remembered from Larissa in the 1970s
  • A summary of the funniest and linguistically more salient words of Kaliarda


Kaliarda XIII: The Turkish Gay Cant

By: | Post date: 2017-11-30 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’ve found the paper by Kyuchukov & Bakker on the gay cant of Istanbul.

Spatholouro’s find and Montoliu’s had built up my expectations that this would be a carbon copy of Kaliarda, with the same polyglot amusements and compounding hilarity. Maybe it was; but the vocabulary Kyuchukov & Bakker recorded is just straight Romani words—like Kaliarda would have been at its very earliest stages. And a lot of the vocabulary is not shared with Kaliarda.

(I’m switching to acutes here, since they are combined in the article with Turkish orthography.)

Dortika, again for comparison, from Triantafyllidis, M. 1924. 7. Eine zigeunerisch-griechische Geheimsprache. Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschungen 52: 1–40. Reprinted in Άπαντα [Collected Works]: 2: 46–85.

p. 96. Although Romani has largely died out in Turkey, some subgroups in Turkey use Romani vocabulary. Romani musicians in Üsküdar use the following:

Turkish Musician cant Gloss Romani Etymology Kaliarda Dortika
maró “bread” maró mandó mandó
baró “stranger” baró “big” barós barós “big”
paní “water” paní mol < mol “wine” paní
cükél “dog” džukel Kaliarda has instead used non-Romani sources: ɣuɣumis (onomatopoeia) ɣuɣulfakis “little wolf” < English wolf + ɣuɣumis, lisaɣman < Greek lisaɣma “state of having rabies” + French -ment, fidelis < French fidèle “faithful” tskil, askél (< t’ askel “the dog” as metanalysis of tskil)
şukár “pretty” šukar Only latsos < lačho sumnal “beautiful, healthy” < Albanian shumë “very” + Romani šukar
román “Gypsy” Rom romanás rómis “smith, [Gypsy]” (Greek γύφτος means both)

p. 97. The paper only lists Romani words from the gay cant. Other words were of Kurdish or Slavic origin, or unknown; they do not mention Italian, French, or English, the other major sources of Kaliarda words.

The paper identifies lubunja “gay” as Slavic, from liubima “darling”. We have seen the equivalent Kaliarda lubína, and likely the older Kaliarda labuní, were derived from Romani lubhni “whore”. A Slavic etymology is not impossible, especially if there are other Slavic words in Turkish gay cant; but there are no Slavic words that I know of in Kaliarda, and the Romani word looks more plausible.

Turkish Gay cant Gloss Romani Etymology Kaliarda Dortika
naş “go away, get lost” nas Only dzaz- < džas naʃto
gaci “woman” gadži “non-Gypsy woman” Not present, although irakli “woman” < rakhli “non-Gypsy girl” is gadzana, gadzi “married woman”
laço “good looking man” latsos < lačho “good” latso
ṣukar “handsome man” šukar “good, pretty Only latsos sumnal “beautiful, healthy” < Albanian shumë “very” + Romani šukar
minca “vagina” mindž mudzo
çangal “shoe” cang “leg” only tiraxo
tato “bath” tato “warm”
phuri “old man” phuri “old woman” puri
p(h)uri balamoz “old man” phuri balamo “old non-Gypsy” puros
denyo “mad, crazy” dejno, dilo, dilino “insane” dilinos, diʎnos
matiz “drunk” mato Older Kaliarda matalo mato
piiz “drinking” pi- “to drink” Would be too close to Greek aorist pi- piela
baaro “male adult” baro “big” baros “fat” baros “big, rich”
but baare “big penis” but baro “very big” bara “crowbar” > “penis” is likely coincidence gar “penis”
but “very” but but but
taliga “taxi” taliga “carriage” Kaliarda would avoid dalika “truck”, which is already in colloqual Greek
taligatör “taxi driver” taliga “carriage”
tariz olmak “falling in love” thar- “to burn”
kelav “prostitute” kelav “I play, I dance”
peniz “talk, talking” pen- “to say, to speak” benavo pʰinela
çorna “theft” čor- “to steal” tsurno tsorela, tsurela
çornaci “thief” čor- “to steal” tsoris, dzortʲs
cici “homosexual” džidže “elder sister” aðerfi “sister” = gay; Kaliarda also has dzidzis, dzidzikis “bohemian, carefree”, which Petropoulos derives from Greek dzidziki “cicada” (via the Aesopian fable of the Ant and the Cricket)
soralo “homosexuals” šoralo “man with big head, leader”
tariz “burning, flame” thar- “to burn”
habbe “meal, food” habe, xabe xal xala, xalion “to eat”

p. 98 phuri preserves Romani aspiration, and baare, piiz vowel length; both are alien to Turkish. By contrast, Kaliarda phonology is thoroughly assimilated to Greek. Dortika, too, preserves Romani phonetics: pʰinela for Kaliarda benavo, kʃier “house” < kher, kxer.

The Kaliarda Romani vocabulary is clearly more parsimonious, which corroborates its greater artificiality: lačho also does the work of šukar, džav the work of nas.

A surprising number of words have no Romani-derived equivalent at all in Kaliarda, or have picked different Romani words (e.g. çangal vs tiraxo). The list of common words (even if we include the calque “sister”) is in fact quite small: “pretty, vagina, old, big (grown up), very, theft, food”.

We know that matalo used to be in Kaliarda; and it would be implausible to suggest an independent genesis of Kaliarda from Turkish Gay cant. But the complete absence of Italian in Turkish Gay cant is striking, given that Montoliu argued it represented the Ottoman, Levantine past of the idiom. Whatever was the case in the past, this is now only a vaguely related cant. And as the comparison with Dortika shows, it is also much closer to its Romani origins than Kaliarda is.

Kaliarda XII: Attestation from 1904, 1934, and 1938

By: | Post date: 2017-11-29 | Comments: 9 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’d been impressed with Spatholouro, commenter at Nikos Sarantakos’ Greek Langauge blog, for his detective skills with old Greek newspapers, from a recent article he wrote about inconsistencies in Markos Vamvakaris’ autobiography.

Greek linguistics owes Spatholouro a massive debt for the find he just posted at Sarantakos’ blog, reacting to my mention of this series on Kaliarda. Spatholouro has unearthed a description of Kaliarda and Kaliarda speakers from 1904.

I’m translating, and then annotating.

The “Art Nouveau satirical periodical” («αρνουβώ σατυρικόν φύλλον») Πεταχτό Κόρτε “Fleeting Flirt” was published by Giannis Mangas [pseudonym of anarchist Giannis Manganaras] in 1904. In the 1904–11–25 issue there is a report from Constantinople, mentioning that:

she, too, has her Group of Twelve [Δωδεκάδα] like our Athens […] But what connects the Twelve of Constantinople with the Twelve of Omonia Square, Athens is their language. One would think this is an international company with a common language and common customs. The language of our Omonia Twelve is recognised in Ottoman Law, and everybody is permitted to speak it and convey their meaning for every task they may have, and utilise it in their every activity.

Here is its renowned vocabulary alphabetically:

  • aˈvelo: I go
  • ˈavela: I went
  • ˈavele: go!
  • ˈaveles?: did you go?
  • ˈavele dzas: leave quickly!
  • ˈaveˈle mu ðio parniˈes: give me two drachmas
  • aˈveli berˈde?: will you give money?
  • aˈveli mian laˈtsi: he has a pretty girl
  • ðiˈkeli: he sees
  • irakˈli <Hēraklē>: woman
  • irakˈles <Hērakles>: women
  • kalianˈðro: ugly
  • korˈðoni: policeman
  • kuliˈko: makeup (φτιασίδι)
  • kuraˈvalta: (noun of the active verb kuravelˈto and the passive verb kuravelˈtume)
  • kaˈte: he
  • labuˈni: …
  • latˈsi [fem.]: beautiful
  • latˈsi [neut.]: ten lepta coin
  • latˈso [neut.]: pretty
  • ˈmatalo: drunk
  • ˈmokolo: be quiet
  • ˈbatsos: police constable (αστυφύλαξ)
  • balaˈmo: (noun formed from the active verb balaˈmo)
  • balaˈmo and but balaˈmo: …
  • berˈde: money
  • dap: a beating (ξύλο)
  • paˈɡro: moustache
  • parniˈa: drachma
  • parniˈes: drachmas
  • paˈɡra: beard, hair
  • ˈpuli: …
  • puˈro: old man

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the next issue so we don’t have the continuation of the vocabulary. It might be in the National Library of Greece when they open up, God willing. [That issue is not there either, it turns out.]

In the 1904–12–09 issue you can read the name of “the Group of Twelve in Peiraeus”:

Αλεκάκι, Μανωλάκι, Γαλατού, Χαραλαμπάκι, Ρόφα, Σαλεπιντζού, Ροδίτισσα, Αντωνία, Καμπουρίτσα, Καμπερούλα (ναύτης), Οδοντοϊατρός, Παπλωματού, Μπουντούρης (ναύτης), Πετρού

Little Alex [neut], Little Manolis [neut], Milkmaid, Little Haralambos [neut], Rofa [Sucker?] [fem], Saloop-Seller [fem], Rhodian Woman, Antonia, Little Hunchback [fem], Little Kambera [fem] (a sailor), Dentist [masc], Duvet-Seller [fem], Boudouris (a sailor) [masc], Petra [fem]
[…] They call one another “sister” (αδελφή) […] The members of the Group Of Twelve have become completely feminised; they speak as women, they behave as women, they walk as women, they dress indoors as women, and they swear at each other as women, using [expressions like] μωρή παληοβρώμα “you damned hussy”.

If I’m not grossly mistaken, I believe these texts have been unknown until now, and have not been identified by students of Kaliarda—by which I mean Petropoulos, but also contemporary students such as Domenica Minniti-Gonia (Italian and Heptanesian words in Greek slang).

As Spatholouro clarified in a followup, Πεταχτό Κόρτε magazine is not online: the Greek Literary and Historical Archive (Ελληνικό Λογοτεχνικό και Ιστορικό Αρχείο) has digitised it, but you can only consult it in situ. (As Spatholouro has done.) He has noticed mentions of lubinistika in later newspapers.

Montoliu had already inferred that Kaliarda reflects the Ottoman world linguistically, and that a Romani-based gay cant is also used in Istanbul. The reference in Kaliarda to Bairaktaris, first Athens Police Chief, also dates Kaliarda to the 1890s. But this is the earliest direct evidence we have seen of Kaliarda.

The fact that Kaliarda was the same (as far as Manganaras could tell) in Athens and in Constantinople is to be expected, since Kaliarda and ibne culture both formed in the Ottoman Empire, and likely predated the Greek State. (That’s certainly true for ibne culture, and even if Kaliarda originated in Istanbul after 1830, it would have been straightforward for it to travel to Athens from Istanbul.)

What is striking at first is how little Kaliarda, and for that matter the group that spoke it, seem to have changed between 1904 and 1968. Both descriptions feature bottoms socialising as women, insulting each other as women are supposed to instead of resorting to fisticuffs, and banding together for solidarity with pseudonyms. The Kaliarda of the two descriptions are close to identical. The differences between the two are going to be far more informative.

I do not know what “the Twelve” is a reference to; it cannot be that there were literally 12 bottoms in Peiraeus (and in any case Manganaras names fourteen). But it does corroborate that there was a strong group identity among them.

It’s also worth noting that the term “sister” (αδερφή) dates from at least as far back as 1904. This term (cf. English sissy) has become widespread in mainstream Greek slang with reference to gays; it is derogatory, but nowhere near as hateful as pustis has become. (One could even argue that the primary meaning of pustis is now “someone dishonourable” rather than “someone gay”—and like Commonwealth bastard, pustis is a double-edged sword, also used to flatter someone for their cunning—including the speaker himself.) Petropoulos records aðerfi as one of the many Kaliarda words for bottoms, and he also records that bottoms avoided calling themselves pustis; so the term could well have originated as a solidarity term within the community, before being taken up by outsiders.

There is one slight difference that strikes me, although the evidence is slender. Petropoulos emphasised that there was a wall between Kaliarda and Koutsavakika, petty criminal slang; and all the names of bottoms he gives are feminine, even to the extent of using wife-names (Haritakena i plakomuna “Haritakis’ Wife the Lesbian”). Manganaras’ list, by contrast, has a few words we recognise as Kutsavakika from Rebetiko songs (mokolo “be quiet”, Koutsavakika moko < Italian moco “nothing”; batsos “policeman” (now mainstream slang) < Turkish baç “tax, blackmail”). And his list of names includes neuter diminutives, which can be applied to either gender: noone in fact would assume Manolaki is anything but masculine Emmanuel—cf. Petropoulos’ reference of the pustomangas Manolia “Emmanuelle”. Indeed, he has some explicit masculine names: oðontoiatros “The Dentist”, Boudouris.

It’s possible that the Ottoman world of the ibne, reflected in 1904, was not the hermetic world of the lubines Petropoulos found in 1968—with only the world of drug addicts more closed off to outsiders like him, and with minimal contact with the “mainstream” underworld other than through the feared pustomangas. It’s possible that the world of the ibne was less closed off, and less defensive, because of greater social tolerance under the Ottomans, even if it was as second class citizens—so that their use of underworld slang was unremarkable. And correspondingly, if the ibne felt less persecuted under a Muslim than a Christian state, they may have felt less pressure to assert an overtly feminine identity in reaction, with neuter diminutives and masculine names still being possible. (If the masculine names are of tops, that also indicates a more fluid situation, when tops and bottoms could be considered part of the same social group; that’s certainly not what Petropoulos describes.)

Again, there’s little evidence for this; it’s an interesting hypothesis though.

The vocabulary is small (and already up to pi, so if Spatholouro ever finds the next issue, it won’t be many more words); but there’s a lot going on in there:

  • aˈvelo is already semantically underspecified: its main gloss is given as “go”, but in ˈaveˈle mu ðio paries it means “give”, in aˈveli mian latsi it means “have”, and in ˈavele dzas “leave quickly!” it is a light verb. As Montoliu concluded, that degree of overuse of avelo only makes sense if Kaliarda had long since stopped being spoken by actual Rom; that was clearly already the case in 1904.
  • irakˈli: Petropoulos was misled by phonological similarity to assume that the word for woman was derived from Heracles; as Poniroskilo at slang.gr already worked out, it is merely rakhligadjo girl” preceded by the feminine definite article η i. Petropoulos accordingly spelled irakli with an eta, like Hēraklēs; Manganaras has done the same.
  • kalianðro: ugly; a spelling rendering of [kaliadro]. The Kaliarda rendering we now know is kaliardo < Romani kaljardo, so the form recorded has a metathesis. Petropoulos records that he first heard of Kaliarda in high school as lubinistika, so the name Kaliarda itself may not have originally been widespread (and Petropoulos recorded a large number of synonyms); it may be surprising to a modern audience that the name of the language itself isn’t mentioned along with kaliardos, but it was not inevitable.
  • The word korðoni “ribbon” has not survived in Kaliarda for policeman: the usual word is runa. Sarantakos recorded korðoni in 1985 as military slang for cadets, by metonymy, and it’s an obvious metonymy to apply to policemen as well. I’m not aware of it being used in other slang of the time, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
  • kuliko: “makeup” in Manganaras; in Petropoulos, that is the meaning of plural kulika, while singular kuliko means “colour”. The derived and compound forms in Petropoulos involve “makeup”: kulikokarbono “black makeup”, kulikoma “application of makeup”, kulikono “apply makeup”, kulikomenos “in makeup”. Petropoulos thinks kuliko is likely from French couleur; French was already fashionable in both Greece and Turkey in 1904, but I still suspect the “makeup” meaning is original, and “colour” secondary. The internal etymology would be as an adjectival form of kulo “shit”—cf. kuˈli “shit-coloured = brown”. Faeces have been used historically in makeup, and if the practice continued in Ottoman times (which I have no idea about), Kaliarda speakers would have been delighted to point it out.
  • kuravalta is not glossed, being the first of the obscenities in the list; it is “sex”. Manganaras has the verb as kuravelto and the noun as kuravalta; Petropoulos has the verb as kuravalo and the noun as kuravelta. I have rejected Katsouda’s etymology kulo “shit” + averta “openly, with abandon” (i.e. anal sex), and Romani kuřipe “sex”, kurela “to have sex” are too clearly related to kuravelta. I don’t see an obvious explanation for the infix –av– of kur-av-el in ROMLEX, other than a blend with avelo. (The verb avelo does everything else in Kaliarda, after all.) Maybe a blend with kurva “whore”, which is Slavic and also known in Romani and Greek? East Slovak Romani kurarica ~ kuravica “wart” does not look promising.9
  • labuˈni: Unglossed, and hence an obscenity; this is most likely the word Petropoulos recorded as luˈbina, for “gay (bottom)”, from Romani lubhni “whore” (if it was not the word for “whore” itself in 1904). The later word lubina has an overt feminine ending: if labuˈni (which would have been a neuter in Greek) is the same word, it is another indication that older Kaliarda was less thorough-going about applying the feminine gender to bottoms.
  • The neuter latˈsi “pretty (little) thing” for a ten lepta coin had not survived into Petropoulos’ dictionary.
  • ˈmatalo “drunk” is not recorded in Petropoulos; it is Romani < maťol “get drunk”, Gurbet Romani (Former Yugoslavia) matalo “drunkard”
  • ˈmokolo “be quiet”, cf. Koutsavakika moko “ibid.” Both this and ˈbatsos appear to be Koutsavakika.
  • balaˈmo: unglossed; this is Romani for “boss, non-Rom”, and Kaliarda for “client of gay prostitute” (recall that’s how a hitchhiking Revenioti referred to Petropoulos). The verb balaˈmo is not attested in Petropoulos; and for all its polyglot amusements, the derivational morphology of Kaliarda is quite Hellenic: one would have expected the verb to be balamiazo or balamevo—if not avelo balamo. So I’m not convinced the verb is real.
  • The meaning of but balamo “very punter” is not clear to me.
  • We saw that Montoliu derived berˈde “money” from Romani plural parne “money”; berˈde in Greek is the Turkish loanword for “curtain” (incl. “stage curtain”), and its applicability to “money” is questionable. I had assumed berˈde was a folk etymology. But parne turns up in Manganaras’ list as parniˈes, alongside berˈde, as “drachmas” vs “money”. That makes it likelier that the two words were distinct from the beginning, and some sort of metaphor involving curtains becomes worth considering again.
  • Manganaras has singular paˈɡro “moustache” vs. plural paˈɡra “beard, hair”; Petropoulos has paˈɡro for “hair, fleece”. The Romani etymology is bagro “sheep”, with fleece applied to human and animal hair alike, as is the case for Greek malia. I hesitate to think this is a genuine difference between the two periods.
  • dap is “a beating” in Manganaras; it is “masturbation” in Petropoulos, but Petropoulos has “a beating” as dup. Clearly both dap and dup are onomatopoeas, and the specialisation of dap vs dup in 1968 might not have been in place in 1904.
  • The final unglossed entry ˈpuli is “arse”.

I mentioned also in previous posts that Christopoulou has derived runa “policeman” from < ɣuruna “pig”, while Montoliu had derived it from paparuna “poppy”. I should have trusted Montoliu; Spatholouro linked to a 1934 article on slang by Stathis Thomopoulos, reproduced at Sarantakos’ blog which features the word paparuna “poppy” = “policeman”.

The 1934 article gives a sample of the slang of female prostitutes, which is cited as a mixture of “flower” slang (criminals), “mangas” slang (Koutsavakika—it’s not clear to me how “flower” slang and Koutsavakika were distinct), and “loulou” slang. Loulous were effeminate men, and sure enough, there is Kaliarda in there. (That refutes Petropoulos’ dismissal of Ioannidou’s early claim that female prostitutes spoke Kaliarda. It also hints that male and female sex workers were on speaking terms—unless Rom women were also overrepresented in Ottoman prostitution.)

The three words I can identify as Kaliarda in boldface:

Η υπουρή ανθίστηκε το λάχανο και έπιαμε τη μαγερία. Έδωσε μούρο στο μάπα και έγινε η μάσα. Όταν ήτανε στην «πούλη» ο μάπας με την λατσή την Νίνα ψείρισαν το λάχανο και του μολώσαν μανιτάρι. Μα τη τσουκνίδωσε ματζουράνα στην κατούνα και τα ’πε κι’ ήρθαν η παπαρούνες.

The madam realised that the client had a big wallet, put hashish in his cigarette, and began the operation. It happened when the victim was in the most tender amatory expressions with beautiful Nina. Then they stole his wallet and and they replaced it with another one, stuffed with newspaper. But the constables arrived, because one of the service staff betrayed it.”

Lit. The ipuri (puri “old woman”) smelled-the-flower of the cabbage and started off the cooking. She gave a blackberry to the fool and the feed happened.. When the fool was in the puli (“arse”) with latsi (“beautiful”) Nina, they flea’d the cabbage and they hid him a mushroom. But a marjoram in the room thistled her and she spoke it and the poppies came.

The criminal slang is all metaphor; the Kaliarda stands out as the only words unfamiliar from mainstream Greek.

One final note from Sarantakos’ blog thread on Cythera dialect which I’ve derailed (because the book reviewed is by Georgia Katsouda herself, whose Kaliarda etymologies in Christopoulou’s thesis I have commented on): Sarantakos has mentioned that the Greek poet Napoleon Lapathiotis, who was gay, spoke Kaliarda in 1938. Commenter BLOG_OTI_NANAI reproduces the citation:

Aris Dikteos describes in his introduction to Lapathiotis’ poems his first and last meeting with Lapathiotis and Mitsos Papanikolaou [Lapathiotis’ fellow poet and friend]. He says of Mitsos Papanikolaou in particular: “One of the most unseemly people I have seen in my life. Stubby, swarthy, copper-green… with gold teeth, choleric, miserable.” During the meeting, which occurred in Elliniko restaurant, probably in 1938, Lapathiotis and Papanikolaou spoke in Kaliarda, the secret homosexual language; he says they kept repeating the verb dzinavi “he understands”.

Kaliarda XI: Christodoulou

By: | Post date: 2017-11-28 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Katerina Christodoulou’s 2016 thesis A lexicological analysis of slang vocabulary of Modern Greek is a thorough analysis of the morphology, semantics and pragmatics of multiple Greek slang variants, old and new, and of the colloquial use of obscenities. Kaliarda is one of the old variants studied; while most attention is given to contemporary youth slang (not without the assistance of data from slang.gr), Kaliarda comes up several times, and is discussed separately.

p. 87. Kaliarda is unusual among Greek marginal lects, in that other marginal lects seldom borrow from it, because of the stigma of being gay. Recently women have been using Kaliarda words to express their autonomy from men.

p. 93. Kaliarda are linguistically autonomous, having even distinctive pronouns (imandes “we” < Romani mande “me”) and adverbs (karbone “together” < Italian carbone “carbon (copy)”).

p. 94. Kaliarda are dying out because the associated prejudices are dying out; but many Kaliarda words survive in contemporary slang: kulo “shit” < “nonsense”, tekno “young man” (twink or toyboy); xalastra “ruin, loss”.

p. 95. Notable loans:

  • radaro “read” < English read or radar;
  • sevdotekno “young pop singer” < Turkish sevda “love” + Kaliarda tekno;
  • midlanota “midnight” < English middle + Italian notte

Ingenious compounds:

  • viðobladorufa “leech” < viða “screw” + English bloody “blood” + rufo “suck”;
  • kuorokuravelta “love” < Italian cuore “heart” + Kaliarda kuravelta “sex act”.
    • G. Kastouda suggests for the latter kulo “shit” + averta “openly, with abandon”. One could just as well propose c(u)ore + averta, but that would be too romantic for Kaliarda. Or alternatively, one could just check Romani as Poniroskilo at slang.gr did, and find kurela “to have sex”, presumably with the verb avelo suffixed
  • retsinoparfuma “incense” < retsini “resin” + Italian parfuma “perfume”
  • talirokatarieme “to give the moudza gesture” (spread palm) < taliro “five drachma coin” + katarieme “to curse” (because the curse is given with five fingers spread)
  • sarmeloxamoɣelo “sex” < Kaliarda sarmela “penis” + xamoɣelo “smile”


  • xorxora “fire”
  • tsuxtroklaka “whip” < tsuxtra “jellyfish, stinger” + klak
  • sursuru “injection”

p. 96. Productive stems:

  • purevo “grow old”
  • pureklo “old woman”
  • purozeles “old man” < phuro + zeles “jelly”
  • purokumando “military command”
  • puromarioneta “old paralysed man” (lit. “old marionette”)

p. 97.

  • compound: matsoberdeðokuto “cash register, fund” < matso “cash” < Italian mazzo + berde “money” < Romani parne + kuti “box”
  • derived: afroðito “prostitute” < Aphrodite
  • derived: verɣoniaris “shy” < Italian vergogna “shame”
  • truncation: runa “policeman” < ɣuruna “pig” (Montoliu derives it from paparuna “poppy”
  • metathesis: lostre “mad” < trelos
  • metathesis: ksalimari “pillow” < maksilari
  • phrasal compound: antikoti prufa “domestic letter” < antikotos “distant” + prufa “letter”
  • “idiom”: turla susta “dizziness”

p. 151. Examples of of Kaliarda survivals into modern slang: kolobaras “top, active partner in gay sex” < Turkish kulampara; lubina “passive homosexual” < Lumpen(proletariat). The latter is clearly wrong, and the correct Romani etymology lubni “whore” is given for lubinia “deceit”.

My note: The Turkish etymology kulampara of kolobaras was a surprise to me. I’d assumed (as did Zahos’ 1981 dictionary of slang) that it was formed internally to Greek, substituting the first element of Farsi zan-pare “woman-fancier, heterosexual” with Greek kolos “arse”. (And I was curious how Greeks knew enough Persian to do so, when they’d only heard of the word via Ottoman Turkish.) Per Nişanyan, the word is already attested in Evliya Çelebi in the 17th century, and derives directly from Persian ġulāmpāre “boy-lover”. So there was no analogy on zan-pare necessary: the word does come straight from Farsi, and the folk-etymology “arse-fancier” in kolobaras is yet another happy coincidence, of the similarity of Arabic غلام ḡulām “boy” and Greek kolos.

At any rate, kolobaras was obviously used a lot by Kaliarda speakers, but I have little reason to think it was ever exclusive to Kaliarda: it was merely the Ottoman expression for tops, and Kaliarda was not the only language variant in which tops were spoken of. See e.g. discussion in Mehmet Ümit Necef: Turkey on the Brink of Modernity: A Guide for Scandinavian Gays—a discussion of traditional norms of gay sex that will be quite familiar from foregoing discussion:

In contrast to ibne [bottoms, Greek bines, who often cross-dressed, and now can be trans], kulampara [top] does not constitute a special type of man. Any married man “too full of lust” or separated too long from his wife looks for prostitutes, mistresses, animals (dogs and donkeys) or ibneler. Nobody would consider himself as “abnormal”, “perverse”, “sinful”, let alone “homosexual” for fucking an ibne. He would not identify himself with a (minority) group of “men-fuckers” or “animal-fuckers”. To bugger an ibne is an enjoyment open to all; any man could be seduced by one of those.

p. 223. The use of feminine suffixes (-u, -a, -i) to create novel words, including onomatopoeias, is not restricted to Kaliarda; there are examples from the slangs of drug addicts (paramiθu, paramiθa “heroin” < paramiθi “fairy tale; solace”) and rebetiko songs (afra “burglary” < ksafrizo “to skim the foam off the top = to steal”).

My note: But the Kaliarda usage appears to be much more systematic.

p. 267. Kaliarda is notable among Greek slang variants for its three-part compounds, used because of the secrecy nature of the cant; these are both exocentric and endocentric:


  • kifinoturlukoliko “religious icon” < Kaliarda kifinas “monk” < Standard Greek “drone bee” + Kaliarda turlukuliko < turlu “salad” < Turkish türlü “mixed food” + Kaliarda kuliko “colour” < French couleur (NOTE: The latter with an adjectival ending -iko, which makes it look like the Kaliarda for “shitty” < Romani khul)
  • metaxalemadokamari “dining room” < Greek meta “after” + Kaliarda xalemade + Greek kamari “room”.

My note: The derivation given of xalemade from Albanian halë, Turkish halâ “toilet” should be rejected in favour of Romani xal “eat”. The derivation of xalemade as xal + Albanian made “food, stomach” is possible, but a pseudo-French -ment seems to me more in keeping with Kaliarda


  • ilektropopilobuso “trolleycar” < Greek ilektriko “electric” + popilobuso “bus”, calque of Puristic Greek leoforio “people-carrier”, < Italian popolo “people” + English bus
  • matsoberdeðokuto “cash register” < matso “cash” Italian mazzo + berde “money” < Romani parne + Greek kuti “box”

Youth slang occasionally also uses three-part compounds: malako-putso-ɣliftra “jerk-dick-licker” = “immoral woman”, kariolo-tsibuko-ɣliftra “whore-blowjob-licker” = “immoral woman”, seksopornoðiastrofikos “sex-porn/whore-perverted” = “perverted”.

My note: It is fair to say that Greek has periodically enjoyed multi-part compounds, and I’ve cited in this blog instances from both Early Modern Greek literature, and from the Hellas-L mailing list in the 90s. However three-part (and even four-part) compounds are a much more systematic part of Kaliarda, owing to its artificiality: its deliberate use of a restricted, largely Romani lexicon to devise new words internally to Kaliarda.

p. 278. Metathesis is a common feature of contemporary slang , where it is known as poðana < ana-poða “backwards”. It occurs in youth slang, drug addict slang, soldier slang, and to small extent prisoner slang. Metathesis is to be expected in secrecy languages, but it does not appear in older Greek cants (e.g. koutsavakika). The only examples in Kaliarda appear to be ksalimari < maksilari “pillow”, and komoda < domata “tomato” (which may instead occur in the dialectal metathesis komodori < pomodori < Italian pomodoro)

p. 283. Truncation is a characteristic of both older and newer slang variants. The only instance given as Kaliarda is dzaz “mad” < dzazlos “ibid.” < dzazo “to leave” (i.e. be out of one’s mind) < Romani džav (the truncation is targeted at dzaz “jazz”). But several instances given as contemporary youth slang are also in Petropoulos’ dictionary: dana “whore” < putana, dania “dishonourable action” < putania lit. “whorish action”, tna “pimple” < Mt Etna, runa “policeman” < ɣuruna “pig”, duma “hashish smoke” < dumani. (Most of these are given in p. 535 as Kaliarda anyway.)

p. 294. Reduplication is characteristic of soldier slang, but is common (if not very frequent) in other variants; the Kaliarda instance cited is kul kul “shit” < Romani khul

p. 300. Phrasal compounds: the Kaliarda instances cited are: kipi kapaki “green beret”, Kaliarda “green hat” < “garden-coloured lid”, kapaki plereza “black beret”, Kaliarda “black hat” < “mournful lid”

p. 307. Idiomatic expressions: the Kaliarda instance cited is ðeno/ðanteliazo/avelo fionɡο “to bind/embroider/have a ribbon = to have sex with a homosexual who I thought was heterosexual”; the gloss Petropoulos actually gives is “to have sex with a bottom who I thought was a top”, reflecting the more salient dichotomy of the time. The idiom is in fact a pun on the word fionɡο “ribbon” < Italian fiocco, which means in Kaliarda “bottom who acts like a top” (cf. “straight-acting”), and is in fact a truncation of older mainstream slang dzidzifiongos “dandy” < Turkish cici “beautiful” + Italian fiocco.

p. 309. Verbal idioms in slang often feature a light verb—kano, perno, vɣazo “do, take, take out” in Koutsavakika, avelo, vuelo in Kaliarda:
avelo tula “be silent”, avelo dup “beat up”, avele apokate “come here”, avelo puf, vuelo fuma “smoke hashish”, vuelo dza “go away”, vuelo foria “pressure”.

Christodoulou discusses altering grammatical gender of references to humans as one of the means of increasing or decreasing offensiveness in slang, with feminines referring to men as typically offensive (even when effeminacy is not being overtly alluded to). The use of feminines in Kaliarda of course is not about insult at all, and purposefully celebrates effeminacy, if not femininity.

p. 535. Further examples of morphological processes:

  • Blend: sikafrachancre, ulcer associated with syphilis” < siko “fig; derogatory mainstream word for gays” or sik “chic” + afroðisiο “venereal (disease)”, which has been truncated in turn
  • Truncation: tua “money” < tula “ibid.” (Etymology unknown)
  • Truncation: pfes “coffee” < kafes
  • Phrasal compound: dzas nionio “mad” < Kaliarda dzas “leave” + Colloquial Greek nionio “mind”
  • Phrasal compound: kart kaliard “photograph” < French carte + Kaliarda kaliarda “ugly, bizarre” [The ending of kaliarda has been truncated to make it look French, by analogy with kart postal < carte postale “postcard”]
  • Phrasal compound: pompino frape “blowjob” < French bonbon + French frapper “strike” [or of course frappé]
  • Phrasal compound: prufa mors “telegram”, lit. “Morse letter”
  • Phrasal compound: flokia romanof “Russian salad, Olivier salad; a mix-up”; lit. “jizz Romanoff”
  • Idiom: artista tu vuvu “elderly and experienced gay” lit. “silent cinema artist”
  • Idiom: avelo kusumia “to gossip jealously” lit. “to do insults”
  • Idiom: benavo anθiɣiina “to gossip jealously” lit. “to speak unsanitarily”
  • Idiom: dzazo ta mol “to have diarrhoea” lit. “to expel water”
  • Idiom: latsa xalemata “expensive food” lit. “beautiful food”
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  • February 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Jan    
    1. Tzitzilis, C. 2006. Romani or Armenian Loans? A Case of “Contact Ambiguity”. Linguistique Balkanique 45.2: 279–289.

    2. Croft, W. 2003. Mixed Languages and Acts of Identity: An Evolutionary Approach. In Matras, Y. & Bakker, P. (ids), The Mixed Language Debate: Theoretical and Empirical Advances. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 41–72.

    3. Manolis Triantafylidis. 1953. Ελληνικές συνθηματικές γλώσσες [Greek secrecy languages]. Ελληνικά 4: 661–684. In his Άπαντα [Collected Works]: 2; 299–320.

    4. Request to readers: where is the Μεγάλο Πάρκο Θεσσαλονίκης?

    5. Klynn has his “faggot” refer to “The People”, with the honoured wording of the Left: Ενώ ο Λαός… The more realistic Kaliarda for that would have been to popolo < Italian popolo (you can almost see the Venetian nobleman sneering), or i plivia “the plebs” (you can definitely see the urbane gays sneering.)

    6. Manolis Triantafylidis. 1953. Ελληνικές συνθηματικές γλώσσες [Greek secrecy languages]. Ελληνικά 4: 661–684. In his Άπαντα [Collected Works]: 2; 299–320.

    7. Basic English hit peak publicity just after WWII, “as a means for world peace”.

    8. EDITED: In fact, this is merely an (unattested?) causative of Romani kurava “hit, masturbate, have sex”, kuravava, 3sg kuravela, as explained for Dortika by Triantafyllidis.