GREEK INFLUENCE ON ENGLISH
How has Greek influenced the English language?
A great example of the influence of the Greek language are the two speeches written in English but actually consisting of only Greek words (with the exception of articles and prepositions) by the former Prime Minister Prof. Xenophon Zolotas, who was also an economist.
Modern Greek is derived from Koine, a common dialect of Ancient Greek that was understood throughout the Greek-speaking world at that time. In the 19th century, Modern Greek became the official language of the Kingdom of Greece.
According to Peter T. Daniels, the Ancient Greeks were the first to use a ‘true’ alphabet, that is, one representing both vowels and consonants. Indeed, the word ‘alphabet’ is formed of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’.
What English owes to the Greek language
The Oxford Companion to the English Language states that the ‘influence of classical Greek on English has been largely indirect, through Latin and French, and largely lexical and conceptual…’.
According to one estimate, more than 150,000 words of English are derived from Greek words. These include technical and scientific terms but also more common words like those above.
Words that starts with ‘ph-‘ are usually of Greek origin, for example: philosophy, physical, photo, phrase, philanthropy.
Many English words are formed of parts of words (morphemes) that originate from the Greek language, including the following examples:
- phobia (fear of), as in arachnophobia – the fear of spiders
- micro (small), as in microscopic – so small it’s hard to see
- demos (people) as in democracy – government by the people
English expressions derived from Ancient Greek culture
Greek mythology has been very influential in Western culture, particularly its art and literature. Unsurprisingly, some common expressions in English derive from these ancient myths and beliefs.
To have an ‘Achilles heel’ means to have a weakness or vulnerable point. Achilles was a Greek hero and central character in Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. He was only vulnerable at his heel. Example sentence: I’m trying to eat more healthily, but chocolate is my Achilles heel.
The ‘Midas touch’ is another common expression deriving from Greek mythology. Describing a near-magical ability to succeed at anything one undertakes, the expression originates from a story of King Midas, who is remembered for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Example sentence: My brother’s business is so successful, he really has the Midas touch!
An idiom which has its roots in Greek antiquity is ‘crocodile tears’. The phrase is thought to come from the popular ancient belief that crocodiles weep while eating their victims. In fact, crocodiles do lubricate their eyes via their tear ducts, usually when their eyes start to dry out after being out of the water for a long time. Nevertheless, the behaviour is also thought to occur when crocodiles feed. It’s used in English to describe expressions of sorrow that are insincere. Example sentence: The president shed crocodile tears while allowing the war to go on.
Xenophon Zolotas, Interim Prime Minister. (1989-90)
He gave two speeches in English, using only words of Greek origin,
Here they are:
I always wished to address this Assembly in Greek, but realized that it would have been indeed “Greek” to all present in this room. I found out, however, that I could make my address in Greek which would still be English to everybody. With your permission, Mr. Chairman, l shall do it now, using with the exception of articles and prepositions, only Greek words.
Kyrie, I eulogize the archons of the Panethnic Numismatic Thesaurus and the Ecumenical Trapeza for the orthodoxy of their axioms, methods and policies, although there is an episode of cacophony of the Trapeza with Hellas. With enthusiasm we dialogue and synagonize at the synods of our didymous organizations in which polymorphous economic ideas and dogmas are analyzed and synthesized. Our critical problems such as the numismatic plethora generate some agony and melancholy. This phenomenon is characteristic of our epoch. But, to my thesis, we have the dynamism to program therapeutic practices as a prophylaxis from chaos and catastrophe. In parallel, a Panethnic unhypocritical economic synergy and harmonization in a democratic climate is basic. I apologize for my eccentric monologue. I emphasize my euharistia to you, Kyrie to the eugenic and generous American Ethnos and to the organizers and protagonists of his Amphictyony and the gastronomic symposia.
Kyrie, it is Zeus’ anathema on our epoch for the dynamism of our economies and the heresy of our economic methods and policies that we should agonize the Scylla of numismatic plethora and the Charybdis of economic anaemia. It is not my idiosyncrasy to be ironic or sarcastic, but my diagnosis would be that politicians are rather cryptoplethorists. Although they emphatically stigmatize numismatic plethora, they energize it through their tactics and practices. Our policies have to be based more on economic and less on political criteria. Our gnomon has to be a metron between political, strategic and philanthropic scopes. Political magic has always been anti-economic. In an epoch characterized by monopolies, oligopolies, monopsonies, monopolistic antagonism and polymorphous inelasticities, our policies have to be more orthological. But this should not be metamorphosed into plethorophobia, which is endemic among academic economists. Numismatic symmetry should not hyper-antagonize economic acme. A greater harmonization between the practices of the economic and numismatic archons is basic. Parallel to this, we have to synchronize and harmonize more and more our economic and numismatic policies panethnically. These scopes are more practicable now, when the prognostics of the political and economic barometer are halcyonic. The history of our didymus organizations in this sphere has been didactic and their gnostic practices will always be a tonic to the polyonymous and idiomorphous ethnical economies. The genesis of the programmed organization will dynamize these policies. Therefore, I sympathize, although not without criticism on one or two themes, with the apostles and the hierarchy of our organs in their zeal to program orthodox economic and numismatic policies, although I have some logomachy with them. I apologize for having tyrannized you with my Hellenic phraseology. In my epilogue, I emphasize my eulogy to the philoxenous autochthons of this cosmopolitan metropolis and my encomium to you, Kyrie, and the stenographers.