Back in mid-November, Nick Nicholas of Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος began a fascinating series of posts about Kaliarda (καλιαρντά):

I’ve namechecked Kaliarda, the gay Greek cant, several times on this blog. There is still a dearth of English-language information on Kaliarda; and since this blog is about making Greek linguistics more googlable in English, I’m going to attempt to remedy that. In this post, I’m going to start by giving what information is to hand on the speakers of Kaliarda; I’ll discuss the cant itself in subsequent posts. […]

Kaliarda is a cant: “the jargon or argot of a group, often employed to exclude or mislead people outside the group.” In particular, it was the cant of street queans and other effeminate gay men in Athens in the early to middle 20th century. In the aftermath of gay liberation and changes in social attitudes, the need for a secrecy language has attenuated, as it has for other gay cants (such as Italian-based Polari of English). There are emblematically gay linguistic mannerisms in popular culture, promulgated by personalities like Ilias Psinakis (and the eccentric variant that TV presenter Malvina Karali had made her own in the 90s); but the consensus is that Kaliarda as a living cant has died out.

I figured I’d wait till the series was finished before posting on it, which I thought might take a week or so; I’ve been watching with awe as it expanded and deepened its coverage, and now, over six weeks later, it seems to be time. In Kaliarda XXX he wrote “I am drawing this sequence to a close with posts on noteworthy classes of Kaliarda words from Petrpoulos’ dictionary,” and Kaliarda XXXIV is called “Miscellanea from Kaliarda,” so I’m guessing it’s done. An amazing piece of work that should be turned into a book, and I congratulate Nick on his accomplishment. (We discussed Polari way back in 2003.)


  1. It subjectively really feels like current Chinese gay slang, which says something about the current position of Chinese-speaking societies vis-à-vis non-heteronormativity.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Interesting name … any possible connexion with “galliard”?

  3. Nick says it’s “from the kaliarda adjective καλιαρντός ‘ugly, strange,'” but I don’t know if he gives the etymology of that anywhere — I haven’t read the whole series.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    I haven’t read the whole series<

    Who has? That man does high quality research and writing faster than I read.

  5. Who has?

    (raises hand)

    It’s there: Romani kaljardo black, African, blackened, dishonoured < kalo black

    So related to Skt. kāla.

  6. any possible connexion with “galliard”?

    According to Babiniotis, yes.

  7. I don’t know if he gives the etymology of that anywhere

    He includes an etymology in the table in installment VII:


  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ka:lo is certainly one of the Romani autonyms, and seems most likely to be etymologically “Black.” (Thus Sampson’s altogether remarkable “Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales” has it, anyhow; the Welsh Romani called themselves by this name too.)

    I doubt whether it has any connexion with “galliard”, then.

  9. I took Nick’s entry to mean that kaljardo is (local) Romany for ‘ugly’, rather than for ‘Romany’. Usually when stating a derivation, if no new gloss is given it means it’s the same gloss as before, though I will usually write ‘id.’ in that case instead.

  10. I initially thought the galliard suggestion was a joke, since Old French galliard/gaillard (which, I just learned, is probably Celtic in origin) > Modern English gaylord.

  11. He includes an etymology in the table in installment VII

    So he does; thanks!

    kaljarˈdo black, African, blackened, dishonoured: past participle “blackened” of kaljaˈrav to blacken < kaˈlo black; cf. the Spanish Roma language name Caló. Montoliu concludes that this originates from the Roma being called swarthy

  12. Aha, and Gordon Messing’s A Glossary of Greek Romany as Spoken in Agia Varvara (Athens) has the following entry (why didn’t I think to check it in the first place?):

    KALIARDÓ (M) same as kaló (M) q.v. Note that the basic meaning of the adj. kaliardó -i -e, which does not seem to be in common use in this dialect, is blackened. It must occur, however, as a synonym for kaló black, since both adjs. are found in many dialects in the meaning Gypsy (i.e. dark-complexioned person). Certain Greek homosexuals designate a sort of secret vocabulary in use by them as Καλιαρντά, i.e. ‘Gypsy talk’ (it contains some words borrowed from Romany); see I. Petropoulos, Τα Καλιαρντά, 3rd ed. (Athens, 1980)

  13. Anyone have any idea which of the listed terms are in use in common parlance among the wider population? As opposed to just widely understood?

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Who has?

    Me three.

    Anyone have any idea

    Just keep reading. It’s all there. 🙂

  15. Galliard was the etymology given by Petropoulos for Kaliarda, but Petropoulos knew little Romani. The Romani derivation is well accepted, and it fits with the pejorative meanings of kaliardos when not referring to the language — “bizarre, ugly”. In fact, in 1904, it was the word used for “cop”.

    Amir: of the Kaliarda words, a few have passed into general slang usage: certainly tekno, “twink”, which has become straight “toyboy”; dzaslos “mad”; pouros “old man” (as “dirty old man”).

  16. tekno, “twink”, which has become straight “toyboy”

    I wonder when in its very long history that word acquired a gay meaning? It certainly puts a different light on Caesar’s Kai sy teknon.

  17. Rodger: it’s artful coincidence: tikno is Romani for small, and literally means child; its Kaliarda garb is accented as teknó, whereas “child” is téknon, but of course Kaliarda speakers were aware of the similarity—which is after all why it switched from tiknó to teknó. In Modern Greek, though, the pertinent meaning of téknon is Christian: it’s how priests and monks address laypeople.

  18. Jim Doyle says:

    “I doubt whether it has any connexion with “galliard”, then.”

    Eddy, expressions like this don’t have to have only one origination; they can derived from several unrelated words that simply happen to sound enough alike to fall together into one new term.

    This is part of how phonesthemes form in a language, I think. “Sleazy” sounds like it fits in the sl- phonestheme along with “slither” and “slide” and “slump” but in fact it derives from some kind of satin they used to produce in Silesia. supposedly. Similarly “womb” sounds like it fits with “weave” and “web” and “wife” but it has a different origin entirely. I wonder how much semantic pull its chance resemblance to the W-P word family exerted on its present meaning.

    So in Polari the term “beard” (“woman you consort with so you can present as straight”) certainly derives from “bird” but picks up some macho points from the masculinizing effect of wearing a beard.

  19. David Eddyshaw says:


    Sure, but there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly phonaesthetic about “Kaliarda.” The Romani origin looks a whole lot more likely once it’s been pointed out. And at least in English, “Galliard” is a fairly obscure word; don’t know about Greek. (After all, they were still calling us “Franks” until quite lately.)

    Belatedly bestirring myself to look at the Larousse etymological dictionary, I see it says that the adjective gaillard meant “vigoureux” in Old French. It attributes it to gallo-roman *galia “force, d’origine gauloise.” Different from galant, oddly enough, which it traces to “lat.pop *walare” from Frankish *wāla “bien.”

    So a Galliard is basically an Old French breakdance, I guess.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    Same origin as jaillir, come to think of it. Let’s not go there …

  21. marie-lucie says:

    David E: the adjective gaillard meant “vigoureux” in Old French

    Not so old! I would say it is now old-fashioned but not enough to be obsolete. In older literature there is often at least one character described as un grand gaillard, a tall, well-built, ‘strapping’ fellow.

    There is still a verb ragaillardir ‘to bring back to full vigour’, most often found as the past participle ragaillardi, a condition usually achieved as the result of a good meal or a drink after a brief episode of tiredness brought on by strenuous activity.

    So a Galliard is basically an Old French breakdance, I guess.

    The French word is la gaillarde, a medieval dance.

  22. Jim Doyle says:

    “And at least in English, “Galliard” is a fairly obscure word; don’t know about Greek.”

    Well, that would suit it for use as code. I agree it’s a stretch but when you’re trying to stay on the down low right out in public, you reach for means.

    “It attributes it to gallo-roman *galia “force, d’origine gauloise.” Different from galant, oddly enough, which it traces to “lat.pop *walare” from Frankish *wāla “bien.”

    As I understand “galant” is a variant of “valliant” so it comes from “valor”. It shows up as standard citation language on military awards – “conspicuous gallantry”, “gallantry in the face of the enemy”…something like that.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:


    most often found as the past participle ragaillardi

    That is a truly excellent word which I shall now endeavour to work into conversation as often as I can. Whenever I feel regalliardised, in fact.

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Jim Doyle:

    Chambers attributes gallant/galant to Old French gale “a merrymaking” (cf gala), which Larousse traces to the same presumed Frankish origin as it does galant, whereas “valour” is, via French, from Late Latin valor, from valēre “be strong.” I suppose this Frankish *wāla could be ultimately related to valēre (David M will know…) “Gallant” itself doesn’t seem to be a variant of “valiant”, though.

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    Evidently the ancient French were simply happy and strong, while their modern descendents are courteous and brave: galants, vaillants. That’s civilisation for you!

    (The shift in meaning seen in the English “gallant” is readily explicable from English manners, which are in turn plainly attributable to traditional English food.)

  26. I suppose this Frankish *wāla could be ultimately related to valēre

    Etymonline says they are (non-laryngeal) PIE *wel- and *wal- respectively.

    Evidently the ancient French were simply happy and strong, while their modern descendents are courteous and brave

    “We are being at once wisely aware of our own frivolity and just to the solemn temper of the original [Beowulf], if we avoid [using in a translation] hitting and whacking and prefer ‘striking’ and ‘smiting’; talk and chat and prefer ‘speech’ and ‘discourse’; exquisite and artistic and prefer the ‘cunning craft’ and ‘skill’ of ancient smiths; visitors (suggesting umbrellas, afternoon tea, and all too familiar faces) and prefer ‘guests’ with a truer note of real hospitality, long and arduous travel, and strange voices bearing unfamiliar news; well-bred, brilliant, or polite noblemen (visions of snobbery columns in the press, and fat men on the Riviera) and prefer the ‘worthy brave and courteous men’ of long ago.” —Tolkien, “On Translating Beowulf”

  27. marie-lucie says:

    David E: You’re welcome to say Maintenant je me sens tout ragaillardi! as you are ready to face the world again.

    I think that even though there is some overlap between gallant and valiant, there is a difference: it seems to me that gallant implies some panache and elegance, while valiant is how a good soldier should behave in battle.

    In French, vaillant can/could be used to praise not just a soldier but also a hard worker who does not stop from tiredness or for apparently frivolous reasons but keeps to the task no matter what.

    As for galant, the meaning of the French word soon shifted to a person’s ability to “win favours” from the opposite sex. King Henri !V of France (the Protestant who converted in order to become king and proved to be one of the best-loved ones) was nicknamed Le Vert-Galant for his well-known prowess in that area of his life. The adjective or noun galant applied (and still applies) mostly to men and their private lives, but a few centuries ago it could also apply to women. Someone (I would recognize the name but don’t remember it right now) wrote a Vie des dames galantes, about the colourful love lives of some famous ladies.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    David M will know…

    I don’t. I have no objection to them being root cognates, but Wiktionary and one of its sources just got me confused by how many descendants PIE *wel- has in German alone… we should wait for Piotr. 🙂

  29. Vie des dames galantes

    Pierre de Bourdeille Brantôme.

    Since the 18C English has differentiated between gallant /ˈgælənt/ ‘brave, honorable, valiant’ and gallant AmE /gəˈlɑnt/ BrE /gəˈlænt/ ‘attentive to ladies, chivalrous’, which represent two separate borrowings. The noun gallant, however, is pronounced like the first but semantically tied to the second.

  30. In Italian galante unforgettably had the meaning of “gracious.”

    – Signor, guardate un poco
    Che maschere galanti!
    – Falle passare avanti,
    Di’ che ci fanno onor.

  31. Indeed, the slight (???) difference between archaic τέκνον and modern τεκνό has been the source of several hilarious situations. I know first hand. Once, as a child, I was taken to a bookshop and asked to choose whichever book by Jules Verne I’d like to read. (In my defense, the titles were all in capital letters.) A title about a certain Captain Grant caught my eye, so I loudly chose Τα τεκνά του Πλοιάρχου Γκραντ, to the amusement of the bookshop lady and the horror of my father.

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