ξε- in compounds and phrases

By: | Post date: 2011-02-14 | Comments: 7 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
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This post has been anticipated in comments already anyway; it’s the reason why I got the accent of ξέμαγκας wrong.

One reason was given last post: it is much harder to predict where recessive accent goes for the -a(s) inflection than for the other inflections of Modern Greek.

  • For masculine and neuter -o(s), feminine -si, and neuter -ma, recessive accent goes to the antepenult: παλιόκοσμος, κουτόχορτο, κεφαλόβρυση, παλιόπραμα
  • for -us, feminine -o, neuter -i and other feminine -i, it goes on the penult: προπάππους, τρελοκαμπέρω, παπαδοπαίδι, γκαντεμοτύχη
  • for -u and -e(s) it only ever goes on the ultima: ρεβυθοκαφές, ζουζουνοσκατού. (Kaliarda again: “shit-bug = fly”)
  • But because of mergers in both Ancient and Mediaeval Greek, -a(s) has some recessives go to the antepenult, and some go to the penult. That makes confusion possible.

The second reason, given two posts ago, involves the variability of prepositions. The default in Modern Greek is for accent to be recessive in a preposition–noun compound: παρά + παιδί > παράπαίδι “stepchild”. Some prepositions leave the accent alone, in a distinct pattern: παρά + στρατός > παραστρατός “paramilitary”.

The real reason why I got the accent of ξέμαγκας wrong is that I’d learned one pattern in my Greek, but not the other.

The recessive accent pattern shown in ξέμαγκας follows the rules inherited from Ancient Greek. (Ancient Greek would still produce *ἐκμάγκας because its -ας was long; but the accent would still be recessive.) And colloquial Modern Greek does have a productive pattern of adding ξε- to nouns, to indicate someone who has stopped being characterised by the noun. If that sounds like an ex-mangas, there’s a simple reason for that: ex- and ξέ- are exactly the same prefix historically (kse- < ekse- < ἐκ, ἐξ ek, eks, as I explained a few posts ago.)

There’s also a simple reason that I haven’t drawn the analogy between ex- and ξέ- before: they are from different registers, and the usage of ξέ- before a noun is unusual: it is typically a verbal prefix, where it has the verbal meaning of “un-” as in “undo”. That’s why I was glossing ξέμαγκας as “un-mangas”; but un- for nominals in English means “not” more than “formerly” (as in unwell), so the gloss is misleading.

The pattern appears to be productive in colloquial Greek: Nikos Sarantakos brought up ξέπαπας “ex-priest”, which is also recessive. But I could find no examples with that meaning in either the Triantaphyllidis Institute dictionary (no surprise there), or slang.gr. ξεμπούρδελο < μπουρδέλο for instance means not “a former brothel”, but “a woman who looks like she has come out of a brothel”.

I got the accent wrong because the recessive use of ξέ- before nouns, to mean “ex-“, is not part of the Greek I’ve learned. I mean, I recognise it when I see it; but it’s not part of my active vocabulary, it would not have occurred to me to coin a new ξέ- compound with a noun. Just a hole I happen to have in my Greek.

But there’s a different pattern using ξέ- which I have learned, and that pattern is accent-retaining. slang.gr does have ξεμπράβο “un-bravo!”, which is not accented recessively, for different reasons: μπράβο is an interjection, which is being quoted in the compound. I will talk about the different accent in quotative compounds later. That’s not the pattern I had learned; but it is related, in that it also quotes what it prefixes.

The pattern is the phrase τι Χ και ξε-Χ;, “what X and un-X?”, meaning “what do you mean, ‘X?'” or “what’s this ‘X’ crap you’re on about?” The point of the expression is to dismiss the noun X that the addressee has used as appropriate or relevant. A similar expression is δεν έχει Χ και ξε-Χ “there’s no X and un-X”, which has the same point. (Cf. “there’s no ifs or buts about it” in English.) And Χ και ξε-Χ can show up on their own as a dismissal in general:

  • Καθήστε να διαβάσετε και άστε τα sos και ξε-sos “Sit yourselves down and study, and stop going on about crib notes [never mind the S.O.S. and un-S.O.S]” (“ncs_one”, responding to a request for crib notes—which are called in Greek “S.O.S.”)
  • μήτε γνωρίζω τι θα πει Kollo και ξε-Kollo “I don’t even know what Kollo and suchlike [Kollo and un-Kollo] means (poem by Napoleon Lapathiotis, 1922)
  • Nikolas81: Οπα, εχω και’γω το ιδιο w/c kit της Τt ενα χρονο τωρα αλλα δεν μου εχει παρουσιασει κανενα προβλημα, αν οφειλεται σε αστοχια υλικου αφτο μπορει να συμβει και στις καλυτερες οικογενειες….. “Woah: I’ve had the same w/c kit from Tt for a year, but it hasn’t shown any problems. If it’s because of a fault in the maerial, well, that can happen even in the best of families.”
    ThReSh: αστοχία και ξε αστοχία nikola αλλά αν καεί κάποιος στο χυλό φυσάει και τι γιαούρτι… (Literally) “Fault and Un-Fault, Nikolas, but if someone burns themselves on porridge, they’ll blow on yoghurt.” (Idiomatically) “It’s all very well to talk about ‘faults’, Nikolas; but once bitten, twice shy” (“ThReSh” responding to “nikolas81”)

The construction works by quoting a word the addressee has used; the speaker wants nothing to do with the word, after all. If the speaker is quoting X, and dismissing X and un-X, she can’t reaccent un-X as a new word (recessively): she would be assuming linguistic responsibility for that new word. In the construction, “un-X” is still quoting the addressee’s use of X. So the accent of X is preserved in the construction.

The most frequent example of the construction is τι μα και ξε-μά, “what do you mean, ‘but'”—used to cut off someone raising an objection by saying “but…”. At the best of times, you couldn’t reaccent “un-but” as *ξέ-μα anyway: prefixing interjections is unheard of, and reaccenting prefixed conjunctions will just make them unrecognisable. (Same goes for ξεμπράβο.) You could argue the same for the following examples, quoting a conjunction and a proper name:

  • ο πελάτης έχει πάντα δίκιο όταν – Α, δεν έχει “όταν” και “ξε-όταν”. Ο πελάτης έχει πάντα δίκιο. Τελεία! “‘The customer is always right, so long as…’ Oh, there’s no ‘so long as’ about it! [There is no ‘when’ and ‘un-when’] The customer is always right, full stop!” (“peslac”)
  • Εμ Ίστωρ με αυτά που λες τι απάντηση περίμενες; Αυτά είναι κοτσάνες. Τι Τίτο και ξε-Τίτο μου λες. “Istor, with the stuff you say, what sort of answer were you expecting? That’s nonsense. What is this ‘Tito’ crap you keep talking about? [What ‘Tito’ and ‘un-Tito’ are you telling me?]” (Nick the Greek, July 4 2006, 12:26 AM)

And these examples would likely not be accented recessively:

  • Τι κομμουνιστές και ξε-κομμουνιστές; Επειδή δηλαδή θα πάω σε μια πορεία που οργανώνουν κομμουνιστές, έγινα κι εγώ κομμουνιστής, άμα δεν το θέλω; “What are you talking about, ‘communists’? Because I’m going to protest organised by communists, am I supposed to have become a communist if I choose not to?” (“Thracian Without Jurisdiction”)
  • urba-nick: Τσαμπουκάς ο καιρός σήμερα.Μας έβαλε γκολ απο τα αποδυτήρια. “The weather was aggro today. It kicked a goal against us right from the changing rooms”
    Mikelangelo: Πιο γκολ και ξε-γκολ. Δε μασάμε μια. “What are you talking about, ‘goal’? We’re of sterner stuff than that now.” (“Mikelangelo” responding to “urba-nick”)
  • Στους δρόμους, μερικές μέρες τώρα, γίνεται το έλα να δεις και πολλοί επίσης ασκούν κριτική στην Κυβέρνηση κύριε Μαγκριώτη. Ότι ποια επίταξη και ξε-επίταξη κάνει ο καθένας ό,τι θέλει στην χώρα. “For the past few days, it’s been chaos in the streets; and many are criticising the government Mr Mangriotis, saying ‘What requisition are you talking about? Everybody in this country does whatever they feel like.'” (Interview, Skai Radio, 2010-09-21)

But in these examples, a prime candidate for reaccenting is left with its accent preserved:

  • lumoELENA: ελα ρε παιδια ο ηχος είναι αθλιος. Μου πήρε τα αυτιά το βίντεο. Κατεβασε το………. “Come on guys, the sound is awful. The video has deafened me. Take it off.”
    nikiforos1000: τι ηχος και ξε ηχος… ειναι φοβερος εδω ο μαλαμας “What do you mean, ‘sound’? Malamas is tremendous in this.” (“nikiforos1000” responding to “lumoELENA”; unaccented, but the space in ξε ηχος shows this can’t be a recessively accented *ξέηχος: ξε and ήχος are treated as two separate phonetic words)
  • τί άμμο και ξε-άμμο μου λες τώρα / εδώ το θέμα είναι αν θα πάμε διακοπές, που και πότε “What ‘sand’ are you talking about? The question is, are we going on holidays, where, and when?” (LIA KALEMIDOU, commenting on a photo of “Ti amo” written on sand)
  • Τι κρίση και ξε-κρίση; Κρίση μπορείς να έχεις όταν τα πράγματα βαδίζουν με μία στοιχειώδη τάξη και αρχίζει και χάνεται αυτή (η τάξη). “What do you mean, ‘crisis’? You have a crisis when things proceed according to a rudimentary sense of order, and that order starts to be lost.” (Periklis Vanikiotis, “There will be blood”, Marketing Week Online, 2010–10–29)

Compare the made-up Modern, accent-preserving ξε-κρίση “un-crisis” with Ancient recessive ἔκκρισις “separation, secretion”, which is the same word etymologically. (κρίσις is etymologically first a separation, then a distinguishing, then a judgement, then a trial, then a deciding point.)

So, I knew the Χ και ξε-Χ pattern, which is accent-preserving; I did not know the use of ξε-Χ to mean “ex-X”; and I accented ξεμαγκας according to the former pattern. They are semantically related, after all. But thanks to Nikos Sarantakos for exposing the gap in my command of accentuation, and launching me down this path. Which is not done yet: there will be at least two more posts of slang.gr data.

As an added bonus,

How does the Χ και ξε-Χ expression work?

Well, if the addressee’s use of X is being ridiculed, and the speaker denigrates both X and un-X, maybe the speaker’s saying that both X and the opposite of X are irrelevant—in other words, the entire scale of comparison of X, the entire mental framework, is inapplicable.

Nice try, though overintellectualised, but wrong; but remember, ξε- is a verbal prefix above all, and it means not un- as in unwell, but un- as in undo.

What it is referring to is a Greek convention of juxtaposing verbs with their opposites, to indicate repeated, futile activity. The notion is that if you do X, then do the opposite, undoing X, you’re going to have to redo X, over and over—and that this is a waste of time. ράβω–ξηλώνω “I sew and unravel” is the canonical example; and it is applied very far from knitting:

  • Ένα τραγούδι έγραψα για σένα. / Μια μελωδία, ετοιματζίδικο κλισέ. / Ράβω και ξηλώνω μέχρι να μου βγει. / Μια απλή μελωδία από Μι. “I wrote a song for you: a tune, a tossed off cliché. I sew and unravel until I can get it out, a simple tune in E.” (Song lyric, Kostas Lemonidis)
  • Γι’αυτό ρώτησα για να μην ράβω-ξηλώνω αν πχ οι τελευταίοι catalyst υποστηρίζουν 1680Χ1050…, “So that’s why I asked, so I don’t keep sewing and unravelling, whether the latest Catalyst models support 1680×1050 resolution.” (“Fonzi”, querying on setting up a PC monitor)
  • Από αντιπροσωπία πόσο περίπου θα πάει μαζί με τοποθέτηση, ξέρει κανείς?? (δεν είμαι για να ράβω και να ξηλώνω αυτόν τον καιρό) “Does anyone know how much it will cost approximately from a dealership, including installation? (I’m not prepared to go sewing and unravelling at this time.)” (“Alestros”, on installing a ceiling light in a VW)

The expression is generalised by turning it into the template “Χ και ξε-Χ”, where X is a verb, and ξε-X, undoing X, is the opposite action; for example,

  • φίλε, κάνεις τόσο κόπο, γράφεις ξεγράφεις απλά και μόνο για να πείσεις εμένα και τον εαυτό σου πως φταίει το ΕΔΑΔ;.. Στο λέω ξανά, ειλικρινά δεν με ενδιαφέρει ποιος φταίει! “Friend, you’re expending so much effort, you write and unwrite, just so you can convince me and yourself that it’s the European Human Rights Tribunal’s fault? I’m telling you again, I honestly don’t care whose fault it is!” (“Kyriacos”)
  • Της ΦΑΚ που λέει και ξελέει μόνη της πως ζει στην γυάλα της και πιστεύει πως σε τέτοιους ζοφερούς καιρούς με την επίθεση που δέχετε ο λαός από ΕΕ-ΔΝΤ-Κεφάλαιο το πανεπιστήμιο μπορεί να έχει ένα πιο ανθρώπινο μέλλον. “The Independent Student Movement, which says and unsays [keeps saying] of its own accord that it lives in a bubble, and which believes in such miserable times, with the people being attacked by the EU, the IMF and Capital, that the University can have a more humane future.” (“Liakos13”; but the more usual meaning of λέω και ξελέω is “I say and then unsay, I contradict myself”)
  • Από αυτό που είπε, άρχισε ο παπάς να διαβάζει και να “ξεδιαβάζει” σ’ένα βιβλίο, και όπως διάβαζε, ο βράχος ανοιγόταν σιγά σιγά μέχρι που ανοίχτηκε εντελώς και εμφανίστηκε ένας βωμός με χρυσές εικόνες αγίων. “Saying that, the priest started reading and unreading in a book, and as he was reading, the rock slowly opened until it opened up completely, and an altar appeared with golden icons of saints.” (Translation of short story by Xosé Filgueira Valverde)

There are many instances of “X and un-X” where the activity of X really is undone; that’s what tends to be the meaning of φτιάχνω και ξεφτιάχνω “I make and unmake” or most instances of λέω και ξελέω “I say and unsay”. But the examples given here have eliminated the “undo” component of the meaning, and are left with the sense of futile repetition. This is common in semantic change (“bleaching“): an expression which has the meaning or connotation of both A and B ends up meaning just B. In the example with “read and unread”, even the notion of futility is bleached (because the spell works), and we’re left with just repetition.

From “say and unsay” = “keep saying in vain, keep saying without convincing me”, it is a short step to “say-and-unsay X, which does not convince me”. From there, it’s a neat linguistic trick of Greek to drop the verb, and transfer the template to the noun being said. τι Χ και ξε-Χ, after all, has no verb, unlike its English counterpart what do you mean, X?.

  • τι Χ; is shorthand for τι εννοείς, Χ; “what do you mean, X?” or τι λες, Χ; “why do you say X?”
  • τι Χ και ξε-Χ is similarly an economical way of saying τι λες Χ και ξε-λές Χ; “why you do say-X and unsay-X”, i.e. “why do you keep saying X in vain, without convincing me?”
  • And ξε- here is still undoing a verb, rather than referring to an ex-noun. The verb just happens to be left out.

If you’ve read papers I wrote while I was still writing papers (which is highly unlikely), you may recognise this as illocutionary negation, which is a topic I’ve worked on before in Greek: “I don’t deny X, but I deny that you should say X.”


  • Anonymous says:

    "You're reminding me that there are two X shm-X patterns in Greek: Χ και ξε-Χ has the connotation of exasperation and irrelevance, while Χ, μΧ"

    I think I've come across another pattern of the "word, similar word (that actually exists in Greek) with the exception of the first letter" kind, though that kind of thing might have been creativity on the part of the person rather than widespread usage.

  • gbaloglou says:

    Quick remark concerning παραστρατός: it is probably stressed this way and not as παράστρατος in order to avoid the similarity to adjectives such as επίστρατος (mobilized (soldier)) or απόστρατος (retired (officer)); non-extant παράστρατος would sound like an adjective, while παραστρατός is a noun (paramilitary army).

  • opoudjis says:

    @Nikos: so corrected

    @minus273: (Say, did you ever translate that Kondylakis story into Chinese?)

    You're reminding me that there are two X shm-X patterns in Greek: Χ και ξε-Χ has the connotation of exasperation and irrelevance, while Χ, μΧ (taken from Turkish, and not in widespread use) merely points to diversity, "of that ilk". (So I was told a laptop supports Γουΐντουζ, Μίντοουζ, ό,τι θες, Windows, Mindows, whatever you want.) You translate your last example as "or its like", but I take it it has the same exasperation as Greek ξεκομμουνιστικό, right?

    Can Χ και ξεΧ be used adjectivally? I guess, but that's not how you see it used. Especially because the construction is colloquial, and colloquial Greek would shy away from embedding. So your example would sound idiomatic to me as Το ζήτημα δεν είναι κομμουνισμός και ξεκομμουνισμός, αλλά πώς θα επιζήσει το έθνος μας ("the issue is not communism…"). I don't think the adjectival use would be wrong, but it would have a register clash: Δεν είναι κομμουνιστικό και ξεκομμουνιστικό ζήτημα, αλλά ζήτημα επιβίωσης του έθνους μας ("It is not a communist issue…").

    And even if X is adjectival, it is usually used as a separate phrase—Διότι, πώς νά τό κάνουμε, τό «πληθύνθητι», δύσκολο – ξεδύσκολο, ασφαλώς δέν μεταφράζεται σάν «πολλαπλασιάσου» (After all, (Ancient be fruitful and) "multiply"—difficult or not—does not translate as "be multiplied"). I don't see any examples of ξεδύσκολο actually embedded in an adjectival phrase next to a noun; they're all in a separate phrase, or predicates.

    So I think that Greek "what X unX" is *not* used like Chinese "what X not X de" as embedded in phrases, but only at top level of a phrase—and most often in a "whether or not X is true" phrase. Any Greek-speakers want to chime in?

  • minus273 says:

    … But of course.

  • minus273 says:

    I just googled the phrase "什么 共产党 不 共产党 的" (what communist not communist de), and found that it can also be embedded in phrases. From an anti-OGM pamphlet, arguing that since OGM is destroying the "Chinese Race", even those who dislike the Party should support the conservative-leaning party-members' cause to boycott OGM: "这 不 是 什么 共产党 不 共产党 的 问题,这 是 种族 存亡 问题" (this not is [what communist not communist de] question, this is race survival question), or in English "This is a question that has nothing to do with communism or its like; it's the question of our nation's survival."

    Wonder if something similar exists in Greek.

  • minus273 says:

    In Standard Mandarin, we say "什么 X 不 X 的" (what X not X de). ("的" is a all-use grammatical word, notably for genitives and relatives.) "Τι κομμουνιστές και ξε-κομμουνιστές;" matches rather neatly into "什么 共产党 不 共产党 的?" (What are you talking about? Communists-Schmommunists?)

  • Being one of those who anticipated this post, I can only thank you about your brilliant work. For the moment, no other remarks apart from the request to correct the name of Lapathiotis -although he did hail from Lapithos.

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