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Kaliarda XXIV: Korovinis and Perdikea
Trying to wrap up this series, I’ve come across two more Kaliarda texts online.
The first is a chapter from a 2010 novel by Thomas Korovinis, Ο γύρος του Θανάτου [The tour of death], with nine protagonists in Salonica of the 50s. One of them is a trans sex worker, and her narrative has a lot of Kaliarda words, though from a quick glance, they all look to be taken from Petropoulos. The text is certainly more convincing than Klynn’s or Romvos’ though, both in historicity (because alas, authentic-sounding Kaliarda is now a museum piece), and in fitting words to context.
The second piece is much smaller, but both linguistically and sociolinguistically more interesting. It’s also from 2010, from a gossip magazine: A Kaliarda Dictionary: “Maria Perdikea reveals the secret language of socialites.” (Η Μαρία Περδικέα αποκαλύπτει τη μυστική γλώσσα των socialites: the article is part of the execrable mainstream Greek press habit, pioneered by the “lifestyle” mags of the 90s, of using undigested English.)
Linguistically, the snippets of Kaliarda here look to be in live use, rather than checked against Petropoulos’ dictionary, and there are a few deviations from the language as he described it. There’s also a bit more phonetic spelling than elsewhere: more careful writers recognise that Kaliarda has Greek inflections, and spell them correctly, but the magazine author has been reluctant to; so μπενάψι instead of μπενάψει, τζιναβοτί instead of τζιναβωτή.
Kaliarda words in bold.
- Όταν η Τζίνα μπεν στην άλλη μούτζα, τζίναψες η νάκατις; otan i Dzina ben stin ali mudza, dzinapses i nakatis? “When Gina talked to the other woman, did you understand, or [did you understand] nothing?”
- I was surprised to see regular aorists of benavo and dzinavo, but of course if the verbs have regular presents, they are going to have regular aorists as well.
- The Kaliarda-ism “X or nothing” = “is X true?” has turned up elsewhere.
- The Kaliarda use of mudza “vagina” to refer to cis women has also turned up elsewhere.
- nakatis instead of naka “nothing” is new. I presume an analogy with Greek katiti, katitis “something” < kati, tipotis “nothing”.
- The other surprise is the use of an indeclinable root form of a verb, ben instead of benapses (the inflected aorist benapsi does turn up further down in the article.) This is something reminiscent of Dortika, which used the verb root dʒan “leave!” as a finite verb; Kaliarda does use dik! “look!”, but only as an imperative. This may have been an uninflected form lying low in Kaliarda all these years, but I suspect instead it’s an innovative truncation.
- Nάκατις μπερντέ, τι μπεν να κάνω; nakatis berde, ti ben na kano? “No money, what do you think I should do?
- Again, truncated ben for benavis, and nakatis for naka
- The epigrammatic “nothing money” for “I have no money” is typical of Kaliarda.
- ti ben na kano lit. “What do you say I do?” is a calque of mainstream Greek ti les na kano, and is unsurprising. The speaker has not used to opportunity to conceal “do” as avelo.
- Ντικ τις μούτζες με τα εξτέ, πώς δικέλουν το δικό μου, αν τολμήσει να του μπενάψι τίποτα θα μουτζοπιαστούμε dik tis mudzes me ta ekste, pos ðikelun to ðiko mu, an tolmisi na tu benapsi tipota θa mudzopiastume “Look at those women with the hair extensions, how they’re looking at my guy; if she dares say anything to him, we’ll have a catfight”
- Unlike ben, the Romany imperative dik was recorded in Petropoulos, and is used as only an imperative, in contrast with the inflected ðikelun
- Here the inflected aorist benapsi is used instead of the uninflected ben
- ekste is not in Petropoulos, and is not properly Kaliarda; it is a truncation of the English loanword (hair) extensions, which is itself fairly recent. A non-Kaliarda sighting of the word is in this gossip column by Nasos Goumenidis from 2017:
Μας κούρασες Μίνα. Οι κόλλες απο τα εξτέ και τα καρφιά στη μάνα του Παντελίδη. […] Και όλα αυτά με σέλφι που ξεχωρίζουν οι κόλλες απο τα εξτέ… σε πρώτη φάση… Πόσο σίκ ε;
We’re sick of you Mina [Arnaouti]. Hair extension glue and sniping at Pantelidis’ mother. […] And all that with a selfie [on Facebook] where you can see the hair extension glue, right up close. How very chic.
- No, I don’t know who Mina Arnaouti or Pantelis Pantelidis are, and I don’t care to find out.
- The verb mudzopianome is also not in Petropoulos, but it’s transparent: Kaliarda mudzo “vagina; cis woman” and Greek pianome “grab each other” (in plural) = “grapple, argue”. Perdikea herself glosses it as “argue with a woman”, so the intended meaning is “woman-grapple”, not “grab each others’ vaginas”.
- Ντικ μωρή, τη λάτσα, πόσο θεά, πόσο τζιναβοτί και δικέλι άφθονα dik mori, ti latsa, poso θea, poso dzinavoti ke ðikeli afθona “Hey you, look at that beautiful woman, how much of a goddess she is, how in-the-know, and she looks abundantly [= is abundantly good-looking?]”
- θea “goddess” is not one of Petropoulos’ words, but it is used in current stereotypical gay discourse as praise for someone female; so it would nowadays be regarded as part-and-parcel of Kaliarda.
- ðikeli afθona “looks abundantly” is a puzzle. Perdikea glosses afθona as “to excess” (στην υπερβολή του), so it should be read as a superlative (which is not surprising). The only way I can make sense of it is replacing the Greek transitive meaning “looks” with the English intransitive meaning, “she looks amazing”. That’s absurd in Greek, and I don’t think it would be much less absurd in traditional Kaliarda, for all its parsimony. But maybe this actually is a calque from English. In these days of hair exte, that would not really surprise me.
So linguistically, we have a contemporary use of Kaliarda that is not informed by Petropoulos or checked against him, and that is not even confident enough to spell Kaliarda endings like the Greek that they are. Petropoulos’ work is extremely well known in Greece and beyond; indeed I suspect it is why the lect is known now as Kaliarda rather than Lubinistika, the name Petropoulos first heard of it as (and the only name that turns up before him). For a writer to write about Kaliarda and not seem to be aware of Petropoulos is linguistically refreshing. Still, it is odd to see the article conclude like this, after Perdikea provided a small Kaliarda glossary:
As you can understand, we cannot reveal any more, as those who know Kaliarda well would crucify us for revealing the secret dialect which makes their live easier.
Triantafyllidis’ consultants were mobbed by their neighbours in 1915, so he wouldn’t reveal the secrets of their cant (unaware that they were transparent to any Roma, and to any gadjo who had read Paspati’s grammar of Romani). But we’re not in 1915. We’re not in the late 30s, when Police Captain Bourganis had already compiled his glossary of Lubinistika for the Vice Squad, or 1971, when Petropoulos had published his dictionary, or even the mid 70s, when political theatre would use Kaliarda to try and sneak songs past censorship (the vlakopsaliðu “stupid scissors chick”).
Kaliarda, secret? In 2010?
There’s another couple of noteworthy things with Perdikea’s article.
The cant is described, not as the language of sex workers, or gays, or trans people, but as the “secret language of socialites”. (With socialites in English, no less.) We are now a long way away from the ftoxobineðes “pauper bottoms” (street queans) who spoke Kaliarda in the 1920s. Whatever social niche Kaliarda is filling now, the emphasis is no longer on an embattled minority protecting itself. It’s merely a secrecy language; like Greek used in the diaspora in public. (Gkartzonika’s ethnography came up with a similar conclusion.) This is how Perdikea sets the scene for it:
There are moments I rejoice that our beloved Kaliarda dialect exists, and me and my girlfriends can communicate perfectly without anyone else understanding a thing. It’s different speaking in code with someone, and having access to key-words and speaking without fear or passion. Your sociability remains sky-high, you’re on good terms with everyone, while at the same time you insulting them seven ways to Sunday; and they just smile at you and wonder “whatever are those girls saying?
It’s great, I suppose, that Perdikea feels that there’s a huge emotional difference between skulking in code, and yelling out and proud in code. But any difference is in the head of the manumitted speakers; they’re still very clearly speaking in code, and those onlookers smiling at them are well aware that they’re speaking in code—and likely speaking in code for good reason. I’m not convinced they’re getting away with as much as they think they are—especially with Petropoulos’ dictionary so widely known.
I say that the Kaliarda of “socialites” is a long way from the pauper bottoms of the 1920s; but the late 60s were already a long way away too. Trans sex workers in the 70s and 80s like Paola Revenioti, Betty Vakalidou and Nana Hatzi who spoke Kaliarda were just as marginalised as their counterparts of the 20s; but Petropoulos also found former government ministers speaking Kaliarda, and we also found slang.gr commenter aias.ath recollecting that when Petropoulos’ dictionary came out, the well-to-do gays next door were annoyed that he could now understand their conversations.
I’m left with one conundrum with Perdikea’s article. I can’t tell who she and her girlfriends are.
Gkartzonika wrote in her master’s thesis that Kaliarda was still a gay/trans language, with only slight usage outside the LGBTQ community; Christodoulou on the other hand says that (cis) women have now started using Kaliarda as well, “to express their autonomy from men”.
Is Maria Perdikea one such cis woman? Or is she identifying with the traditional gay and trans speakers of Kaliarda (whether or not she is trans herself)? It’s actually surprisingly hard to tell.
My default assumption was that she was cis; that’s a cis-sexist assumption, though, based on the fact that she’s writing in a gossip column, rather than a consciousness-raising blog.
She and her fellow speakers of Kaliarda are identified as “girls”; but Kaliarda speakers always identified themselves as feminine, and the use of feminine gender is a consistent marker in Kaliarda.
The “goddess” of Phrase #4 is “a new and very beautiful [man]”; Perdikea glosses latsa “beautiful (fem.)” as “a good looking boyfriend” (ωραίος γκόμενος). That’s not how a straight cis woman refers to attractive men, unless it’s a straight cis woman consciously queering her discourse (which is what Christodoulou implies women are doing with Kaliarda, and something Gkartzonika also implies with “metrosexual” use of Kaliarda). But it’s completely unsurprising among ibne speaking Kaliarda, and that does remain the more plausible alternative, whether Perdikea is speaking from experience or out of empathy.
Phrase #2 is spoken to “your (male) buddy” (κολλητό, masc); phrase #3 to “your (female) buddy” (κολλητή, fem). Phrase #3 is about the speaker feeling threatened by women (γυναίκες) expressing an interest in her boyfriend (γκόμενου); that sounds cis straight, but it doesn’t have to be. What does sound cis straight is the use of mudzopianome “minge-grapple”: the verb is reciprocal, and just as we minge-grappled would in English, mudzopiastume implies that both the rival woman and the speaker are cis women—they both have a minge.
The distinction between cis women and ibne (the conflation of gay bottoms/cross-dressers/trans women) is baked into Kaliarda, at least as Petropoulos recorded it. The lubines referred to themselves in the feminine gender in Kaliarda consistently, but they did not have minges (it’s doubtful bottom surgery was available to them before the late 70s), and they did not refer to themselves as minges. They had forty-odd different word in Kaliarda for themselves; irakli “woman” does not appear to have been one of them either. In fact, while Nana Hatzi said she was one of the few cross-dressing sex workers in 70s Salonica who actually identified as a trans woman, she also made a point of referring to cis women as minges: “The moudzes (= minges) in our groups would ask trans women for advice on how to dress, how to put on makeup, how to have their breasts stick out.”
So I would not expect a traditional speaker of Kaliarda to use the verb mudzopianome “minge-grapple”. But of course Kaliarda was recorded by Petropoulos 45 years ago, before trans Greek women started to have access to bottom surgery. And even in the version recorded by Petropoulos, “Haritakis’ Wife the Cunt-Bumper” (Η Χαριτάκαινα η Πλακομούνα) was so called because she was married to a cis woman; so an ibne could be called a lesbian and a minge-haver, even if jocularly. So maybe things are blurrier now with gender categorisation than they were in Petropoulos’ day; and maybe Petropoulos’ own gender categorisations were not the ones Kaliarda speakers were actually using. At least not consistently (Hatzi being the obvious counterexample).