Kaliarda II: Petropoulos’ description

By: | Post date: 2017-11-16 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Having given what little information Petropoulos gives about the gay community that spoke Kaliarda, I am moving on to discussion of the cant itself. I’m putting Petropoulos’ own linguistic observations up first, with some comments of my own. I’m going to be vacillating between Greek and IPA for this, because I want to make sure this is accessible to people familiar with its source languages.

  • p. 10. Just as the rebetiko toughs (the koutsavakides or manges) had their own slang, Koutsavakika, gays had their own cant, which they called:
    • καλιαρντή, καλιάρντω, καλιαρντά [all from the kaliarda adjective καλιαρντός “ugly, strange”],
    • λουμπινίστικα [from kaliarda λουμπίνα “gay”],
    • φραγκολουμπινίστικα “Westerner kaliarda” [referring to the high representation of Western European vocabulary—or to the precedent of “Frank” in expressions of mixed identity; cf. Frangolevantinika “Frankish Levantine”, the use of Roman script for Greek by Catholics]
    • τζιναβωτά [from kaliarda τζινάβω “to understand, to be initiated”]
    • λατινικά “Latin”, βαθιά λατινικά “deep Latin”
    • ετρούσκα “Etruscan”
    • λιάρντω [truncation of καλιάρντω]
    • ντούρα λιάρντα “hard Kaliarda”
  • p. 10, p. 12. Of those terms, Kaliarda proper has some 300-400 words. Liardo and dura liarda (and presumably “deep Latin”) refer to “a katharevousa, as it were, of Kaliarda”—that is, to a more prestigious, elite variant of the cant (and not, as Greek Wikipedia misunderstood it, a version more influenced from Greek Puristic), spoken by a small group of initiates, recently formed, and featuring deliberately distorted words and new coinages; e.g. ðiˈkelo “to see, look” > kuˈelo, aˈvelo “to give, take, do, put, take out, want, have” > vuˈelo; ˈɡrifi “nail” < French griffe replaced by ɣeraˈkili < γεράκι “hawk”.
  • Kaliarda has a distinctive intonation, and is spoken very fast—Petropoulos believes that was so as to preserve the secrecy of the cant. It also is spoken with gesticulation and effeminate posing (p. 13).
  • p. 11. Kaliarda is becoming popularised outside its speaker base in other circles, notably actors. [In the case of Polari, it was the reverse direction: Italian ice-cream vendors > carnival and circus workers > actors > gays.] Koutsavakika too had become popularised among the bourgeoisie in the 1950s. [And as the slang.gr commenters note, Petropoulos’ own book contributed to popularising Kaliarda.]
  • p. 12. Builders and traditional healers (“quacks”, κομπογιαννίτες) had their own cants as well. [For an extensive account of Greek cants, see this blog article by Angeliki Kardara: the professions she lists include fishermen, tinsmiths, barrel-makers, goldsmiths, builders, traditional healers, tailors, and metalworkers in general]
  • Kaliarda is constantly developing. Gays draw on the Greek vernacular, Turkish, Italian, French and English. They do not use German or Russian; and Koutsavakika itself used only one German word, spreˈxaro < sprechen “to speak”.
  • Koutsavakika has minimal contact with Kaliarda. There are 12 Kaliarda words in Koutsavakika, and those are already widespread in general slang; there are 10 Koutsavakika words in Kaliarda.
  • p. 13. Kaliarda words are distorted words of Modern Greek (e.g. ˈduma < duˈmani < Turkish duman “smoke”), or rely on easily unravelled semantic shift (e.g. taˈpsi < Turkish tepsi: “baking pan” in Standard Greek, “mirror” in Kaliarda)
  • Kaliarda relies on compounding extensively, and three-part compounds are routine.
    • slang.gr user aias.ath, who was already familiar with Kaliarda from neighbours in the 60s, reports that “Often certain words may seem to us uneconomical, but gays usually accomodate them by changing endings, cutting out or doubling syllables, so they could fit into flowing speech without hiatuses or redundant syllables. So for the uninitiated Kaliarda would sound like shifting sands, without actually being such.” [aias.ath also refers to Kaliarda speakers as “catamites”, but I think there’s been enough of that.]
  • Speakers take pride in their command of Kaliarda: the question beˈnavis ta kaliarˈda? “do you speak Kaliarda?” is proudly answered with ke ta dziˈnavo ke ta beˈnavo “I both speak it and understand it”
  • “The reader of this dictionary will see emerging from the structure ad spirit of Kaliarda words a panorama of the pagan, epicurean, conspiratorial, anarchic, apolitical and purely urban world of the catamites, where disrespect for religion contends with contempt towards feminine sexual gifts, and where various apposite caustic epithets ridicule both provincials and the police.”
  • p. 183. The dictionary includes 3000 words of Kaliarda; a tenth are Dura Liarda. [The majority of them are opportunistic jocular compounds.]
  • Kaliarda dates from Modern Greek urbanisation. The lemmata βλακοψαλιδού, κρυσταλλοσινού and οκτάρης can be dated:
    • vlakopsaliˈðu “stupid scissor chick” = “censorship”, which became prominent with the Metaxas regime of 1936
    • kristalosiˈnu “crystal cinema chick” = “television”
    • okˈtaris “eighter” = “member of parliament”, from their monthly salary of eight thousand drachmas. [Petropoulos does not say when that was their salary.]
    • More relevant for dating is aias.ath’s reference to venizeloðosˈmeni “Given Away By Venizelos” as a name for Constantinople (referring to the Treaty of Lausanne signed by Venizelos in 1923), and the verb bairaktaˈrizo “to punish”, referring to Athens Police chief Dimitrios Bairaktaris (1893–1897), who persecuted the koustavakis during his tenure.
  • “The epigrammatic character of Kaliarda words is extraordinary”:
    • ˈafados “invisible, disappeared” = “God”
    • vaˈvelo “Babel chick” = “polyglot”
    • ɡodoˈkodra “counter-God” = “hell”
    • kavɣaðokuˈtu “argument box chick” = “radio”
    • maxmurˈlokaro “sleepyhead cart” = “road roller”

    [It gets much more clever than that.]

  • Kaliarda often uses feminine suffixes on nouns and adjectives, either colloquial (καραπλατού, λούμπω) or pseudo-foreign (ροσολιμαντέ). [The -ού and -ω feminine suffixes are derogatory, and also feature in slang proper. The -ˈe ending is common in Greek slang, and derives from French .]
    • karaplaˈtu kara- (Turkish: “black”; Greek: augmentative, intensifier) + plati “back” + -ˈu “fem.” = “damned back thing (fem.)” = “shawl”
    • ˈlubo “gay” < Kaliarda lubina (fem.) “gay” + -o “fem.”
    • rosolimaˈde “licking” < roˈsoli “saliva” < rosolio “Italian rose petal liquer”.
  • p. 184. Koutsavakika is a slang, injecting words into what is basically Modern Greek. Kaliarda is almost a complete language on its own, with distinct forms for most content words [and for a few function words; e.g. ˈdzakata “when”, kaˈtes, kaˈte, kaˈte “that”]
  • Kaliarda verbs are usually formed from nouns, rather than the reverse.
  • Kaliarda has ten colour terms: green, red, black, purple, yellow, blue, brown, light blue, royal blue, white.
  • Adjectives are often feminine only: κρύφω ˈkrifo “secret” instead of κρυφός -ή -ό.
  • p. 185. Kaliarda has a lot of words for genitals and sex, but no word for pleasure; sol means “sweetness” in general.
  • Kaliarda has specific terms for all regions of Greece, for significant parts of Athens, for major tourist attractions, and for Paris and London.
    • dzinaˈvotopos “in-the-know place” = “London”, because of the pioneering recognition of gay rights in the UK in the 60s. (The attitude that Britain was a gay mecca was also held among straight Greeks.)
    • muˈdzotopos “cunt place” = “Paris”, as an easy contrast with London (place characterised as a straight mecca as opposed to a gay mecca)
    • turiˈstofaka “tourist trap” = “The Acropolis”
    • kseroskaˈtu “dry turd (fem.)” = “Epirus” (whose inhabitants were proverbially miserly, drawing on the saying that a miser would dry his own turds to eat as rusks)
    • teˈromudza “land palm” = “Peloponnese” (shaped like a palm)
    • teroɡaˈmila “land camel” = “Central Greece, Rumeli” (so called because it is mountainous)
  • Kaliarda has its own proverbs; e.g. τζάκατα δικέλεις ντούμα χορχόρα αβέλεις τ’ άχατα “when you see smoke, you will have fire there”. (“Where there’s smoke there’s fire” is an English saying; it is not a Standard Greek saying.)

Supplemental to the previous post, I’ll add aias.ath’s own recollections:

The notion that Kaliarda peaked during the [1967–1974] dictatorship is incorrect. At that time (1971) the late outcast scholar Petropoulos published his work, but I recall that earlier than that we would go to Stakas’ taverna (Acharnai stop), who sang almost exclusively in Kaliarda. The taverna was full of older gays, whose conduct was at the limits of decency, and who seemed to me to be indulging in nostalgia. All sorts of curiousity seekers were also present, like us, university students at the time, attracted to the margins of society through our petit bourgeois mores. My father’s and godfather’s testimony, who were slumming it in the 20s, was that Kaliarda was at its peak then, when there was a true communicative use for it. I also recall that in the 60s, when I was a child, a company of well-off gays spoke Kaliarda in a neighbouring house, so that I wouldn’t understand what they were saying. When the book was published, it all looked familiar to me, so I learned it immediately; and I greatly upset them by understanding what they were saying, so they stopped speaking it, and I missed out on getting any practice.


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