Heracleses of the Crown

By: | Post date: 2009-10-06 | Comments: 16 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , ,

I don’t want to get into the habit of retweeting what other bloggers say, it was annoying enough when Instapundit and Atrios started doing it. I also don’t want this blog to get *too* Classicist-friendly, because there’s plenty of Modern Greece stuff to talk about that has nothing to do with The Antick Burden. But this novel form commented on at The Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ Blog is too interesting not to pass on to Classicists.

(And yes, I get much of my material from Sarantakos. That’s why I keep calling the blog The Magnificent. That, and I like establishing a private language; hence “The Other Place”.)

One of Sarantakos’ concerns is good language use. So he lampoons instances in the press or from politicians of bad language use. What good and bad language use is of course a prescriptive matter—and I have to say, I’m pretty much cured of the anti-prescriptivism of linguistic orthodoxy: prescriptivisms can have their own internal linguistic reality, and they certainly have a social reality. Prescriptivism in Modern Greek is complicated, like the language itself is. It’s no longer about how Attic a form is; now it’s about how vernacular a form is, how glaring a translationism from English it is, or how boneheaded a misapplication of Attic it is.

The “first linguistic gaffe after the elections”, taken across by Sarantakos from a thread from Nikos Ligris in lexilogia.gr, was a politician’s disparaging reference to two major members of the outgoing government. He called them The Heracleses of the Crown, using an established metaphor referring to the old coat of arms of the Kingdom of Greece:

But the plural of Heracles he used was not the Classical Ἡρακλεῖς. Nor was it the vernacular Ηρακλήδες.

(I’ve already posted on why that is the plural formation for vernacular first-declension nouns. Yes, Heracles is now first declension: the third declension is dead in the vernacular. And yes, that plural *is* historically still third-declension, because the declensions hybridised.)

No, the plural form the politician used was οι Ηρακλειδείς του στέμματος.

Now, Ἡρακλειδεῖς is in no way a plural of Ἡρακλῆς. It is a plural of *Ἡρακλειδεύς, and the -ιδεύς suffix on that word was used in antiquity to denote the offspring of an animal or a family member: ἀετιδεύς “young eagle”, λυκιδεύς “young wolf”, υἱιδεύς “son of a son”, γαμβριδεύς “son of a brother in law”. LSJ has one inanimate diminutive use in an inscription, θυριδεύς “little gate = window frame”, and the most widespread use of the suffix is also diminutive rather than offspring: ἐρωτιδεύς “cupid, depiction of Eros [Cupid] in sculpture or painting”. But there is no Ancient use of the suffix as a patronymic: the Offspring of Heracles are the Heracleidae, Ἡρακλεῖδαι.

It turns out though that the fans of Heracles FC, the oldest football club in Thessalonica, have taken to calling themselves Ηρακλειδείς. Amused by their claims to antiquity, rather than to actually winning championships, fans of Ares FC and PAOK FC have taken to calling them “The Old Ladies” instead.

So we can reconstruct what happened. An Attic plural Ηρακλείς in Modern Greek is hopeless: it is homophonous with the singular Ηρακλής [iraˈklis], and it uses a third declension noone has heard of. (They would especially not have heard of it because this particular declension pattern in -κλῆς is restricted to proper names, and plurals of proper names are rare.) A vernacular plural Ηρακλήδες is still felt undignified: you can use it about your cousins called Heracles, or to express contempt about the Heracleses and Theseuses of legend (and it sounds as clunky as Heracleses does in English); but the fans of Heracles FC would never refer to themselves so commonly.

(They would have decided that in the phone booth they meet in every Saturday, as an Ares FC fan might put it.)

Confronted with the lack of a useable *and* appropriate plural of Heracles, a Heracles fan a few years ago hit on the pattern of ἀετιδεύς “young eagle”, and started people using Ηρακλειδείς. Ηρακλειδείς is in a third declension just as dead in Modern Greek, but at least somewhat more familiar via Puristic.

  • (As also noted in comments, the colloquial singular of that word is not Ηρακλειδεύς, but Ηρακλειδής. Because the third declension in -ευς is not *that* familiar.)
  • (E-fufutos [as he Englishes himself] says ἀετιδεύς is “familiar to all those who learned about 19th Century France via Puristic writers.” Who was the French Eaglet?)

The Heracleses of the Crown in the coat of arms have always been Ἡρακλεῖς. The politician being interviewed racked his brain for a plural of Heracles—which as we saw, is awkward in Modern Greek. He remembered Heracles FC, made the association between ἐρωτιδεῖς “little cupids” and the little heraldic club-bearers, and blurted out Ηρακλειδείς. Some commenters to the thread admitted that they have done the same.

So, was this a gaffe? There’s a disagreement in the commentary to the post.

Opinion 1 (Nikos Sarantakos, Nikos “Nickel” Ligris): Yes, it’s a malapropism: an attempt to coin a la-de-da Classical plural that ends up stumbling on an unattested word that violates Classical norms, and has nothing to do with Modern Greek at any rate.

Opinion 2 (“Boukanieros”, me, Tasos “TAK” Kaplanis): It’s a new word, and it’s adorable. The analogy with cupids is clear in this particular context, and the Classical norm of it not being attached to proper names is not relevant here.

Opinion 1: What’s so “adorable” about a bastard learnèd form?

Opinion 2: There’s been a lot worse in the Athens press than Ηρακλειδείς. The Heracles FC context makes it attested, at any rate.

Opinion 1: The bastard form Ηρακλειδείς is indeed now attested for the fans (my spellchecker does not underline it!) Can we at least leave alone the established word for the coat of arms?

Opinion 2: But they’re wee little Heracleses on the coat of arms! [You’ll see the vernacular diminutive, Ηρακλάκια, more than once in the thread]

Opinion 1: There’s this notion that as soon as any fool launches some half-baked variant form online, we’ve got to annotate it and put it into our dictionaries, instead of “correcting” it. (There’s those PC scare-quotes again.)

Opinion 2: Yup. [My Anglophone readers are nodding along heartily, but note that the social histories of English and Greek are very different, and distaste for prescriptivism in English does not have the same purchase in Greece.]

The thread is ongoing, although I think people are agreeing to disagree by now. (The thread is now being derailed to talking about the Orwellian names of the new government’s ministries.) I don’t remember this much disagreement in a thread about linguistic gaffes recently, and I think it is because Opinion 1 and Opinion 2 are analysing the form differently.

Opinion 1 considers it a mistaken stab at a plural of Heracles that coins a new word by mistake. Opinion 2 considers it a serendipitous coining of a new word, that can in some contexts stand in as a plural of Heracles.

Opinion 1 considers the coinage illegitimate, as pseudo-archaic Greek in a time when pseudo-archaic Greek is no longer welcome. Opinion 2 shrugs.

Nikos will defend Opinion 1 more cogently than I have done, I suspect, because there is context to notions of correctness in Modern Greek that I’m not fully presenting here…


  • John Cowan says:

    Alas, Modern Standard Contemporary WordPress no longer has a preview plugin, as we are all finding out at the Hat nowadays.

  • opoudjis says:

    Yes, I had come to that conclusion. Sigh.

  • John Cowan says:

    We don't geev you no steenking plugins arond here, boy! You wan' WordPress, you know where to find it.

  • opoudjis says:

    (Make that "Heraclideis of the Capital and not Heraclides". I'm still googling for plugins to do a better job with comments…)

  • opoudjis says:

    @LanguageHat re homophony. Most excellent catch! I noticed myself, and was hoping noone else would.

    We all know that "language practices therapy not prophylaxis": language change is not rational, and comes up with absurdities like the plural and singular of Heraclideis being identical; language change just tries to clean up after itself. So am I wrong about Heraclideis being coined to avoid the plural Ἡρακλεῖς?

    The Heracles FC reference is old—from a time then Puristic was a going concern (and it made sense to compare yourself to an eagle's son, Napoleonic or not). And thinking of it, it makes more sense for Heracles FC fans to call themselves Sons Of Heracles than Heracleses. So with the initial coining, I'm probably wrong. The disparaging press references to royalist thugs in 1922 is also calling them Heracleses of the Capital and not Heracleses, so it's no different.

    OTOH, the modern-day references to Heraclideis of the Crown as a disparagement for pro-government figures date from around 15 years ago—well after the abolition of the monarchy and of Puristic. I think the number confusion I suggested is plausible here: by 1995, noone knew the plural of Ἡρακλῆς was Ἡρακλεῖς, and the homophony of an obscure inaccessible form is more of a blocker than the homophony of a colloquial term.

    I don't know if I'm convincing here, but my instinct is that ο Ηρακλιδής (a "popular" malapropism) and οι Ηρακλιδείς του στέμματος (a more learnèd malapropism) are different creatures, subject to different laws of language change. As often happens in Hellenisteukontos threads, though, now I'm not so sure, and I'd like for Greek posters to weigh in…

  • opoudjis says:

    @LanguageHat re Prescriptivism: I agree with you on all the above—I'm not ready to hand in my orthodoxy card just yet. I've used the argument to my students, and I've protested the folly of people like Prince Charles assuming that just because you speak a different dialect, you're brain damaged.

    I think there is still a little strawman blasting to be done, though, because the antiprescriptivism position is not articulated with enough finesse for my liking, and especially outside of English it mystifies people. (Years ago, someone on Linguist List said the reason linguistics had a higher profile in Lithuanian was precisely that they were complicit in prescriptivism. It's what people expect of linguists. To say "that's not what linguistics is about" is too simple an answer.)

    So, prescriptivists often have little idea about how language works, yet still presume to tell people how it should work. True.

    Prescriptivists use language as a cudgel to disempower those without access to the prestige variant. True.

    Prescriptivism is folly and pseudoscience outside the scope of linguistics. False: anything people do with language is in scope of some flavour of linguistics. And those who think linguistics is only about morphemes and not social forces, get out of the '50s already.

    Linguists have no business being implicated in the folly and pseudoscience of prescriptivism. Also false. If there's going to be a codified prescribed variant in particular, better to get in a language worker who knows what language is, than some poet. (I'm saying "language worker" deliberately: language codification, like language preservation, is engineering work.) Triantafyllidis was the best linguist of his generation: of course he was the right person for Metaxas to approach for the Official Grammar of Demotic.

    We're not disagreeing particularly here, I just prefer a more intellectual defence of prescriptivism than you tend to see in English. In particular, I've presented Ligris' and Sarantakos' prescriptivism here (as Opinion 1), and I don't want to cast them in the "bad guys" role that Anglophone antiprescriptivists may assume. They know full well how language works, I'm not going to lump their prescriptivism in with "hopefully is a bad word somehow". Especially because Greek prescriptivisms are so drenched with the history of the Greek Language Question, and so are quite different to English prescriptivisms.

  • Peter says:

    I'm eventually going to rewrite the long comment I just composed and lost, but first I'm going to complain bitterly that when you're in Preview and hit the Back button (as you can do everywhere else to rewrite), you lose whatever you've written. I hate, hate, hate that.

    Always play it safe. Wear a καπελάκι—Ctr-C.

    It happened to me too last night.

    Et tu, Brute?


  • Language says:

    *wipes brow*

    Whew, glad I got that off my chest successfully!

    As for the plural thing, you say:

    An Attic plural Ηρακλείς in Modern Greek is hopeless: it is homophonous with the singular Ηρακλής

    But then you say:

    the colloquial singular of that word [Ἡρακλειδεῖς] is not Ηρακλειδεύς, but [the homophonous] Ηρακλειδής

    Contradiction ahoy!

  • Language says:

    I have to say, I'm pretty much cured of the anti-prescriptivism of linguistic orthodoxy: prescriptivisms can have their own internal linguistic reality, and they certainly have a social reality.

    This is a common misconception of how linguistic orthodoxy (of which I count myself a proud member) looks at prescriptivism. The idea is not (as the straw man has it) that "there are no rules so we should all just talk and write however we feel like under all circumstances and it's all good" (which would be absurd), it's that different styles are appropriate to different circumstances, but this is purely a social/conventional matter and not one of intelligence or worthiness. It's fine to use a "higher" style in formal situations (another straw man/red herring: "Yuk yuk, you linguists talk a good game but I notice you always use proper English when you write!"), but it's not fine to mock others for not doing so. Because someone has not learned the (often expensive) shibboleths, or chooses not to follow them, does not mean that they are stupid or unworthy, and to say or imply otherwise is wrong, elitist, and malicious. That's why we oppose prescriptivism.

  • opoudjis says:

    … although a one-off disparaging "Heraclideis of the Capital", referring to street thugs against the Venizelos party, dates from 1922.

    Sarantakos is considering writing a new post on this. I think he should. And actually doing the research makes him a bit more of a linguist than a certain TV Language Maven right now…

  • opoudjis says:

    Also from Sarantakos' thread: Nikos S. has *actually* looked into it, and the earliest mention of Heraclideis he's found (referring to Heracles FC of course) is 1920.

  • opoudjis says:

    It happened to me too last night. I'll see if there's a plugin or something, but I'm not optimistic: one gets what one paid for with this software.

    Discussion goes on on the form in a new thread at Sarantakos': Mr S. Kasimatis, The Banana Peel, and The Old Ladies. The Old Ladies are Heracles FC. The Banana Peel is what happened when Mr S. Kasimatis corrected Ηρακλειδείς in a newspaper column, because as everyone knows, Ηρακλειδείς are the descendants of Heracles.

    (Er, no, those are the Heraclidae Ηρακλείδαι. We've already said who the Heraclideis "Wee Heracleses/Heracles FC Fans" are.)

    What's even more delicious is the first comment in the thread. A prominent Man Of Letters in Greece went on the radio and made the selfsame blunder. Especially after announcing he'd "looked into it". What's delicious is, who the Man Of Letters was.

    Rector of the University of Athens, Doyen of Modern Greek Linguistics, Prominent Lexicographer and Promoter of archaising spelling, Foe to Demoticists and TV Language Maven: Prof George Babiniotis.

    Sarantakos is still gasping…

  • Language says:

    I'm eventually going to rewrite the long comment I just composed and lost, but first I'm going to complain bitterly that when you're in Preview and hit the Back button (as you can do everywhere else to rewrite), you lose whatever you've written. I hate, hate, hate that.

  • L'Angleterre prit l'aigle et l'Autriche l'aiglon.
    (Victor Hugo)

  • opoudjis says:

    House of Commons! That's where I got it from then! I osmose these expressions without looking at them too closely; I don't think I've heard it in an Australian context. Well, noone said private languages couldn't borrow from other languages.

    I had no idea about l'aiglon, because there is much in the world I had no idea about; merci bien, thou who knowest more. And given the timeframe, it makes sense that l'aiglon would enter Greek in Puristic garb.

    So the young eagle was the Big Eagle's kid. Well that was… shortlived of him. But then, that's the whole romance of it, I suppose.

  • John Cowan says:

    So, you copy the House of Commons and call it a private language. Boo! Hiss! Relexification!

    And as for the French Eaglet, try him in French: L'Aiglon. It's not clear if he was actually called that during his lifetime (my guess is no), but Rostand's play nailed the name to him for the ages. (Hey, if Rostand could reinvent the author of Empires of the Moon and Empires of the Sun, why not the King of Rome as well?)

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