Opoudjis (Nick Nicholas) at the Hellenic Steakhouse has been doing a series of posts on the origin and development of the colloquial Greek phrase αμέτι μουχαμέτι [ameti mukhameti], expressing unreasonable insistence or pigheadedness (το έβαλε αμέτι μουχαμέτι να κάνει τον γιο του δικηγόρο, ‘he set out, ameti mouhameti, to make his son a lawyer’), which, it turns out, comes from Ottoman Turkish. Here’s a brief summary:
In Turkish there is an expression ümmet-i Muhammed, “nation of Muhammad”, with which Muslims refer to the sum of their coreligionists. During Ottoman rule, it was also used as a warcry, which was interpreted by Greeks as an oath/commitment to attain victory. So it passed into Greek with the sense “at any sacrifice”, as αμέτι μουχαμέτι—possibly through the influence of a folk etymology from the name Ahmed or the oath Μα το Μουχαμέτη “By Muhammad!”
But, as always, the fun is in the details. The laying out of evidence (taken, as Nick would want me to point out, from Vasilis Orfanos at Nikos Sarantakos’ blog) and the careful analysis of exactly how the change must have occurred are well worth your attention even if you have no particular interest in Greek. An interesting sidelight: “understanding Turkish really does get in the way of seeing how the meaning change happened.” The discussion extends over several posts, beginning with Metonymy and Metaphor in Language Change (“If you’re trying to date linguistic change, you have a problem. Because the initial reanalysis happens in people’s heads, you can’t see it in textual evidence”) and continuing in αμέτι μουχαμέτι, “Come Hell or High Water” (laying out the problem and the evidence), αμέτι μουχαμέτι: Syntax (“I will claim that the syntax of this expression, like that of so many others, changed through an iteration of reanalysis and extension”), and αμέτι μουχαμέτι: Semantics (“The context is key to how the connotations took root; context, after all, is where connotations come from”). Warning: I have spent a goodly chunk of the morning reading all that instead of doing a rush editing job. This stuff is addictive.