KHAMO AND THE LINGUISTIC DEVELOPMENT SCALE.

Nick at Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος has an informative and amusing post answering a question a reader asked in the comment thread to an earlier post, Generalised use of να in Early Modern Greek (which itself is well worth your while if you’re interested in the development of Greek syntax): “My aged relatives also say, or used to say, χάμω [khámo] for ‘down’ and ολούθε [olúthe] for ‘everywhere.’ Are these hopelessly rustic?” Nick disposes of the second question in a few paragraphs (summary: “it sounds literary or folksy in Modern Greek” and “it’s not a word I’d use casually”) and devotes the rest of the post to an exegesis of the word χάμω, beginning with its history:

Ancient Greek distinguished between κάτω “down” and χαμαί “on the ground” (as in the last oracle Julian heard from Delphi that all Greek schoolchildren know, χαμαὶ πέσε δαίδαλος αὐλά, “fallen is the splendid hall”). In Modern Greek, χαμαί has survived as χάμω (remodelled after κάτω “down” and [ε]πάνω “up”), and still means “down” as in “on the ground”. So κάτσε κάτω means “sit down”, on a chair; κάτσε χάμω means “sit on the ground”.

He goes on to explain that in fact “Modern Greek” here means the southern form of that language, the variety he (as a Cretan) speaks:

…the word is completely absent in Northern Greek. It’s so absent, Salonicans calls Athenians χαμουτζήδες.
There’s two ways of understanding the word. The first, which I’d always assumed, is “the people who say χάμω” (with the same Turkish -τζής suffix as in opoudjis [Nick's online moniker]). Actually, it’s more like χάμου, which is an (even more colloquial) variant of χάμω.
The second isn’t the primary way of understanding the word, but it’s a cute pun. Southern Greece is down below Northern Greece; and Salonica, which is acutely aware of being in second place to Athens, gets its revenge by calling the Athenians “down-below-ers”.
If they’re thinking that, it’s revealing. Southern Greek makes a semantic distinction between “down” and “on the ground” which Northern Greek doesn’t. Somewhere south of you is never χάμω, it’s always κάτω, because the Peloponnese is not sitting on the ground. But to Northern Greek, both are κάτω, and χάμω is just that funny Southern way of saying κάτω.

He then proceeds to translate a discussion of the word on slang.gr, culminating in xalikoutis’s “scale of linguistic moral development, where stage 1 is total linguistic autism”:

1. There’s no such word as χάμω.
2. The words I don’t know are not words.
3. Words in other dialects are not words.
4. The words used by speakers of other dialects are words, but they’re wrong.
5. The way they talk elsewhere is not wrong, but it is less proper than ours.
6. Languages and dialects are situated in a clear hierarchy according to how much they have contributed to Humanity.
7. I recognise that all languages and dialects are creative expressions of societies and communities, but some of them seem lacking in quality and poetry.
8. Language is an act of creativity, and I enjoy it in both its high and its daily manifestations. Any language and dialect you can become familiar with has its own beauty.
9. A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.
10. slang.gr FTW

I note that in the original, point 10 is “Το slang.gr γαμεί,” literally “slang.gr fucks.” Ah, the varied metaphorical extensions of the sexual lexicon!

Comments

  1. …and while we’re at it, let’s not forget the English (or international, actually) word that derives from χαμαί.
    Just add a lion to it.

  2. caffiend says:

    So “autism” and “idiot” are both from Greek words for “self”, with connotation “only concerned with oneself”?

  3. The full Modern phrase is γαμά και δέρνει, “he fucks and bashes”, meaning “he is in control of the situation” or “he exercises great skill”. (I was aware of the first meaning; slang.gr gives the second, but the first is present in the derived noun γαμαοδέρνουλας.) The reference, I’ve seen it said, it to how tradesmen used to enforce obedience on their apprentices.
    The illustration offered at slang.gr, amusingly, is how good a cook a woman is. (“She fucks and bashes in the kitchen”.) Given the original connotations, the example isn’t as sexist as you might think: cultural contexts change too….
    (The commentary at slang.gr has missed the apprentice etymology, and refutes the putative wife abuse of the expression—which is not implausible unfortunately—with “no, no, no, we fuck women, we bash men”.)

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