Kaliarda V: Romvos, Angelou, Gkartzonika

By: | Post date: 2017-11-21 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

I noted that there was a dearth of material online on Kaliarda. There is a dearth, but not as much as when I posted about it in 2010. I will come back to two more extensive sources in later posts: the 2015 documentary on Kaliarda by trans activist Paola Revenioti, and Katerina Christopoulou’s 2016 PhD on the lexical sources of Greek slang.

There is a short story written in 2006 by Teos Romvos in Kaliarda: Mykonos—Holidays on Dzivanonisi, a sexcapade which ends with the narrator robbed by a Cretan villain. (Dzivanonisi “In-the-know Island = Gay Island” is patterned after original Kaliarda Dzivanotopos “In-the-know Place = London”.) Romvos explicitly namechecks Petropoulos and his Kaliarda at the end, so it draws its Kaliarda from the book rather than personal experience; and it shows: he’s had a lot of fun writing it and putting in compounds, but there’s still way too much standard Greek in there.

(The other discordant note about Romvos’ story is that there is no hermetic division between tops and bottoms: the protagonists are just two contemporary gay Greeks summering in Mykonos that have sex. That’s not how the original speakers of Kaliarda viewed the world.)

There is a 2005 article by Timos Angelou in Greek gay magazine 10%. For the most part it reproduces material from the second edition of Petropoulos’ Kaliarda; it has the following additional information:

  • The article misunderstands Petropoulos comparison of Dura Liarda with Katharevousa. That οιονεί “as it were” does mean something! (The article also has the impression “biscuit twink” was a reference to dictator Papadopoulos himself, and not his supporter; but the dictator would be not biskototekno but biskotopuros “biscuit old man”.)
  • The actress Spreantsa Vrana recollects that “it was considered commonplace” among actors “to speak Kaliarda.”
  • The playwright Angelos Pyriochos claims that

    “95% of Greeks now know the words dzus “get lost!”, dik “look!”, musanda “fake”. I was summering at Koufonisia last year and heard two ladies saying “dik that wave!” I recently heard a fifty-year old woman say “how kulo is what I’m seeing.” [Kaliarda < Romani: “shit”; Standard Greek: “lame”, silly < Ancient Greek “lame”—I’m still not convinced that is Kaliarda.] There are a dozen words doing the rounds in everybody’s vocabulary. On the other hand, 80% of TV series use Kaliarda. I used the word dzus when I had a column in Telerama. Playwrights rarely use Kaliarda in theatre, and limit it to revues. But many actors may use the odd word while improvising.

    • Compare I guess the recent popularisation in English of Polari zhoosh via Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the earlier widespread Polari naff. That level of popularity of Polari takes me by surprise, but I’m in the diaspora.
  • lugra “evil” is also given as a Kaliarda word that has become common Greek slang; but Petropoulos notes that “the [common] people use the word”, meaning that it was already not specific to Kaliarda.

There is a 2012 Masters thesis at Northeastern Illinois University by Galini V. Gkartzonika, An Ethnographic Analysis of Kaliarda : the Greek Gay Variety. Her thesis does not appear to be online, but it is cited in Paul Michaels’ thesis on Deaf Gay Male language and identity in Britain, and Gkartzonika herself has a Prezi presentation on her work. Gkartzonika surveyed 9 people: 5 women, 3 men, 1 “transsexual”, 24–32 years old and 59 years old. (I’m reasonably sure the 59 year old is Paola Revenioti, on which more next post.) Her findings:

  • Kaliarda speakers are a subset of the Greek LGBTQ community.
  • It is used as a group identity marker (obvi), and was used as a secret language.
  • Kaliarda is no longer a secret language, because of TV and theatre.
  • The Prezi examples of Kaliarda are only partially glossed:
    • In ανάσαινε τον μπόμπο “keep breathing the ˈbobo” = “give me a blow job”, ˈbobo is clearly a bon-bon, a sweet (Petropoulos gives it as boˈbona, with a more overt feminine ending).
    • In Άβελε κουράβελε κουραβελοάβελε ιτς και νάκα “fuck and get fucked, otherwise we’re lost” = “you only live once”, the unglossed its “not at all, nothing” < Turkish hiç “nothing” is well-established in Greek slang. (its ke naka “nothing and not” seems to mean “if nothing (like that), then no (to everything)”)
    • I don’t know where naka “no, not” comes from; it doesn’t seem to be Romani. The synonym of naka, nuku, is Arvanitika nukë (cf. Lefkada dialect νούκου “no”), and naka may just be a distortion of nuku.
  • The etymological richness of the original Kaliarda does not survive
  • From Michaels’ summary: “However, one research participants of Gkartzonika’s was a person known as Blacky who asserted that originally gay people did not use Kaliarda and that it was only the transvestites and the transsexuals so as to be protected by the police. He claims that it was some time later that gay people then started using Kaliarda too. When this did happen, it then took on the eventual role similar to that of Polari, which was as; “an amusing variety that was fun and enjoyable” (Gkartzonika n.p.: 26). In this respect, the gay people and the trans- people are forming links to each others’ somewhat different communities through the use of speech even though the original motivation for the use is quite different.”
    • This dichotomy between trans people who originally spoke Kaliarda, and gay speakers who appropriated it, is quite ahistorical. Blacky (likeliest in their 20s) is of course not talking about the Athens maypole dancers of the 1920s, or the street queans Petropoulos interviewed in 1968, at a time where there was no clear division between being transgender and being a gay bottom. Blacky’s statement is useless as early 20th century gay or trans history. It is, however, illuminating for the more recent history of gay identity construction.
    • The claim Blacky seems to be making is “Unlike the transvestites and transexuals of yore, Kaliarda was not used as an ‘identity survival instrument’ for gay people, because apparently, they didn’t have anything to be afraid of by the time they started using Kaliarda.” But that can only mean that the dichotomy they are referring to, between trans and gay people, is post-Gay Liberation, when gays and trans people were clearly thought of as distinct groups, whereupon gays (claiming a new, male-presenting identity, including both tops and bottoms) could appropriate emblems like Kaliarda from an older identity, which was maintained more overtly by trans women (an identity originally constructed when being a bottom went hand-in-hand with being effeminate, and when tops were often regarded as hostile sexual tourists).
      • In fact, I’m oddly reminded of the split between rabbinical Judaism and Christianity, as two different inheritors of temple Judaism, one more innovative than the other.
    • In corroboration, Nana Hatzis’ account of being a trans sex worker in the 80s is revealing of the social pressure on gay street workers to crossdress—and the fluidity between being trans and gay that was still in place:

      Was it difficult to be trans back then?

      No, I think it was a lot easier. There were a lot of transvestites (τραβεστί) in Salonica, and we had brothels, we didn’t need to work the streets.

      Why, are there less trans women now? Why do you say there were many back then?

      Don’t forget that there were so many of us because many gays became transvestites to make money to live on, money for drugs, parties, and to give to their boyfriends. There were few then who were trans (τρανς) purely by choice, and I was one of them. Of course nowadays that’s no longer the case. Gays don’t become trans without wanting to, just for money and their boyfriends.

      (Note that Nana uses the older French loanword for “transvestite” and the contemporary English loanword “trans” interchangeably; Nana of course came of age at a time when “transvestite” was the default word for trans identity, and cross-dressing and transgender identity were not as differentiated as they are now.)

  • Gkartzonika observed Kaliarda usage in social contexts, including gay bars and everyday contact with gay and straight people. One subject said he “never uses Kaliarda words when he is among people he doesn’t feel familiarity with, even though they may be homosexuals.” On the other hand, she also noted that people can use Kaliarda without being gay, only to indicate a relaxed attitude about gay identity (“metrosexual”).
  • “From the information that the research participants gave to Gkartzonika, it would appear that nowadays Kaliarda is used minimally and has ‘no primary or basic role for the Kaliarda speech community’.”

The conclusions available from these three sources are:

  • A watered-down version of Kaliarda (anticipated in Petropoulos’ “external Kaliarda”) is still used as an emblematic language among gays in Greece.
  • This watered-down version of Kaliarda has also penetrated into mainstream Greek slang to some extent, aided by media exposure of gay Greeks. (I suspect Pyriochos is exaggerating about 95% of Greeks knowing basic Kaliarda, but there is evidence that straight Greeks in Greece are more familiar with Kaliarda words than Greeks in the diaspora like me. As one would expect.)
  • Note definition #2 of Kaliarda at slang.gr:

    A dialect that isn’t exactly related to Kaliarda proper, but which is somewhat gay. It has mostly been popularised through [stereotyped] gay roles on Greek TV series, but also TV presenters like Psinakis. Characteristics include the use of feminine adjectives in all cases; words like θεά “goddess”, καλέ “dear”, μωρή “bitch!”, χρυσό μου “darling”, expressions like απιστεύτου “incredible”, etc.

  • The full-fledged version of Kaliarda as a secrecy language that Petropoulos sketched, with all its content words and a few function words in Kaliarda, and with spectacular feats of humorous polyglot compounding, is long dead. Romvos’ story is fun, but it’s as weak as the “external Kaliarda” songs and curses that Petropoulos recorded. Lamentably, Petropoulos did not record discourse in Kaliarda proper at all (except possibly for a few of those curses.)


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