I was lucky in that our house was always full of books. The first novel I read was Jaws. I was 6 or 7 years old at the time. I haven't liked swimming over deep water or seaweed since...
One of the books that I found lying around the house was called "The story of Language"and was written by Mario Pei. Once I got over the, admittedly teenage, novelty of Mr Pei's surname (Pei means penises in Greek) I read the book. It was a revelation. I have since had a great fascination for language and words.
It was in this book where I first read about how words are alive. They live in our minds but also in our societies, they grow, they change, they sometimes even die... This happens in many different ways.
Being half Greek and living in Greece I have often had heated discussions with my full blooded Greek friends about the richness of the Greek language compared to others (especially English as that was my other half...) While I never doubted this, I could never fully concede that Greek was somehow above all other languages. A few years ago I started reading Bill Bryson and acquired many more insights into languages in general, but especially English (and American English...) English according to Mr. Bryson is one of the most bastardised languages in the world. It has begged, borrowed and stolen thousands of words from all over. And of course many of these borrowed words have come from Greek. A learned customer of mine and serious language buff, once told me over 250,000 english words are of Greek origin. This is something that happens. For example Greek has also borrowed many words from French. Many words to do with car parts are greek versions of French terms. Bougie (Μπουζί) for sparkplug, pare-brise (Παρμπριζ) for windscreen, embrayage (ντεμπραγιάζ) for clutch and many others.
Sometimes words are borrowed and their meanings are changed, usually over time. One of my favourites is the word "idiot". This word comes from the greek root ιδιώτ- as in the noun ιδιώτης or the verb ιδιωτεύω. In ancient Greece to be an ιδιώτης meant to be someone who only cares about himself and does not take part in social and political life. The Greeks could not imagine someone to be so lazy and not ot care less about being a part of the decision making processes that made up Greek Democracy, and the word came to imply that someone was stupid. And this is what idiot means in English.
Now back in Greece where the original word came form, Greeks have become idiots to such an extent that they have decided, over time, to take away this meaning of stupid from the word and to give it other meanings. So Ιδιώτης today can mean someone who has no professional skills but it's most common use is something like "private citizen". And the adjective ιδιωτικός, -ή, -ό means "private" (Funnily I have yet to find a word in greek that means privacy...)
I'll take this a step further. A major part of the Greek problem today is that we Greeks became such idiots that we allowed another bunch of better connected idiots to rule us and decide for us. Throughout our lives we have been sold the idea that we cannot change anything. That the system is as is and no action on our behalf can make a difference. And so the politicians partied. They threw some people some scraps like a government job position or some other political favour and kept us there, in the idiot phase...
The time has come though for Greeks to remember what being an idiot really means. And to denounce idiocy for what it really is. To refuse to allow others to decide for us. To refuse to be idiots anymore.
PS The change in mindset required is big. Many of us, glued to our screens and stuck to our sofas have one hell of a steep learning curve ahead of us. But change is happening. It is starting from small groups who are rediscovering the joy of community, the happiness of sharing a day's work, the elation of a job well done in company and the friendly smiles on faces who have been angry and sad for too long. I am happy to be a part of just such a small group...
Papapete Corfu 14/10/2011
|The Boutsouni Social Solidarity Network|