Posts Tagged ‘Greek’

Where are You From?

May 3, 2010

The summer season on my little island has begun – a Dutch charter flight flew past my window just a few hours ago and tomorrow the first British will arrive. It is always a strange feeling after a quiet winter but soon, the island will be buzzing and the sea will be warm enough for chickens like me to get in…

Because there will be all sorts of nationalities here now I thought it would be a good idea to produce a little list of what some countries are called in Greek. Many of them still go by their ancient names to the Greeks, such as Gallía – Gaul = France and Elvetía – Helvetia = Switzerland.

With the exception of Greece, which is Elláda, you will notice that all the countries end with –ía, which means you should pronounce them by emphasizing the -eeeeea at the end. Here we go:

Italy = Italía

Spain = Ispanía

England = Aglía

Wales = Oualía

Scotland = Skotía

Ireland = Irlandía

Sweden = Souidía

Norway = Norvigía

Finland = Finlandía

Denmark = Danía

Holland = Ollandía

France = Gallía

Portugal = Portogalía

Germany = Germanía

If your country is not listed here and you would like to know what it is called, please send an email:

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The Language of Animals

April 26, 2010

It’s 6AM, the sun is coming up and a sleepy cockerel slowly wakes up…and what does he say….HUUUUUNG FER HER!!!


Because that’s apparently what he says in China!

In Greece, the same cockerel would have said KOKORIKO, in Britain COCK A DOODLE DOO and in Sweden KUCKELIKU!!!

Animals might sound the same wherever we go in the world, but each native language describes it differently. Here is a short list of what animals say in English, Greek and Swedish:


Greek: niaou

English: meow

Swedish: mjau


Greek: gav

English: woff

Swedish: vov


Greek:  gri gri

English:  oink oink

Swedish:  noff noff


Greek:  chlimintrizo

English:  neigh

Swedish:  gnagg


Greek:  iaa iaa

English:  hee haw

Swedish:  skri


Greek:  kra

English:  caw

Swedish:  krax

If you speak another language, please let me know what your animals say!

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“Posh” Greek

April 19, 2010

Have you ever wondered why Greeks sometimes say lefkό krasί and sometimes άspro krasi when ordering white wine? If yes, you are entering the world of ‘posh’ Greek …

Modern Greek is a natural development of ancient Greek that was spoken by the predecessors that lived here 2000 and more years ago. Although there are many similarities, there are also enough differences to make it extremely hard for a Greek anno 2010 to get by if he had a time machine to travel back to his great, great, great, great, great grandfathers.

Some ancient words have survived in everyday Modern Greek and we tend to use them when we are talking about certain special things, like wine, for example.

The Modern Greek word for white is άspro but the ancient one is lefkό and so, when ordering that liquid sent from the gods, we ask for lefko krasi… If we want red wine, we use the modern word kόkkino (red) but if you look at most Greek wine bottles, it says erythrόs oinos, erythros being ancient Greek for red and oinos (pronounced eeenos) ancient for wine.

The ancient word for blue is galάzios or galanόs, which is why the Greeks call their flag Galanόlefki….sounds nicer that bleaspri, doesn’t it?!? The White House is Washington could be called άspro spiti in Modern Greek but because it is a unique, official building, it is called Lefkόs Oikos (ancient for house).

There are tons of examples: the island Lefkada, Lefcas, is named after its white rocks and the Red Sea is called Erythrά Thάlassa.  A blue blooded person is called Galazoaimatos (aima is blood) and if you want to compliment someone on their blue eyes, say they are galάzia or galanά…it will be appreciated.

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What are You Afraid of?

April 12, 2010

A phobia is the complete, often irrational, fear of all sorts of things…unlike “normal” fear that might make us shudder; phobias completely paralyze or make us absolutely hysterical.

The word for “fear” in Greek is fόvos, fobάme means “I am afraid” and fovismέnos is the “frightened” person. A fovία, however, is a “phobia”. There are literally hundreds of fobias around and most of them stem from the Greek language. Here is a list of some common ones, which will help you enrich your Greek vocabulary as you probably already know some of them:

Agoraphobia: fear of open spaces (agora means market as in shopping area)

Androphobia: fear of men (andras means man)

Arachnophobia: fear of spiders (arachne means spider)

Bibliophobia: fear of books (vivlio means book)

Cardiophobia: fear of the heart (kardia means heart)

Ceranophobia: fear of thunder (keravnos means thunder)

Claustrophobia: fear of enclosed spaces (kleisto means closed)

Demophobia: fear of crowds (demos means people)

Emetophobia: fear of vomiting (emetos means vomit)

Ergophobia: fear of work (ergo means work)

Gymnofobia: fear of nudity (gymnos means naked)

Hypnophobia: fear of sleeping (ypnos means sleep)

Ideophobia: fear of ideas (idea means idea)

Monophobia: fear of being alone (monos means alone)

Pharmacofobia: fear of medicine (farmako means medicine)

Thalassophobia: fear of the sea (thalassa means sea)

Xenophobia: fear of strangers (xenos means stranger in this context)

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The Many Greetings of Easter

March 29, 2010

Everyday Greek is full of greetings and well wishes: kalimera for good day, kalo mesimeri for good midday, kalo apoyevma for good afternoon, kalispera for good evening when we arrive and kalo vradi for good evening when we leave. Then there is kali nychta for good night and kali ksekourasi for good rest. We say kalo mina, good month, on the first of every month and kali evdomada, good week, every Monday.

Easter is the biggest holiday of the year in Greece and this week is called Megali Evdomada, the Big Week. The Greek word for Easter is Pascha, which comes from the Arameic pascha and Hebrew pesah (Passover) and if you want to say Happy Easter it is Kalo Pascha. Towards the end of the week the more common Chronia Polla (Many years) tends to be replaced by a more solemn Kali Anastasi – Happy Resurrection. This is said until Saturday night; when the Holy light is brought in from Jerusalem and everyone light their candles off it at the strike of midnight. This ceremony symbolizes the resurrection of Christ and as the candles are lighted the Greeks say Christos Anesti, Christ Has Risen, to each other, which is answered with Alithos Anesti, Truly He Has Risen.

During the days after Easter Saturday those of you in Greece might be greeted on the street or in the supermarket with the phrase Christos Anesti and if you speak Greek, you can just answer Alithos (truly). It is also what you are supposed to say if you are breaking your red painted Easter Eggs against each other to see who will have a successful year: the one holding the “attacking” egg says Christos Anesti before he or she hits it and the one holding the ‘defensive’ one replies Alithos.

Happy Easter to Everyone!

The Evil Eye

March 22, 2010

If you have been to Greece, you will surely have noticed the little blue eyes that many are wearing or hanging in their cars/businesses/houses etc. This is the amulet that protects them against To Mati – the Evil Eye, also known as Vaskania.

The Mati is an age-old belief that people staring at you can provoke all sorts of unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, constant yawning, falling over or just really bad luck. It usually happens when they stare in a sort of envious admiration, which is why young children and animals, good looking or successful people and new houses and cars are more likely to get matiasmeni – “evil eyed”. Usually, the matiasma – evil eyeing – is not intentional – it just happens because you are looking at someone or something that you admire – perhaps with a sting of jealousy somewhere deep inside.

If you have a really bad headache (and know it is not a hangover) you might be matiasmenos and to get rid of the curse you will need to find someone to lift it. The process is known as ksematiasma – un evil eyeing – and is normally done by elderly ladies. They will put you to the test by dripping some olive oil into a glass of water – if it stays on the surface you just have had too much to drink or are maybe coming down with something – but if it dissolves into the water, the Mati has gotten you! A series of prayers are then said, accompanied by spitting and sprinkling of Holy Water and that should do the trick.

Spitting is, incidentally, a way of protecting people you admire from the Evil Eye. When you pay someone a compliment you are, by definition, admiring them and that is exactly when you might give them the Mati. Rest assured, the solution is easy: pay the compliment and then spit on them three times (not actually spitting – more like ftou ftou ftou in the air) and they are protected by your counter spell. Good to know next time you want to flirt with a Greek!

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It’s Raining Chairlegs!

March 15, 2010

Being from northern Europe, I was brought up to talk about the weather and it came as quite a surprise to find out that the Greeks do the same. Although the main complaint here seems to be zeeeesth – hot – people in Greece seem to be just as fond of weather discussions as we are.

One difference, however, is that in Greece, the weather – o kairos – is talked about almost as an organism, a deity if you like, and perhaps this comes from the ancient ancestors who regarded every weather phenomenon and every wind as  god sent or even a separate god; Boreas being the northern wind and Zephyros the western, for example. Where you in English say “It is hot” the Greeks say “It does heat/cold” – it, being the weather (o kairos).  The weather does, in other words…

Another example is the old expression for raining: O Theos vrechi = God is raining. Speaking of rain we meet another difference from other European languages as hard rain is expressed with the English “cats and dogs” or the Swedish “sporegn” (whip rain). The Greeks say that it is raining kareklopodara, chair legs!

The astral bodies are named after the ancient gods, apart from the planets, whose names remain Greek in Greece (not Latin as in the rest of Europe): Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares etc. The sun is still called Helios, after the old sun god, and the moon Seline, after his wife. An old myth tells us that Helios was such as jealous husband that Selene only dared go out when he was away, which is why she comes out at night when the sun is sleeping. So if Helios is out tomorrow and it doesn’t do cold and doesn’t rain chair legs…do go out for a walk and enjoy the weather…

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Xenos – Friend or Foe?

March 1, 2010

Greeks are well-known for their hospitality and their word for it is filoxenia. The word literally means “friend of strangers” but can also be translated “guest-friend” because of the double meaning of the word xenos.

In Greek, xenos is pronounced ksenos, with emphasis on the “e”, which is pronounced as the “e” in end, or error. The word means stranger or, more generally, anyone who is not from one’s community. An Athenian, in other words, is just as much of a xenos as a foreigner from Britain, Sweden, Germany etc. when he or she comes to Skiathos.

Xenos, however, also means guest! This is a very good reflection on how Greeks view anyone coming from elsewhere as filoxenia, hospitality, has been considered something sacred since antiquity. Mistreating your guests, even of they were your worst enemies, was regarded as sacrilege during antiquity and to this day Greeks, especially the older generations, always make sure to be the best hosts they can be. It is unheard of, for example, to not offer something when a person visits their home, even if you are the gas man coming to read the meter!

In English we encounter the word in xenophobia, the fear of strangers. Here, the word has no reference to the guest-aspect; instead, it plays purely on people’s fear of the unknown. It should be noted that this word is used by Greeks as well to characterize someone who is racist or just generally suspicious of people coming from elsewhere.

The Greek word for hotel is xenodochio and literally means “guest container” and someone who is paraxenos is really strange. What everyone wants to be, though, is filoxenos (masc) or filoxeni (fem) as this is the person who is very hospitable. With filoxenia comes some unwritten rules for the guest as well: never come empty handed when you first visit a Greek’s home and always accept what is offered to you when you visit – you are not expected to finish it, just to acknowledge the offer – not doing so is an insult!  If you are given a plate of food to take home, never return it empty; put some sweets or cakes on it, for example.

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You Already Know More Than You Think!

February 22, 2010

Just like any other language, Greek has “adopted” foreign words and made them part of everyday language! For example, we go σόππινγκ at the σούπερ μάρκετ! Many of these foreign words have been brought in by teenagers that use them as slang but there are also hundreds of words that come from Greek sailors who imported them from far-away ports all over the world: French, Spanish, English etc.

Instead of trying to remember lots of new and difficult Greek verbs, we can start off by learning a few of those “sailor-verbs” I to build our vocabulary. How about:





If you can not read Greek letters, here are the same ones with Latin letters (the accent always goes on the A in ARO)





Can you work out what they mean? They are all borrowed words from English! Just in case, this is what they mean: I park, I flirt, I shock and I test. If you speak English they are very easy to learn, which is why I like to start off with them.

The word for “I” or “self” is εγώ, egό (emphasis on the o) and we meet it in words and expressions such as “egocentric” or “he has such a big ego”. Greek has two “o’s”: ό-micron (lit. small o) which looks like this: Ο/ο, and o-mega (lit. big o) which looks like this: Ω/ω. As we are talking about ourselves we use, naturally (!), the big one when spelling the word for “I”. Thus, almost all Greek verbs used in the first person (I do, I have) end with Ω/ω (compare the verbs above).

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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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