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What is the longest word of Online Modern Greek?
I’ve made mention previously of Hellas-L mailing list, which is available publicly as Usenet group bit.listserv.hellas. I dropped off the list in April 2008, and the last live post seems to be from March 2008: the group’s Usenet feed has now gently passed into the Internetic night, like much of Usenet itself has; and the list itself was certainly winding down when I last saw it.
But Hellas-L had a glorious history behind it. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when there was no substantial Internet presence in Greece, and the Web did not yet exist, this raucous mailing list of Greeks studying and working overseas was the main presence of Greek in the Internet. Given the times, it was an exclusively Greeklish medium, with all the anarchy of competing informal romanisations. Several of the erstwhile regulars of the list, as Internet oldtimers, are now in the community around the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ Blog—including Nikos himsef.
By the time I started archiving the list in late 1996, it was starting to lose its preeminence; but I kept archives up to October 2007. (I missed three months in 1999.) Because it was a ready corpus of Greek—albeit idiosyncratic, self-conscious, English-tinged Greek—I used it as a resource in a few papers I wrote. That has led to at least one surprise to list members egosurfing.
The list cultivated a particular linguistic culture, like internet communities do. Playful use of Greeklish to roundtrip English, for example. Because some whoreson putz Wikipedian has just deleted my own paragraph on the topic from the Greeklish page, here it is for posterity:
Not withstanding the loaded politics of Greeklish, jocular use of English, transcribed into Greek and then transliterated into Greeklish, shows how users can manipulate the use of script to ironic effect: if a user, in the middle of a Greeklish conversation, types “dis iz xarnt tou rint” for “this is hard to read” (transliterated via δις ιζ χαρντ του ριντ), they are ironically distancing themselves from their code-switching to English, doubly ironic since the script is Roman but the orthography effectively Greek. (One might retort that this is aesthetically displeasing—but of course that is the point.) This artifice is particularly widespread on the Hellas mailing list.
Another particularity was a penchant for long compounds, especially during flamewars. Since we’ve been hunting down long words, I cranked up my grep engine, scrolled past the MIME attachments and spam email addresses, and came up with the following list from my archives of the list. Of course, these are not Aristophanes, and the compounds confirm that long words in Greek aren’t that startling a thing. But several of them have linguistic interest, including where the compounding goes wrong.
Hellas-L already came up in previous discussion, with πολυμαθουφοχριστιανοπεοκρουστόπαιδο, “polymath UFO Christian penis stroking lad” (35 chars). There turn out to be 13 words 40 characters or longer in the corpus, and four 50 characters or longer.
Compounds breaking apart: #1
The words are long enough though, that they’re starting to break apart. Two of the thirteen words are problematic as compounds.
The first is not really a word at all, but a run-in phrase:
- Αριστεροαναρχοκαταολωνσαςγραφωσταπαλιάμου Aristeroanarxokataolwnsasgrafwstapaliamou “Leftist, Anarchist, Against Everybody, ‘I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn-About-You'”, coined on Hellas-L by Kostas Yannakopoulos, 1997-02-04 (41 chars)
- The word starts as a compound: Arister-o-anarch-o-. But then it drops in two quoted phrases, which don’t belong in compounds because they’re not pure stems, but inflections-and-all words: κατά όλων “against everybody” and σας γράφω στα παλιά μου [τα παπούτσια] “I write you on my old [shoes]” (common saying: I have so much contempt for you, I write your name on my old shoes’ sole, so I can tread on it.)
Compounds breaking apart: #2
The second coinage is *almost* a proper compound, but goes awry with one connecting vowel:
- Χανουμισσαδικομαυροφορεμενηπροσφυγομάνας Xanoumissadikomayroforemenhprosfygomanas “Harem Lady, unjustly dressed in black [= bereaved] mother of refugees”, coined on Hellas-L by Sotiris Skevoulis, 2000-09-18 (40 chars)
- This is a reference to AEK soccer team (Athletic Union of Constantinople), reestablished in Athens by refugees from Turkey. Skevoulis combines an uncomplimentary epithet for the team, “Harem Ladies”, with a complimentary: “Mother of the Refugees”. Skevoulis wants to trowel on the sentimentality of “Mother of the Refugees”, so he amplifies it with a word picture: the Mother of the Refugees as mournful lady in black.
Here Skevoulis runs into a problem: he is combining the participle μαυροφορέμενη “dressed in black” with the noun προσφυγομάνα “Mother of the Refugees” (both are compounds). This is not a good idea, and there are safer alternatives: μαυροφόρ-α has an inflection straight on the root, and μαυροφορ-ο-προσφυγομάνα would be morphologically unexceptional. The noun μαυροφορούσ-α is another alternative: it is of course merely the ancient active feminine participle “wearing black”; but in Modern Greek the active participle is no longer productive as an adjective, so that μαυροφορούσα looks like any other feminine noun, and μαυροφορουσ-ο-προσφυγομάνα is no more exceptional than χανουμισσ- is in a compound.
But Skevoulis has used the passive participle, which is very much productive in Modern Greek. Again, you can do this in a compound, since participles correspond to adjectives; but it’s a lot less usual. Because it’s unusual, the participle ending -εμεν- calls attention to itself. Even if μαυροφορ-εμεν-ο- is possible in a compound, its unusualness in that context makes hearers think of the more usual context, as the ending of an inflected participle.
The thing is, -εμεν-ο- in that inflected context is masculine: μαυροφορ-εμέν-ος “man dressed in black”, μαυροφορ-εμέν-η “woman dressed in black”. So μαυροφορεμεν-ο-προσφυγομάνα, while supposedly a single compound, sounds like the ungrammatical phrase *μαυροφορεμένο (masc) προσφυγομάνα (fem). To patch this up, Skevoulis gives “dressed in black” the feminine ending -η. But now with μαυροφορεμεν-η-προσφυγομάνα, he’s introduced an unambiguous inflection between the two stems.
That makes the compound breaks apart: participial -εμέν- cannot stick to a feminine noun in compounding. Not because it is impossible, but because the participle ending makes it unusual, and therefore calls to mind the two halves of the compound as separate words. Those separate words would disagree in gender, so the attempted compound sounds wrong. Again, had he used a more conventional first half of the compound, like μαυροφορ-ο-προσφυγομάνα, he wouldn’t have had to tinker with the connecting vowel.
Compounds breaking apart: #3
A third coinage just misses the 40 character limit, but is even more problematic than the previous two:
- in εντελαμαγκεντεΒοτανικωχαμανεχωμερακλώσει-mode in evtelamagkevteBotavikwxamavexwmeraklwsei-mode “in ‘Ente la mangé de Votanik—woah, I’m feeling funky now’ mode” (coined on Hellas-L by “The Marsist”, 1997-01-26) (39 chars)
- This refers to the pseudo-French (?) lyrics of a Rebetiko song by Spyros Zagoraios—see YouTube: “I’m the tough guy of Votaniko”. The coinage follows them with the phrase ωχ αμάν, έχω μερακλώσει “ah, alas, I am in the ecstatic mood brought on by bouzouki music”. (The translation above is less scrupulous.)
The whole thing is in another linguistic particularity of Hellas-L: posters signing off their posts with their name, followed by in/σε [pertinent Greek phrase]-mode. Normally the mode phrase is spaced as normal, or hyphenated:
- σε-αμάν-πια-αυτή-η-Νέα-Ορλεάνη–mode se-aman-pia-auth-h-nea-orleanh-mode “in Enough-of-New-Orleans-Already–mode” (Lida Anestidou, 1997-11-06)
- in–ο έρωτας κι ο βήχας δεν κρύβονται–mode in- o erwtas ki o bhxas den krybontai- mode “in ‘you can’t hide love or a cough’–mode” (Lamprini Thoma, 1997-11-04)
As the hyphens give away, the mode phrase is treated as a single unit, because the expression parodies the English use of in [single word]–mode: in sleep mode, in alert mode. I assume The Marsist has gone further, and mooshed the mode phrase together, because of the opaqueness of the song lyrics. People posting the lyrics often enough run έντε λα μαγκέ ντε Βοτανίκ together as εντελαμαγκέ ντε Βοτανίκ. Once he started running words together, he just kept going; after all, the mode phrase is meant to be a single unit.
What The Marsist did is not that unusual; online English often enough does that kind of thing using CamelCase, and if anything it’s a surprise this is the only instance of that kind of thing I’ve found on Hellas-L. But just taking spaces out of a phrase doesn’t turn it into a single word linguistically.
Compounds breaking apart: O RLY?
I’m being rather absolute about this “no internal morphology” rules, and—as I conceded in the discussion of γαμαοδέρνουλας—you can have a phrase turned into a single word, or stem, as a quotation. That’s happened with the Forget-Me-Not flower in English; and it’s happened with μη μου άπτου “Touch-Me-Not” (John 20:17) in Modern Greek, used as an indeclinable adjective to mean “aloof”. (slang.gr: “Excessively sensitive, hypochondriac bothered by everything to the point of hysteria”.)
I note that Sarantakos, unlike slang.gr, spells it as a single word, without spaces: μημουάπτου. It does help that the phrase is in Ancient Greek of course, so harder to take apart. And I still don’t think it is useful to call εντελαμαγκεντεΒοτανικωχαμανεχωμερακλώσει as a single word: it doesn’t look to be intended to used anywhere μημουάπτου can, like an adjective.
That’s kind of an unfair burden to impose on nonce coinages, I admit. But the rarity of CamelCase in Greek gives away the game anyway: “Votanik” is not so integrated into the word that it has the same lowercase as the rest. In fact we saw another giveaway in the word I rejected as a compound from Sarantakos’ thread, Ελληνοαποτηνπρωηνγιουγκοσλαβικηδημοκρατιατηςμακεδονιασόπουλο. If that was a real compound, there would be no need to spell -της- with a final sigma.
(In Greek typography of yore, you would in fact find final sigma in the middle of a word, at a morpheme boundary: προςλαμβάνω = προς + λαμβάνω. I’ll daresay that’s not the precedent Lefteris Dikeos had in mind when he spelled his word like that.)
Compounds not as much breaking apart
Back to Hellas-L. Here’s the remaining eleven compounds from the period I have access to:
- οικονομικοπολιτικοκοινωνικογεοστρατηγικές oikovomikopolitikokoivwvikogeostratngikes “economical, politicial, social and geostrategic” coined on Hellas-L by Christos Papadas, 2002-11-26 (40 chars)
οικο[νο]μικοκαταναλωτικοϋγειονομικοεργασιακοτεχνολογικό oikomikokatanalotikoygionomikoergasiakotexnologiko “economical, consumerist, sanitary, workplace and technological [paradise]”, coined on Hellas-L by Pelopas@acn.gr, 2004-01-22 (53 chars)
- We’ve seen similar coinages on Sarantakos’ thread, all of them parodying the journalistic cliché of socio-politico- compounds: sonorous context-setting adjectives that don’t end up saying that much.
- φεμινιστοβιολογικοτουρκοφασιστομπλεξίματα feministobiologikotourkofasistomple3imata “feminist, biological, Turkish, Fascist complications”, coined on Hellas-L by Lida Anestidou, 1997-05-08 (41 chars)
- A summary of the various perennial topics of flamewars on the list, that the poster is trying to avoid. The humour is in the incongruous and lengthly lumping together of the disparate topics.
- ινδοκινεζοουζυμβυριανοαβοριγινοκεντριστών indokinezoouzumburianoaboriginokentristwn “Indochinese, Uzymbyrian (?) and Aboriginal-centrists” coined on Hellas-L by Myron Kaisides, 1998-07-26 (41 chars)
αφροασιατοαμερικανοαυστραλιανοανταρκτικοκεντριστές afroasiatoamerikanoaystralianoantarktikokentristes, “Afro-Asian-American-Australian-Antractican-centricists”, coined on Hellas-L by Myron Kaisides, 1998-07-26(50 chars)
- Both coinages deride Afro-centrist approaches to history, by concocting absurd combinations of ethnicities as other biases. The point here once again is the length of the compound, as much as the incongruity of the ethnicities.
- Νταϊφαδοσαλιαρεληδοκοσκωταδοκοκκαλιστανούς Ntaifadosaliarelhdokoskwtadokokkalistanous “Daifas, Saliarelis, Koskotas, and Kokkalis-istanis”, coined on Hellas-L by “Asteras Amaliadas”, 1998-02-11 (42 chars)
- Referring to scandal-ridden presidents of soccer teams. Notice that the surnames are suffixed with -δ-, which is used in the plural of the names (Νταϊφάδ-ες, Σαλιαρέληδ-ες, Κοσκωτάδ-ες). Asteras is intending the plural proper names as a genericising description, the same way Ancient Greek used Ἀριστοφάνεις and Πλάτωνες. So, “inhabitants of a Third World country characterised by people such as Daifas, Saliarelis, Koskotas, and Kokkalis”
- ΠαπαδοπουλοΠατακοΜακαρεζοΧουντοΪωαννιδικών PapadopouloPatakoMakarezoXouvtoIwavvidikwv “followers of Papadopoulos, Patakos, Makarezos, the Junta, and Ioannidis” coined on Hellas-L by Andreas Dakanalis, 2000-11-17 (42 chars)
- Reference to the leaders of the 1967–74 dictatorship. Note the English-derived CamelCase: useful for clarity of the compound, particularly as proper names are involved, but not really necessary, and not part of conventional Greek (or English) orthography: the preceding compound of proper names did without it.
- ΠαρασκευοΣαββατοΚυριακοΔευτεροΤριτοΤετάρτη ParaskeuoSabbatoKyriakoDeyteroTritoTetarth “Friday–Saturday–Sunday–Monday–Tuesday–Wednesday” coined on Hellas-L by Sotiris Skevoulis, 2006-02-02 (42 chars)
- Expansion of Σαββατοκύριακο “Saturday–Sunday = weekend”: by enumerating four more days, Skevoulis is saying he has gone to London for a six-day–long weekend. Again, this uses CamelCase.
- ποντικοηρακλειωτικοownerιλιτικομπινελικωμάτων pontikohrakleiotikoownerilitikompinelikomatwn “Pontikas, Irakliotis, and Owner-ly flame wars”, coined on Hellas-L by Nick Venedict Economides, 1996-12-21 (45 chars)
- An example of the fluidity of Greeklish, allowing English and Greek terms to be combined relatively inobtrustively. Pontikas and Irakliotis were list personalities of yore, and Economides is harking back to the flamewars they were involved in.
Greeklish is that fluid, but Greek morphology is not. If I’ve understood the morphology correctly, Economides can’t just drop the English [List]Owner in the compound without some sort of connective suffix: ποντικοηρακλειωτικο-owner-ο-μπινελικωμάτων, with a purely English owner root in the compound, would sound like broken Greek. So owner is nativised through the adjective derivation -ίτικ-ος “-itic”, in combination (I think) with the Turkish-derived -λής -li “one characterised by”, and an extra /i/ echoing -ίτικ- for good measure, to connect owner to -λ-ίτικος.
I think. Economides clearly had to attach *something* to owner to get it to fit in a Greek compound. I’m surprised he went as far as attaching something as long as the adjectival -ιλίτικο-. Then again, the point is to make a long compound.
No CamelCase here; the two proper name compounds using Camel Case are later than the two that do not, which may suggest increasing influence from English.
- αναρχοκομουνιστοσυνδικαλιστοφασιστοαντιδημοκρατική, avarxokomouvistikosuvdikalistikofasistikoavtidnmokratikn, “anarcho-communist-syndicalist-fascist-antidemocratic”, coined on Hellas-L by “The Marsist”, 1997-01-22 (50 chars)
- Parodying the only slightly less longwinded invective from the right against communists, as already seen in the preceding post: αναρχοληστοκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτες, Εαμοβουλγαροκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτης.
The longest word, like, ever
So we’ve seen several compounds long enough, and composed of heterogeneous enough material, to strain the morphology of Modern Greek: three compounds outright collapsing, and at least one more teetering. It should still be said, most of the compounds have been in good faith linguistically: they haven’t had the outright fakery of the winning entries on the Longest Word In English blog, which don’t count as words by any notion of wordness. You don’t just take all the spaces out of a War-And-Peace–length book and call it a word. Unless you’re a prat. Or a conceptual artist, which is the same thing.
That said, the longest word of Greek I now know of, Ancient or Modern, does not fall apart, and obeys the simple rules of root compounding.
- Ουγγροτουρκομογγολοϊνδιανοπερσοβουλγαροαλβανοσλαβοϊταλοφραγκογερμανοαγγλοϊσπανοαβαροτσιγγανοαραβοαιγυπτιακοσυριακοασσυριακοϊρακινοεβραϊκοσουηδορωσσοσερβοκροατομουσουλμανοβουδιστοϊεχωβαδομιθραϊστοσιντοϊστοϊνδουιστοέλληνες, Ouggrotourkomoggoloindianopersovoulgaroalvanoslavoitalofragkogermanoaggloispano-avarotsigganoaravoaiguptiakosuriakoassyriakoirakinoevraikosouhdorwssoservokroato-mousoulmanovoudistoiecwvadomi9raistosintoistoindouistoellhnes, “Hungarian, Turkish, Mongol, Indian, Persian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Slav, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Avar, Gypsy, Arab, Egyptian, Syrian, Assyrian, Iraqi, Jewish, Swedish, Russian, Serb, Croat, Muslim, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mithraist, Shinto, Hindu Greeks” coined on Hellas-L by Myron Kaisides, 2001-08-18 (204 213 221 chars)
[EDIT: transcription error: I left out “Assyrian” after “Syrian”, “Jewish” after Iraqi, and didn’t translate “Albanian”]
- Coined as an indignant retort to someone questioning the genetic continuity of Greeks: “From what I gather, you believe that we are in fact…”
This word did not break Greek morphology, the way Χανουμισσαδικομαυροφορεμενηπροσφυγομάνας or Αριστεροαναρχοκαταολωνσαςγραφωσταπαλιάμου did. But even with its ASCII hyphens, it clearly broke Usenet, as you can see from the randomly interspersed spaces on the Google Groups citation linked.
… Was that it?
Two concluding remarks after all that.
Are you let down by the word that dislodged Aristophanes? Are you thinking, “any random Internet poster can chain together thirty ethnicities and creeds and beat that”? Why yes, so one can. But I already discussed as much in the end of the preceding post. There’s no special genius to producing really long compounds—although as the linguistics I’ve gone through this post shows, it’s harder than it looks. What it takes is chutzpah, and perseverance.
The other thing to note is something I also noted in the previous post: while we have a well-defined canon from antiquity, in which the Comic authors’ long coinages stand out, now everyone gets to be an author, and there’s much more of a sample base for long coinages. And if you look back at the Byzantine instances I gave of long words, where the corpus is already substantially widened, you’ll see Hellas-L is not doing that much new. ΠαπαδοπουλοΠατακοΜακαρεζοΧουντοΪωαννιδικών “followers of Papadopoulos, Patakos, Makarezos, the Junta, and Ioannidis” is not that different from Ἡρακλειανοκυροσεργιοπυρροπαυλοπετρῖται “followers of Heracleus, Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter”. φεμινιστοβιολογικοτουρκοφασιστομπλεξίματα “feminist, biological, Turkish, Fascist complications” is not that different from ἀκτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος “dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes”. Kaisides’ melange of 29 31 ethnicities and creeds is not that different from Aristophanes’ lopado-temacho-thing of 17 dishes. And “Pelopas@acn.gr” is not more obscure than “Gregory, hegumen of Oxia”.
And if that’s all left a sour taste in your pursuit of longest words, well, maybe it’s given you some linguistic edification as well…