Posts Tagged ‘language’

The Language of the Gods, part 2

February 8, 2010

Having a panic attack is one of the most unpleasant experiences in life and panic often causes irrational behaviour. Ancient Greek shepherds knew this first-hand as they would sometimes see their livestock suddenly run away for no apparent reason and they explained this by saying the legendary creature Pan was approaching, thus the word panic. Pan was an ugly bugger who later, with Christianity, became the personification of the Devil: he had horns, a grinning face, a furry body and goat legs. Pan was a deity of nature and roamed the forests accompanied by crazed women and wild animals, playing the instrument he had created known as a pan-flute. Amongst his followers were also the satyrs: equally ugly, goat-legged beings whose grotesque behaviour and constant mocking of everything pure gave us the art form of satire. Similar companions were the fauns, who have given us the word fauna.

Pan and his mates were always chasing the beautiful nymphs, lovely nature spirits, who did what they could to fend them off but sometimes complied with their desires. Their many lovers gave us the word nymphomaniac but we must remember, that nymphs were generally virtuous beings. One of them was called Pithys, with whom the north wind Boreas and Pan had fallen in love. In the end, Pithys chose Pan as her lover, which angered Boreas so much that he blew her off a cliff. Mother Earth, Gaia, turned the poor nymph into a pine tree before she fell into the sea, which is why we often see these trees growing in impossible locations such as high cliffs by the sea. Here, the nymph pines for Pan but is forever tormented by the harsh north winds.

Another unfortunate nymph was Echo. She loved walking and singing through the forests but one day happened to stumble across the king of the gods Zeus, having his way with one of her friends. Echo ran away from the spot as quickly as possible and in her panic, did not watch where she was going and ran straight into the arms of Zeus’ angry wife Hera. Suspecting her husband of yet another infidelity, Hera interrogated Echo about his whereabouts but the young nymph denied having seen him for fear of upsetting the God of Gods. Hera let her go but soon found her husband and realised Echo had lied to her. As a punishment, she cursed the nymph by making her unable to say anything on her own but only repeat what other people said, thus creating an echo. If you ever shout in a valley, for example, and hear your voice again and again, remember this is not you, but poor Echo trying to communicate.

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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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