Filos or Gnostos?

Calling someone a friend is something most of us do rather sloppily; without really thinking about what the word actually means we use it about people left and  right. So do many Greeks! The Greek word for friend is φίλος, filos, for a man and φίλη, fili, for a woman. The prefix  fil/phil indicates that we are friends, admirers or lovers of something.

For example:

philosophy = the admiration of wisdom (sophia-wisdom)

philhellene = an admirer or all things Greek

philharmonic = a friend of harmony

anglophile = an admirer of all things English

There are a whole bunch of sexual ones as well but we will not go into them here…

To define the word filos/fili when speaking of human relationships the angry American writer/director Michael Moore comes to mind. In his book Stupid White Men he writes about how fed up he is with people claiming to have black friends in an attempt to prove they are not racist. He goes on to say that we all need to stop and think about what a friend actually is: someone you share your deepest feelings with and trust completely, someone you spend time with in each other’s home and know you can phone up at three in the morning if you just want to talk.

If a person does not fulfill these ‘criteria’ he or she is more likely an acquaintance and in Greek the word is γνωστός, gnostos, for a man and γνωστή, gnostee, for a woman. It comes from the word γνώση, gnosi, which means knowledge and we meet it in words such as agnostic (someone who does not know what he or she believes in) prognosis or diagnosis.

When speaking with a Greek person, it is a good idea to contemplate which word applies to the people you know as you might be defined by it. The Greeks say “Δείξε μου τους φίλους σου και θα σου πω ποιος είσαι” = Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are!

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2 Responses to “Filos or Gnostos?”

  1. Alexandra Brooks Says:

    Love this blog! Great info. My family is Greek/Syrian. I just love the Greek language and all things Greek. Found you on FB.

    • skiathosbooks Says:

      Thank you Alexandra, you are very kind. I update the blog about Greek every Monday and if you ever fancy a particular subject, please let me know. XXX Victoria

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