PINDOS.

Looking up something else in my largest Russian-English dictionary, my eye lit on the entry пиндос [pindós] m obs colloq pindos (term of abuse used by Russians of Greeks). I love ethnic slurs in foreign languages, so of course it caught my attention, and I googled it, wondering if this obsolete term for a Greek would have any sort of online presence. Indeed it did, but only glancingly in relation to Greeks: the first hit, the Russian Wikipedia article, explained that it had originated in southern Russia as an insult for Greeks (where of course there was more opportunity to interact with them) and had been used in that sense by Chekhov, Fazil Iskander, and Konstantin Paustovsky, among others, but that with the passage of time it had lost its ethnic specificity and come to mean ‘any foreigner from the south, especially one seen as physically and morally weak.’ In this sense it passed into military and criminal jargon of the 1950s-’80s (aided by its phonetic resemblance to various Russian swear words), and by the time of the Kosovo crisis of the 1990s it was available to fill a new slot, becoming an insulting term for American soldiers serving abroad, and by now (according to Wikipedia) refers to any American. (There’s a great deal of discussion in the article about the origin of the word, but I don’t see how it makes sense to see it as derived from anything but Pindos [Πίνδος], the name of a Greek mountain range.) This is a fascinating semantic development, reminiscent of the etymology of Tajik: an Arabic term for a member of the tribe of Tayy became first a Persian term for any Arab and then a Turkish term for an Iranian Muslim, winding up as a specific term for the Iranian population of Central Asia (mainly in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). I’d be curious if Russian-speaking readers are familiar with пиндос and if so, in which of its senses?

Comments

  1. China, don’t forget China. The Tajiks in China speak an Iranian language, but from a different branch.

  2. Note also that Spanish “gringo” may be derived from “Greek.”
    And from the Online Etymological Dictionary (http://etymonline.com):
    lingua franca 1678, from It., lit. “Frankish tongue.” Originally a form of communication used in the Levant, a stripped-down It. peppered with Spanish, French, Greek, Arabic, and Turkish words. The name is probably from the Arabic custom, dating back to the Crusades, of calling all Europeans Franks.

  3. I am Russian, and I first heard “pindos” (actually, more often its plural “pindosy”) used as a disparaging term for Americans around 1999. I am not familiar with the “physically and morally weak” connotation though. The word had probably been in use before 1990s in some circles, as you point out, but certainly not widely. Nowadays it seems so popular in the Russian internet jargon (in the generic, moderately disparaging sense) that I’d surmise it may gradually be losing its offensiveness.

  4. Oleg Semenov says:

    ‘Pindos[y]‘ was not used widely until recent times. The first time I’ve seen this term was a few years ago on nnm.ru forum which is widely known for its very young and unreserved subscribers. I rarely watch TV so I might easily miss the emergence of this word during the Kosovo conflict.

  5. Fascinating! So I’m guessing most Russians know it only as a slang term for Americans (and are presumably confused when they run across it in Chekhov).

  6. I only know it as a relatively recent slang term for Americans. Don’t remember seeing it in Chekhov, though I must have, and if I did again prior to reading your entry, I would be very confused.

  7. LH, I know it from both sources, having grown up in the area with considerable Greek population.

  8. More Googling around has told me that apparently the absence of a Norwegian spoken standard is not inadvertent but is a matter of policy. Even though the dialects tend to be weakening because of migration and mass media, official government policy encourages the use of the various spoken dialects.
    As I said above, if Norway actually had any serious problems they would inevitably be blamed on the peculiar language situation there (just as Switzerland’s terrible problems would be blamed on multilingualism, if Switzerland had terrible problems). Belgium and Canada have smallish problems, and they are frequently blamed on language policy.

  9. Wrong thread.

  10. When did “sluir” come to mean insult or dismissive term? I’m more familiar with the Oxford’s definition “• noun 1 an insinuation or allegation”, with the implication that the evidence for the allegation might be thin or absent.

  11. Sod it. “slur”. Sorry.

  12. If I may to depart on complete fantasy here: could it be that “Mountain” definition is connected to the city of Kerch , near the mountain Mithridates? Around the coastal areas of Azov and Black Sea there are many remnants of former Greek/Asia Minor colonies, from 4BC, and plenty of cliffs and mountains. So the nickname might be given by later newcomers, like Crimean tatars or Genoans, to the core local Greek population who lived on the mountainside.
    Does it sound implausible?

  13. Interesting suggestion. I don’t know enough about the area or the history of the word to say, but I like the idea.

  14. Well, I’ve lived in the region thrugh my childhood; Greeks were always a separate group. Like every other separate group, they were teased but also respected and for some qualities, admired. I remember how my grandma used to say approvingly of some woman’s looks “Интересная женщина, наверное гречанка”.

  15. OT, but Goths survived in that area until past 1500, possibly as late as 1800. One Vasiliev wrote a book about them which I haven’t been able to get. They may have assimilated with the Greeks.
    The Wikipedia article seems a little optimistic about how long the Goths survived:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimean_Goths

  16. Interesting. I’ve never come across it in reference to Americans. I asked some of my younger informants, and they didn’t really know it — just some vague sense of disparagement, not in relation to Americans specifically.
    But who knows? It’s hard to figure out how widespread slang is. I have to say that Pindostan made me laugh.

  17. I’ve only come across пиндОс and its derivatives used in relation to the US, and I’ve always disliked them rather intensely as indecent-sounding and offensive. Almost by default, the user can be assumed to be bitterly anti-American.

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