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"Language Matters" - The Translexis Blog

Welcome to “Language Matters” the Translexis Blog. Here you will find occasional articles on a wide range of subjects related to Greek language, culture and society.

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In Greek folklore, these are demonic creatures, dark in colour, with long tails and ears, sharp pointed teeth and red eyes. They usually live beneath the earth where they spend their time trying to saw through the trunk of the tree holding up the earth. At Christmas, lured by cooking smells, they come up to the surface. According to legend, at night they clamber on to the roofs of houses trying to enter them via the chimney in order to steal food. In some parts of Greece, housewives cook special fritters and throw some on to the roof or leave them outside so that the kalikantzari will find them and not attempt to enter the houses in search of them. They return to their lair beneath the earth on Epiphany (6th January) when, traditionally, Greek priests bless homes and the sea. On their return, they find that, in their absence, the tree trunk has grown back fully and they have to start the process of cutting it all over... read more

Christmas carols

The equivalent of Christmas carols in Greece are known as ta kalanda. These are Christmas songs traditionally sung by groups of children throughout the period of Christmas and the New Year, while going round houses collecting money. Their name is derived from the Latin calendae Ianuariae – an important five-day holiday celebrated by the Romans at the beginning of... read more

Hellenic Republic

The word Greece comes from the Greek word Γραικοί (Graekoi) by which the inhabitants of a region in the North West of Greece were known to their neighbours. By the 4th century BC there is evidence from inscriptions that this was superseded by the term Έλληνες (Hellenes). The Greek name for Greece is Ελλάς (Hellas) and men and women are Έλληνες and Ελληνίδες respectively (Hellenes). At various times in history, the two names (Graekoi and Hellenes) were used interchangeably or to make various distinctions between different sections of the Greek-speaking population, as for example in the early centuries of Christianity when the word Hellenes was used for those Greeks who had not converted to Christianity while the name Graekoi or Romioi (Romans) was used for those who had; the latter was particularly prevalent in the days of the Byzantine and post Byzantine era. Since then, the words Hellas (for the country) and Hellenes (for those of Greek extraction) have become increasingly more prevalent and, when Greece ceased to be a kingdom in 1973 (known in English as the Kingdom of Greece) and became a republic, it was styled in English Hellenic... read more

St Basil, The Greek Father Christmas

In Greek Father Christmas is known as St Basil. Traditionally he used to bring presents on the 1st of January which is St Basil’s day. However, in recent years he has fallen victim to Western influences and now arrives 7 days earlier on Christmas... read more

When is a prescription not a recipe?

If you are English, you receive one from the doctor and the other from a cook – or these days you are more likely to find the latter in a magazine, newspaper or by searching the internet! If you are Greek, the difference lies in the taste – the name is the same! The one from a doctor invariably leaves a bad taste in the mouth whereas vine leaves stuffed according to grandmother’s recipe are mouth-watering! The same Greek word (συνταγή) is used for both. It has its origin in the verb ‘συντάσσω’ meaning ‘to create or compose written text’. Patience is a virtue Whilst we are on the subject of doctors and by extension ill health, it is interesting to reflect on how different cultures view the same concept by analysing the specific meaning and origins of particular terms. It is generally acknowledged that one must bear the suffering involved in ill health with fortitude (not that there is much choice in the matter), hence the origin of the English word ‘patient’. The Greek word for ‘patience’ is much more frequently bandied by friends and relatives of the sick, together with the all embracing term ‘περαστικά’ which translates literally as ‘may it pass’ and is the rough equivalent of ‘get well soon’. However, the Greek word for ‘patient’ is ‘ασθενής’ and it is formed with the privative prefix ‘α’, combined with the word ‘σθένος’ – meaning ‘strength’ – thus implying lack of strength and therefore its opposite i.e. weakness. The same Greek word is used by meteorologists to describe winds as ‘light’ and also forms part of the... read more

What is in a Name?

New name, new identity? As far as I am concerned, for many years now, my name has been Niki WATTS but during our recent visit to Cyprus I found myself acquiring a new name. I have not changed religion, citizenship nor, as someone trying hard to pretend that I am still holding on to middle age, have I become bored with my existing one. While registering for one of those peskie new taxes creatively invented to part the taxpayer from yet more money, I found myself the unwilling owner of a new name – Niki Quentin Robert WATTS. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled with indignation at the ignominy of being regarded as intrinsically linked to my husband not only in terms of his surname (my free choice) but also his first names but, having queued for over an hour in order to be issued with the requisite paperwork which would allow me to pay this tax, I was worn to submission and, to my shame, had no energy left to protest. It would have been futile anyway. However, Quentin was allowed to remain Quentin Robert WATTS. The reason? The all-important middle name. In Cyprus, names are formed by the first name, followed by the father’s/husband’s (in the case of married women) and the surname. As Quentin’s name consists of a first, middle name and surname, it was acceptable to the official since she had the three requisite elements. In my case I use only a first name and surname, so she rectified this by using Quentin’s first name together with his middle name for good... read more

What is in a Name?

Greek wedding certificates routinely include a short statement as to the surname of children born of the marriage – a rather unusual inclusion but not without good reason! Increasingly, Greek women opt to retain their maiden name after marriage, so an early, officially recognised, decision on the children’s surname probably helps towards maintaining marital harmony. I can only sympathise with the teachers who, on parents’ evenings, not only have to remember the children’s surnames but also those of their... read more

Animals Speak Languages Too!

In an early attempt to learn Greek, shortly after we first met, Quentin started to read Aristophanes’ The Frogs in the original Classical Greek! After many fruitless hours spent trying to find the meaning of the frequently recurring words ‘βρεκεκέξ’ and ‘κουάξ κουάξ’ (vrekekex, kuax kuax) in dictionaries, he turned to me. The explanation was that it was the call of ‘Greek speaking’ frogs! Quentin’s early adventures in the metaphorical land of the ancient Greek frogs brings me to the more obscure subject of the sounds by which animals are represented in different languages. A frog croaks in English but to Greek ears it still sounds like ‘kuax’. A dog in English guards his territory with a loud ‘woof, woof’ but in Greek his bark sounds as ‘gav, gav’. To the English a duck’s voice sounds like ‘quack, quack’ while a Greek duck begs for food with ‘pa, pa’, from which incidentally the Greek word for ‘duck’ (papia) derived. A Greek duckling on the other hand is called ‘papi’ and its cries are ‘pi, pi’. The sheep in the green fields of East Anglia ‘baa’ but their distant cousins on the less verdant Greek hills call to each other with a ‘be-e’. Feline greetings, however, sound very similar, whether in Greek or in English. Perhaps, the domestic cat has found the secret of its very own lingua... read more

Equality In A Title?

Mr for men but Mrs, Ms or Miss for women Many women in the UK complain of having to choose between, what are effectively, 3 titles while only one is in existence for men. In other words, why should only a woman’s title reveal her marital status? In Greece and Cyprus, the issue of equality of titles between men and women has been tacitly resolved through usage – one for men and one for women. Gradually, over a period of time, the use of Δις (Δεσποινίς, i.e. Miss) has quietly given way, virtually universally, to the use of Κα (Κυρία, i.e. Mrs) for all women, irrespective of marital status. To all intents and purposes, the use of Δις (Miss) is now restricted to young... read more