Friday, 21 February 2014

Greek as She is Spoke

Readership has gone down again. Perhaps you’re fed up with Nikos Kavvadias, so unless there are vociferous demands to continue I shall spare you the rest of that piece and try something else. (Why won’t you tell me what you’d like on the blog?)

What follows is intended primarily for Anglophones unfamiliar with Greek ways, so rather than use ‘proper’ Greek I shall transliterate Greek words into approximate  phonetic equivalents in Roman characters. Thus I shall write, say, ‘Thalassa’ rather than Θάλασσα.

Yesterday here in Greece was Tsiknopempti, which translates (I kid you not) as ‘Thursday of the aroma of roasting meat.’ It’s all to do with Easter, Carnival, Lent etc.; I opted out and stayed at home to practice the piano and dine on lentil rissoles with red cabbage.

Every language has strange idiomatic expressions, and we have to take a step back to see the strangeness of the ones in our own languages. The vantage point of a non-native speaker helps. I am English (well, half Irish) but have spent half my life in Greece, so have the (dis)advantage of being able to see the strangeness of both English and Greek idioms. For instance, when it rains heavily in Greece (something it has not done in this island for months and we are worried about the summer water supply) we say it rains ‘Kareklopodara’; ‘Chair legs.’ Which is a whole lot more logical than the English ‘Cats and Dogs’ that so amuses my Greek friends. On the other hand, yesterday morning as I passed through the village square Alekos, grandfather of my fellow piano pupil Anastasia, assuming that because I speak Greek I must know the oddest expressions, said ‘Pou to evales?’; literally ‘Where have you been putting it?’ I was of course tempted to make an obscene reply, but I just told him I was going for a stroll with the dog, because he meant something like ‘What are you up to?’ ‘Up to’. That’s surely pretty strange. So is ‘Turn up’, perhaps deriving from card playing, as in ‘When Dimitris turned up, I told him…’ In Greek you could say ‘Otan eskase miti O Dimitris, tou eipa…’; literally ‘When Dimitri’s nose exploded, I told him…’

It gets better, or worse. ‘Tha sou figi o kolos’; ‘Your arse will depart from you’, which actually means ‘You will be astonished’. That is to say, whatever it is ‘Tha sou allaxei to phota,’ ‘It will change your lights’.

But one that may explain a lot is ‘Stin ora mou’ which translates literally as ‘In my own time’ but is in fact the idiomatic expression for its opposite, namely ‘At the correct appointed time’. It has been said that in Greece the letters ‘GMT’ stand for ‘Greek Maybe Time’. 

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