Posts Tagged ‘Greek expressions’

The Language of the Gods, part 3

February 15, 2010

So far, we have explored the words and expressions Don’t be such a Kassandra, Achilles’ Heel, Trojan Horse, Chaos, Geography, Geology, Geometry, George/Georgina, Genesis, Genitals, Generate, Progeny, Ocean, Chronic, Chronological, Aphrodisiac, Panic, Pan-flute, Fauna, Satire, Pine and Echo.

But of course there is so much more! There is a plethora (another Greek word – albeit not from mythology) of mythical origins in English expressions that are not as obvious. For example, when we say that someone is looking like he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders we are really talking of the ancient titan Atlas. Atlas was an enormous being who was forced to carry the world on his shoulders as a punishment for revolting against the gods. He lived near Gibraltar and thus gave his name to the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually he was turned into the Atlas mountain range in North Africa after he had stared into the eyes of the terrible Medusa. Medusa was a scary creature whose hair was made of snakes and anyone who looked into her eyes was turned into stone. Ring a bell? Ever heard of the expression if looks could kill…? Ancient Greek mythology is everywhere!

Another common expression is to be caught between a rock and a hard place. This expression comes from the legendary journeys of Odysseus. At one point his ship had just managed to sail past a rock where the horrible sirens lived and was then forced to navigate between two terrible sea monsters called Scylla and Charybdis. Unfortunately for the crew, the ship came a little too close tone of the monsters who devoured a few of the men but at least the rest were saved. The sirens, incidentally, have loaned their names to police forces and fire brigades all over the world as their singing could be heard from far away. The difference is, however, that today’s sirens do not involve getting eaten alive if you hear them.

For those of you interested in the arts there is a myriad of expressions derived from Greek mythology. The god Apollo was the patron of art and light and his nine daughters the Muses have given us the words music, museum and amuse. The Muses protected the arts and sciences and still today, we call someone who is a source of inspiration just that – a Muse, whether it is to do with painting, writing, music or fashion.

If money is your main goal in life you may wish to have the Midas Touch! King Midas had managed to capture a satyr and his ransom was to be granted his only desire in life: that everything he touched would turn into gold. The satyr gave him what he wished for and was thus released and Midas went back to his palace to enjoy his new talent. As tales always go, the wish turned into a curse and Midas ended up unable to eat, drink or touch another living being as everything he touched turned into the precious metal. Let the ancient myth be a lesson to us all: be careful what you wish for!

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What Greeks Do and Do Not Want to Be Called

January 18, 2010

In every language there are words that simply cannot be translated properly. In Greek, two such words are μάγκας, mangas, and κομπλεξικός, komplexikos. Mangas comes from the Turkish word for a certain kind of soldier but has a different connotation in Greek. Here, it is an expression for a man who often is a bit of a scoundrel but at the same time is admired by men and women alike. Someone who, let’s say, drinks a lot, is a gambler and a womaniser but still is kind of cool. We can turn to celebrities to find examples – Jack Nicholson or why not Richard Burton – broodingly handsome, famous for not spitting in the glass, adored by women but definitely not guys you would bring home to meet the parents.

Komplexikos, other hand, is the man who thinks he is a mangas but really is not. In Greek-English dictionaries it is often translated pretentious, conceited, ostentatious or even inhibited. The truth is in there, somewhere, but needs further explanation. Komplexikos is the man with a chip on his shoulder, the kind of person who is quite happy to talk about what he is good at, what he has achieved or how many conquests he has made. Someone who will laugh at others but never at himself and attempts to make fun of other people to make himself look good. Someone who loves telling stories which always end with him getting the last laugh. If you have seen Alan Partridge, you will know the type.

The thing is that a komplexikos might actually be handsome, clever and successful but because he feels the need to express it he cancels it out and his efforts really make him look like, well, a wanker. You see, a mangas never really talks about him self; he simply is a mangas. This is why mangas today also describes men that do well, show decency or just are really good guys (with a twinkle in their eyes).

In Greek, a woman is rarely described as a mangas because its meaning describes traditionally male behaviour and is an entirely male word. She can, however, be komplexiki (the female form of komplexikos) and her typical conduct is making snug remarks about good looking or successful women or just trying to put other women down. Just like the male ones, she likes to point out the faults in other people, rather than looking at her own.

Unfortunately, most of us know people that fall under the komplexikos category and even more unfortunately, we can probably all be found guilty of displaying such behaviour at one point or another, perhaps when we have felt envy or jealousy. There is a catch here, which is part of why Greek is such a wonderful and philosophical language: if you claim that you are not komplexikos, then you most certainly are. Only if you admit that you sometimes are will you get one step closer to being a mangas.

Note: komplexikos is not an equivalent to the English “complex”. Complex does come from the Greek word but rather describes someone being of many layers, complicated. Suffering from an inferiority complex is closer to the Greek komplexikos.

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