Kaliarda XII: Attestation from 1904, 1934, and 1938

By: | Post date: 2017-11-29 | Comments: 9 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’d been impressed with Spatholouro, commenter at Nikos Sarantakos’ Greek Langauge blog, for his detective skills with old Greek newspapers, from a recent article he wrote about inconsistencies in Markos Vamvakaris’ autobiography.

Greek linguistics owes Spatholouro a massive debt for the find he just posted at Sarantakos’ blog, reacting to my mention of this series on Kaliarda. Spatholouro has unearthed a description of Kaliarda and Kaliarda speakers from 1904.

I’m translating, and then annotating.

The “Art Nouveau satirical periodical” («αρνουβώ σατυρικόν φύλλον») Πεταχτό Κόρτε “Fleeting Flirt” was published by Giannis Mangas [pseudonym of anarchist Giannis Manganaras] in 1904. In the 1904–11–25 issue there is a report from Constantinople, mentioning that:

she, too, has her Group of Twelve [Δωδεκάδα] like our Athens […] But what connects the Twelve of Constantinople with the Twelve of Omonia Square, Athens is their language. One would think this is an international company with a common language and common customs. The language of our Omonia Twelve is recognised in Ottoman Law, and everybody is permitted to speak it and convey their meaning for every task they may have, and utilise it in their every activity.

Here is its renowned vocabulary alphabetically:

  • aˈvelo: I go
  • ˈavela: I went
  • ˈavele: go!
  • ˈaveles?: did you go?
  • ˈavele dzas: leave quickly!
  • ˈaveˈle mu ðio parniˈes: give me two drachmas
  • aˈveli berˈde?: will you give money?
  • aˈveli mian laˈtsi: he has a pretty girl
  • ðiˈkeli: he sees
  • irakˈli <Hēraklē>: woman
  • irakˈles <Hērakles>: women
  • kalianˈðro: ugly
  • korˈðoni: policeman
  • kuliˈko: makeup (φτιασίδι)
  • kuraˈvalta: (noun of the active verb kuravelˈto and the passive verb kuravelˈtume)
  • kaˈte: he
  • labuˈni: …
  • latˈsi [fem.]: beautiful
  • latˈsi [neut.]: ten lepta coin
  • latˈso [neut.]: pretty
  • ˈmatalo: drunk
  • ˈmokolo: be quiet
  • ˈbatsos: police constable (αστυφύλαξ)
  • balaˈmo: (noun formed from the active verb balaˈmo)
  • balaˈmo and but balaˈmo: …
  • berˈde: money
  • dap: a beating (ξύλο)
  • paˈɡro: moustache
  • parniˈa: drachma
  • parniˈes: drachmas
  • paˈɡra: beard, hair
  • ˈpuli: …
  • puˈro: old man

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the next issue so we don’t have the continuation of the vocabulary. It might be in the National Library of Greece when they open up, God willing. [That issue is not there either, it turns out.]

In the 1904–12–09 issue you can read the name of “the Group of Twelve in Peiraeus”:

Αλεκάκι, Μανωλάκι, Γαλατού, Χαραλαμπάκι, Ρόφα, Σαλεπιντζού, Ροδίτισσα, Αντωνία, Καμπουρίτσα, Καμπερούλα (ναύτης), Οδοντοϊατρός, Παπλωματού, Μπουντούρης (ναύτης), Πετρού

Little Alex [neut], Little Manolis [neut], Milkmaid, Little Haralambos [neut], Rofa [Sucker?] [fem], Saloop-Seller [fem], Rhodian Woman, Antonia, Little Hunchback [fem], Little Kambera [fem] (a sailor), Dentist [masc], Duvet-Seller [fem], Boudouris (a sailor) [masc], Petra [fem]
[…] They call one another “sister” (αδελφή) […] The members of the Group Of Twelve have become completely feminised; they speak as women, they behave as women, they walk as women, they dress indoors as women, and they swear at each other as women, using [expressions like] μωρή παληοβρώμα “you damned hussy”.

If I’m not grossly mistaken, I believe these texts have been unknown until now, and have not been identified by students of Kaliarda—by which I mean Petropoulos, but also contemporary students such as Domenica Minniti-Gonia (Italian and Heptanesian words in Greek slang).

As Spatholouro clarified in a followup, Πεταχτό Κόρτε magazine is not online: the Greek Literary and Historical Archive (Ελληνικό Λογοτεχνικό και Ιστορικό Αρχείο) has digitised it, but you can only consult it in situ. (As Spatholouro has done.) He has noticed mentions of lubinistika in later newspapers.

Montoliu had already inferred that Kaliarda reflects the Ottoman world linguistically, and that a Romani-based gay cant is also used in Istanbul. The reference in Kaliarda to Bairaktaris, first Athens Police Chief, also dates Kaliarda to the 1890s. But this is the earliest direct evidence we have seen of Kaliarda.

The fact that Kaliarda was the same (as far as Manganaras could tell) in Athens and in Constantinople is to be expected, since Kaliarda and ibne culture both formed in the Ottoman Empire, and likely predated the Greek State. (That’s certainly true for ibne culture, and even if Kaliarda originated in Istanbul after 1830, it would have been straightforward for it to travel to Athens from Istanbul.)

What is striking at first is how little Kaliarda, and for that matter the group that spoke it, seem to have changed between 1904 and 1968. Both descriptions feature bottoms socialising as women, insulting each other as women are supposed to instead of resorting to fisticuffs, and banding together for solidarity with pseudonyms. The Kaliarda of the two descriptions are close to identical. The differences between the two are going to be far more informative.

I do not know what “the Twelve” is a reference to; it cannot be that there were literally 12 bottoms in Peiraeus (and in any case Manganaras names fourteen). But it does corroborate that there was a strong group identity among them.

It’s also worth noting that the term “sister” (αδερφή) dates from at least as far back as 1904. This term (cf. English sissy) has become widespread in mainstream Greek slang with reference to gays; it is derogatory, but nowhere near as hateful as pustis has become. (One could even argue that the primary meaning of pustis is now “someone dishonourable” rather than “someone gay”—and like Commonwealth bastard, pustis is a double-edged sword, also used to flatter someone for their cunning—including the speaker himself.) Petropoulos records aðerfi as one of the many Kaliarda words for bottoms, and he also records that bottoms avoided calling themselves pustis; so the term could well have originated as a solidarity term within the community, before being taken up by outsiders.

There is one slight difference that strikes me, although the evidence is slender. Petropoulos emphasised that there was a wall between Kaliarda and Koutsavakika, petty criminal slang; and all the names of bottoms he gives are feminine, even to the extent of using wife-names (Haritakena i plakomuna “Haritakis’ Wife the Lesbian”). Manganaras’ list, by contrast, has a few words we recognise as Kutsavakika from Rebetiko songs (mokolo “be quiet”, Koutsavakika moko < Italian moco “nothing”; batsos “policeman” (now mainstream slang) < Turkish baç “tax, blackmail”). And his list of names includes neuter diminutives, which can be applied to either gender: noone in fact would assume Manolaki is anything but masculine Emmanuel—cf. Petropoulos’ reference of the pustomangas Manolia “Emmanuelle”. Indeed, he has some explicit masculine names: oðontoiatros “The Dentist”, Boudouris.

It’s possible that the Ottoman world of the ibne, reflected in 1904, was not the hermetic world of the lubines Petropoulos found in 1968—with only the world of drug addicts more closed off to outsiders like him, and with minimal contact with the “mainstream” underworld other than through the feared pustomangas. It’s possible that the world of the ibne was less closed off, and less defensive, because of greater social tolerance under the Ottomans, even if it was as second class citizens—so that their use of underworld slang was unremarkable. And correspondingly, if the ibne felt less persecuted under a Muslim than a Christian state, they may have felt less pressure to assert an overtly feminine identity in reaction, with neuter diminutives and masculine names still being possible. (If the masculine names are of tops, that also indicates a more fluid situation, when tops and bottoms could be considered part of the same social group; that’s certainly not what Petropoulos describes.)

Again, there’s little evidence for this; it’s an interesting hypothesis though.

The vocabulary is small (and already up to pi, so if Spatholouro ever finds the next issue, it won’t be many more words); but there’s a lot going on in there:

  • aˈvelo is already semantically underspecified: its main gloss is given as “go”, but in ˈaveˈle mu ðio paries it means “give”, in aˈveli mian latsi it means “have”, and in ˈavele dzas “leave quickly!” it is a light verb. As Montoliu concluded, that degree of overuse of avelo only makes sense if Kaliarda had long since stopped being spoken by actual Rom; that was clearly already the case in 1904.
  • irakˈli: Petropoulos was misled by phonological similarity to assume that the word for woman was derived from Heracles; as Poniroskilo at slang.gr already worked out, it is merely rakhligadjo girl” preceded by the feminine definite article η i. Petropoulos accordingly spelled irakli with an eta, like Hēraklēs; Manganaras has done the same.
  • kalianðro: ugly; a spelling rendering of [kaliadro]. The Kaliarda rendering we now know is kaliardo < Romani kaljardo, so the form recorded has a metathesis. Petropoulos records that he first heard of Kaliarda in high school as lubinistika, so the name Kaliarda itself may not have originally been widespread (and Petropoulos recorded a large number of synonyms); it may be surprising to a modern audience that the name of the language itself isn’t mentioned along with kaliardos, but it was not inevitable.
  • The word korðoni “ribbon” has not survived in Kaliarda for policeman: the usual word is runa. Sarantakos recorded korðoni in 1985 as military slang for cadets, by metonymy, and it’s an obvious metonymy to apply to policemen as well. I’m not aware of it being used in other slang of the time, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
  • kuliko: “makeup” in Manganaras; in Petropoulos, that is the meaning of plural kulika, while singular kuliko means “colour”. The derived and compound forms in Petropoulos involve “makeup”: kulikokarbono “black makeup”, kulikoma “application of makeup”, kulikono “apply makeup”, kulikomenos “in makeup”. Petropoulos thinks kuliko is likely from French couleur; French was already fashionable in both Greece and Turkey in 1904, but I still suspect the “makeup” meaning is original, and “colour” secondary. The internal etymology would be as an adjectival form of kulo “shit”—cf. kuˈli “shit-coloured = brown”. Faeces have been used historically in makeup, and if the practice continued in Ottoman times (which I have no idea about), Kaliarda speakers would have been delighted to point it out.
  • kuravalta is not glossed, being the first of the obscenities in the list; it is “sex”. Manganaras has the verb as kuravelto and the noun as kuravalta; Petropoulos has the verb as kuravalo and the noun as kuravelta. I have rejected Katsouda’s etymology kulo “shit” + averta “openly, with abandon” (i.e. anal sex), and Romani kuřipe “sex”, kurela “to have sex” are too clearly related to kuravelta. I don’t see an obvious explanation for the infix –av– of kur-av-el in ROMLEX, other than a blend with avelo. (The verb avelo does everything else in Kaliarda, after all.) Maybe a blend with kurva “whore”, which is Slavic and also known in Romani and Greek? East Slovak Romani kurarica ~ kuravica “wart” does not look promising.1
  • labuˈni: Unglossed, and hence an obscenity; this is most likely the word Petropoulos recorded as luˈbina, for “gay (bottom)”, from Romani lubhni “whore” (if it was not the word for “whore” itself in 1904). The later word lubina has an overt feminine ending: if labuˈni (which would have been a neuter in Greek) is the same word, it is another indication that older Kaliarda was less thorough-going about applying the feminine gender to bottoms.
  • The neuter latˈsi “pretty (little) thing” for a ten lepta coin had not survived into Petropoulos’ dictionary.
  • ˈmatalo “drunk” is not recorded in Petropoulos; it is Romani < maťol “get drunk”, Gurbet Romani (Former Yugoslavia) matalo “drunkard”
  • ˈmokolo “be quiet”, cf. Koutsavakika moko “ibid.” Both this and ˈbatsos appear to be Koutsavakika.
  • balaˈmo: unglossed; this is Romani for “boss, non-Rom”, and Kaliarda for “client of gay prostitute” (recall that’s how a hitchhiking Revenioti referred to Petropoulos). The verb balaˈmo is not attested in Petropoulos; and for all its polyglot amusements, the derivational morphology of Kaliarda is quite Hellenic: one would have expected the verb to be balamiazo or balamevo—if not avelo balamo. So I’m not convinced the verb is real.
  • The meaning of but balamo “very punter” is not clear to me.
  • We saw that Montoliu derived berˈde “money” from Romani plural parne “money”; berˈde in Greek is the Turkish loanword for “curtain” (incl. “stage curtain”), and its applicability to “money” is questionable. I had assumed berˈde was a folk etymology. But parne turns up in Manganaras’ list as parniˈes, alongside berˈde, as “drachmas” vs “money”. That makes it likelier that the two words were distinct from the beginning, and some sort of metaphor involving curtains becomes worth considering again.
  • Manganaras has singular paˈɡro “moustache” vs. plural paˈɡra “beard, hair”; Petropoulos has paˈɡro for “hair, fleece”. The Romani etymology is bagro “sheep”, with fleece applied to human and animal hair alike, as is the case for Greek malia. I hesitate to think this is a genuine difference between the two periods.
  • dap is “a beating” in Manganaras; it is “masturbation” in Petropoulos, but Petropoulos has “a beating” as dup. Clearly both dap and dup are onomatopoeas, and the specialisation of dap vs dup in 1968 might not have been in place in 1904.
  • The final unglossed entry ˈpuli is “arse”.

I mentioned also in previous posts that Christopoulou has derived runa “policeman” from < ɣuruna “pig”, while Montoliu had derived it from paparuna “poppy”. I should have trusted Montoliu; Spatholouro linked to a 1934 article on slang by Stathis Thomopoulos, reproduced at Sarantakos’ blog which features the word paparuna “poppy” = “policeman”.

The 1934 article gives a sample of the slang of female prostitutes, which is cited as a mixture of “flower” slang (criminals), “mangas” slang (Koutsavakika—it’s not clear to me how “flower” slang and Koutsavakika were distinct), and “loulou” slang. Loulous were effeminate men, and sure enough, there is Kaliarda in there. (That refutes Petropoulos’ dismissal of Ioannidou’s early claim that female prostitutes spoke Kaliarda. It also hints that male and female sex workers were on speaking terms—unless Rom women were also overrepresented in Ottoman prostitution.)

The three words I can identify as Kaliarda in boldface:

Η υπουρή ανθίστηκε το λάχανο και έπιαμε τη μαγερία. Έδωσε μούρο στο μάπα και έγινε η μάσα. Όταν ήτανε στην «πούλη» ο μάπας με την λατσή την Νίνα ψείρισαν το λάχανο και του μολώσαν μανιτάρι. Μα τη τσουκνίδωσε ματζουράνα στην κατούνα και τα ’πε κι’ ήρθαν η παπαρούνες.

The madam realised that the client had a big wallet, put hashish in his cigarette, and began the operation. It happened when the victim was in the most tender amatory expressions with beautiful Nina. Then they stole his wallet and and they replaced it with another one, stuffed with newspaper. But the constables arrived, because one of the service staff betrayed it.”

Lit. The ipuri (puri “old woman”) smelled-the-flower of the cabbage and started off the cooking. She gave a blackberry to the fool and the feed happened.. When the fool was in the puli (“arse”) with latsi (“beautiful”) Nina, they flea’d the cabbage and they hid him a mushroom. But a marjoram in the room thistled her and she spoke it and the poppies came.

The criminal slang is all metaphor; the Kaliarda stands out as the only words unfamiliar from mainstream Greek.

One final note from Sarantakos’ blog thread on Cythera dialect which I’ve derailed (because the book reviewed is by Georgia Katsouda herself, whose Kaliarda etymologies in Christopoulou’s thesis I have commented on): Sarantakos has mentioned that the Greek poet Napoleon Lapathiotis, who was gay, spoke Kaliarda in 1938. Commenter BLOG_OTI_NANAI reproduces the citation:

Aris Dikteos describes in his introduction to Lapathiotis’ poems his first and last meeting with Lapathiotis and Mitsos Papanikolaou [Lapathiotis’ fellow poet and friend]. He says of Mitsos Papanikolaou in particular: “One of the most unseemly people I have seen in my life. Stubby, swarthy, copper-green… with gold teeth, choleric, miserable.” During the meeting, which occurred in Elliniko restaurant, probably in 1938, Lapathiotis and Papanikolaou spoke in Kaliarda, the secret homosexual language; he says they kept repeating the verb dzinavi “he understands”.


  • The neuter latˈsi “pretty (little) thing” for a ten lepta coin had not survived into Petropoulos’ dictionary.

    As friend of this blog Kostas Karapotosoglou has pointed out (https://sarantakos.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/kaliarnta/#comment-498742), latsi “ten lepta coin” is likeliest not Romani, but a variant of liatsos/liatso, slang for 10 lepta coin under King Otto. His attempt to track down the meaning and etymology of the word took part over several comments in https://sarantakos.wordpress.com/2018/02/04/tzoges/ ; he derives it ultimately from Venetian lazo: cognate to Italian aggio “premium”, both derived from Mediaeval Latin allagium < Greek αλλάγιον.

  • […] I just noted that Nikos Sarantakos posted on his blog a report on the 1904 attestation of Kaliarda. I neglected to mention that he posted a full scan of the 1904 article (1904–11–25), which includes a couple of paragraphs left out in Spatholouro’s transcription, which I’d previously posted here. […]

  • […] a report on Spatholouro’s finds in his blog comments of early attestation of Kaliarda, as already reported here. My thanks to him for disseminating Spatholouro’s findings more widely, as they […]

  • […] may be treasures waiting to be found in the Turkish archives for Lubunca as well, and we know that Manganaras explicitly said in 1904 that he found the same Gay cant in Piraeus and […]

  • […] follows at all: criminal cant was bewilderingly rich in metaphor with Greek words, as we saw in Thomopoulos’ 1934 instance of sex worker cant. The difference was that Koutsavakika did not prioritise polyglot language play, the way Kaliarda […]

  • […] page 1 and page 2. It was written by “Th-s” = Stathis Thomopoulos, whose 1934 report on female sex worker Lubinistika we have already seen. I have no idea if Bourganis’ glossary was part of their more general […]

  • […] third excerpt (Vol. 239, 1963–05–01) seems to explain Manganaras’ usage of Twelve to refer to gays, if not […]

  • John Cowan says:

    I do not know what “the Twelve” is a reference to

    I should think the Twelve Apostles, though the Twelve Olympians (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Hermes, and either Hestia or Dionysus) would just be possible, I suppose. So it would not be the only bottoms, but rather the socially recognized group of most socially prominent transhetairai in the city.

    Rom women were also overrepresented in Ottoman prostitution

    I would be damned surprised if they were not. See “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” (YouTube) from halfway around the planet.

    • The Twelve

      12 apostles/Olympians is indeed possible, especially the way Manganaras uses it; but the discussion at Sarantakos’ blog is continuing on “dozen”, and there are some further complications:

      • The same learnèd word ðoðekas is used frequently to refer to councils of twelve, which were routinely appointed in various leadership positions; googling includes church aldermen, military troops, and community organisations
      • There is a Turkish book by Sermet Muhtar Alus written in 1935 on a gang of petty criminals, called “The Twelve” (Onikiler), which was founded in the 1870s and lasted for many years.
      • https://sarantakos.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/cerigo/#comment-469785 : Markos Vamvakaris expresses disgust about an acquaintance’s son turning out gay in his autobiography, saying «Ο ένας γιος έγινε παλιοπούστης. Τα δυο της δωδεκάδας δηλαδή. Κρυφόπουστας….» (p. 184): “One son became a damned faggot. So two out of the dozen. A secret faggot.” Vamvakaris being a petty criminal as well as a bouzouki player, he was immersed in the slang of the time. Two Out Of The Dozen (with the same learnèd word, not the vernacular duzina) means something else to do with homosexuality, clearly; and we currently can’t tell what. (I can only think of the expression “the longest of the three” referring to a penis, the other two being the two testicles; but that doesn’t get me to a dozen.)

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    1. EDITED: In fact, this is merely an (unattested?) causative of Romani kurava “hit, masturbate, have sex”, kuravava, 3sg kuravela, as explained for Dortika by Triantafyllidis.

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