Kaliarda XIX: Kostas in Larissa

By: | Post date: 2017-12-06 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Commenter Kostas on Sarantakos’ blog offered the following recollection of Kaliarda from the 1970s:

I’ve already written this on another past. This is what a passive homosexual used to say, as I recollect it:
dziˈnavis ta javerˈda?
ˈama ðen ˈpesi o berˈdes ðen ˈexi kuraˈverta
θa su kuraverˈtaro ke tin ˈpulia

He went around the ouzo bars of Larissa, the regulars would make fun of him, and treat him the odd ouzo, and he’d say his own thing in a strange language. He’d say other things too, but I don’t remember them.(Nov 30)

[After my translation, and admission that I had not seen the term javerˈda.]

I may not have heard or recalled it well. javerˈda, it might also have been kaliarˈda.

But it’s no small thing for me to understand forty years later what exactly he was saying! If only it had occurred to me to write it all down and have him explain it to me himself. I might have been able today to make a small contribution to the decoding of Kaliarda. (1 Dec)

So what did he say? Kaliarda words in normal typeface.

“Do you understand Yaverda? [= Kaliarda?]”

“If no money drops, there’s no fucking.

“I’ll fuck your arse too.”


  • The sources on Kaliarda reiterate all the time that this was a language of major cities—Athens and Salonica. Kostas’ recollection would seem to be a counterexample: Larissa is not a small town, but it’s a lot smaller. Yet the eccentric figure of a wandering bottom in a country town, talking Kaliarda to straights who have no idea what he is saying, and treat him to pity drinks, suggests someone very far from home.
  • Assuming Yaverda is either a mishearing or an unattested synonym of Kaliarda (and there were dozens), the pride in understanding the initiate language is still at the forefront of the Larissa speaker’s discourse: no differently to Lapathiotis in 1938, the verb dzinavo “understand” is a big deal.
  • Petropoulos records “fucking” as kuraˈvelta, from the verb kuraˈvalo; but the sound change /lt/ > /rt/ is quite normal in Modern Greek.
  • Since the word for “money” is the Turkish for “curtain” (and Greek for “stage curtain”—and it’s recorded in Danguitsis’ and Zahos’ slang dictionaries anyway), there could be a pun here about curtains dropping; but “money drops” = “someone pays money” is already idiomatic in Greek.
  • In distinction to what Petropoulos recorded, the verb “fuck” is derived from the noun: (kuraˈvalo >) kuraˈverta > kuraverˈt-ar-o. As Sechidou has just argued, we’re used to seeing that (Italian) denominative suffix -ar- on non-Romani stems in Kaliarda; the example she gave was berθ-ˈar-o “to give birth”, and in fact, on the same page in Petropoulos, you will see kuor-ˈar-ome “to fall in love” < Italian cuore “heart”. I don’t think this means the speaker was forgetting his Kaliarda, and reinventing the verb; I think that speaks to the fluidity of the language.
  • Properly “arse” is ˈpuli; ˈpulia is “the Pleiades” (which is also a feminine singular), and this could easily be a mishearing or misremembering by Kostas, or a jocular alteration by the speaker.

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