Grekos.

Back in 2007 I posted about an old Russian epithet for Greeks, пиндос [pindós], that has come to be directed at Americans; in reading Serafimovich (see this post) I’ve run across another one, грекос [grekós], which is obviously straight from Greek γραικός [γrekós]. The ragged elements of the Red Army (with associated sailors, families, and livestock) are making their hungry way south along the Black Sea coast, and when they run across potential supplies they’re not shy about availing themselves of them. They happen on a colony of Greeks: “За то, что это не свои, а грекосы, позабрали всех коз, как ни кричали черноглазые гречанки [Since they weren’t their own kind but grekósy, they grabbed all the goats, however much the dark-eyed Greek women hollered].” The kicker comes a couple of paragraphs later, when they enter a Russian village: “и хоть и жалко было, ну, да ведь свои – и позабрали всех кур, гусей, уток под вой и причитанье баб [and even though they felt sorry for them – after all, they were their own kind – they grabbed all the chickens, geese, and ducks amid the howling and lamentation of the women].” Serafimovich knew humankind pretty well.

He also had my attitude toward landscape. A couple of pages earlier he mentions that the straggling column was passing the remnants of old Circassian villages, and says:

Лет семьдесят назад царское правительство выгнало черкесов в Турцию. С тех пор дремуче заросли тропинки, одичали черкесские сады, на сотни верст распростерлась голодная горная пустыня, жилье зверя.

Seventy years earlier the tsarist government had expelled the Circassians to Turkey. Since then, the backwoods paths had been overgrown, the Circassian gardens had gone wild, for hundreds of versts there spread a hungry mountain wilderness, the abode of beasts.

But when the column relaxes by the shore:

И взрывы такого же солнечно-искрящегося смеха, визг, крики, восклицания, живой человеческий гомон, – берег осмыслился.

And the bursts of such sunny-sparkling laughter, yelping, shouts, exclamations, living human hubbub — the shore was given meaning.

I like scenery as much as the next person, but it is indeed humanity that gives it meaning as far as I’m concerned.

Comments

  1. The passages quoted have inverted sentence structure so characteristic of 1920s writing.

  2. He uses grekosy for plural – Greeks. If grekos were an English word what would the plural be?

  3. grekoi?

  4. Grekoses.

  5. Probably grekos, possibly with singular greko 🙂

  6. I remember learning that in Russian “football boots” are “butsi”, with the singular “buts” – “a football boot”.

  7. One boot is butsa as far as I remember. As for US dollars, baksy is the standard form, while baki is rather unusual in this sense (homonymous with the plurals of “tanks” and “whiskers”).

    Grekos is also a brand of Serbian yogurt à la grecque sold in Moscow.

  8. A bit off topic (?), but in Welsh the borrowing “matches” belongs to the collective noun class: singular matshesyn, plural matshes.

  9. Maybe a stupid question, but is Greka from the famous Russian tongue twister also a variant of this “grekos”? I’d never heard of Greka as a Russian name.

    Ехал Грека через реку
    Видит Грека – в реке рак
    Сунул Грека руку в реку
    Рак за руку Греку цап!

  10. is Greka from the famous Russian tongue twister
    It could be since Southern Russia-Ukraine where many ‘grekoses’ lived is where much of Russian creativity originated.
    But it’s more likely based on one of the models of making diminutives from full names. Nicolay or Constantin may be Koka and Georgiy may turn into Goga.

  11. boots
    yes, singular for butsi is butsa, feminine. There is a slang verbal derivative butskat’ (imp.) – otbutskat’ (perf.) – отбуцкать that was suddenly made widely known when Putin used it in 2012. It was generally spelled with a ц, not тс as in бутсы.

  12. In Greek the plural of γραικός (grekos) is γραικοί (grekoi), but I don’t know what happens with Russian. By the way, the morale of this story seems to be: dark-eyed or not, Greek or not, female civilian population always suffers.

  13. Yes indeed.

  14. The behaviour of the starving Red Army reminds me of Prince Charlie’s beaten, fleeing highlanders descending upon peasant households and stripping them of their winter supplies.

    I’m sure history provides us with many more examples.

  15. Both sides in the Russian Civil War stripped the locals of everything they had, which is why they would temporarily root for whichever side came and kicked the other bastards out… until the new guys proved to be just as bad. (Incidentally, many peasants were under the impression Bolsheviks and Communists were two different groups, the former being those who had propagated the wonderful slogans of Peace, Bread, and Land to the Peasants, while the latter were the evil people who were stealing their food and animals. The slogan “Up with the Bolsheviks, down with the Communists!” was a real thing.)

  16. “The behaviour of the starving Red Army reminds me of Prince Charlie’s beaten, fleeing highlanders descending upon peasant households and stripping them of their winter supplies.

    I’m sure history provides us with many more examples.”

    I know of a place behind my maternal great-grandparents’ house where my family would hide food and stuff from the soldiers passing through the village during the Mexican Revolution.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    The slogan “Up with the Bolsheviks, down with the Communists!” was a real thing.

    I feel like I should be surprised.

  18. Okinawa Under U.S. Occupation:

    Especially during the first years after the war, when family land was the sole source of self-support and the [U.S.] Army paid no compensation for its appropriations for the military use, scavenging natives lived in miserable poverty, some in areas ravaged by malaria, all in deep shock and bewilderment.

    I feel like I should be surprised.

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