THE LEATHER CASE AND THE HONED SICKLE.

The eudæmonist couldn’t resist this quote from Patrick Leigh Fermor (Roumeli, p. 112; see this LH post for more Fermor), and neither can I:

Yet it is impossible not to have a sneaking respect and liking for this hieratic mandarin language with all its euphuistic artificialities and its archaic syntax. Katharévousa has even been used now and then (a feat of unnatural virtuosity) as a medium for poetry; some of the poems of Calvos have a curious fabricated beauty, and there are elements of Katharévousa in Cavafy: cunningly placed bits of whalebone in the more sinuous demotic. It is elaborate and forbidding, but it is precise: indispensable, its champions say (which its opponents bitterly deny), for legal, scientific or mathematical definition. Katharévousa is an expensive faded leather case stamped with a tarnished monogram, holding a set of geometrical instruments: stiff jointed dividers and compasses neatly slotted into their plush beds. Dimotiki is an everyday instrument – a spade, an adze or a sickle – the edge thinned and keen with honing and bright from the whetstone; and the wooden shaft, mellow with sweat and smooth with the patina of generations of handling, lies in the palm with an easy balance. Partisanship for the two idioms has led to rioting in the Athens streets, to bloodshed and even death.

And for an example of American mastery of mixing whalebone with demotic, see jamessal’s latest GQ review; he makes me want to see The Walking Dead, which takes some convincing writing, let me tell you.

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    The more I read about Fermor the more he seemed like Lawrence Durrell, and sure enough they were very good friends.

  2. First I’d heard of Katharevousa, so of course I had to read the Wiki entry. This sentence in particular caught my eye: Amongst Katharevousa’s later contributions is the promotion of classically based compounds to describe items and concepts that did not exist in earlier times, such as “newspaper”, “police”, “automobile”, “airplane”, “television” and many others, rather than borrowing new words directly from other languages.
    The word for newspaper is wonderful: Εφημερίδα. Perhaps even more so as that printed medium lurches to its deathbed.
    Police is αστυνομία. The English word is obviously from Greek polis, etc., but the first element in the modern Greek word stumps me. Something about law, but what?
    Automobile is αυτοκίνητο, also clever.
    Aεροπλάνο for airplane shows how closely the English word hews to its ultimately Greek origins.
    Τηλεόραση is television. The first part of the compound is clear. The second is modern Greek for vision, όραση, but I can’t connect it to anything in English or French.

  3. Aεροπλάνο for airplane shows how closely the English word hews to its ultimately Greek origins.
    Actually, the -plane part is from Latin, not Greek, and the Greek word is borrowed from French; I suspect the katharevousa word they’re talking about is αεροσκάφος [aeroskaphos] ‘aircraft.’
    The second is modern Greek for vision, όραση, but I can’t connect it to anything in English or French.
    Try panorama, which is pan- ‘all’ + ὅραμα [horama] ‘that which is seen, visible object, sight’ from the verb ὁρᾶν [horan] ‘to see’ (ultimately from *wer- ‘perceive,’ the same Indo-European base as English (a)ware).

  4. Garrigus Carraigg says:

    Police is αστυνομία. The English word is obviously from Greek polis, etc., but the first element in the modern Greek word stumps me.
    The word αστυ means “town, city”. You can read the dictionary entry here. Hector’s infant son was named Astyanax, IIRC.

  5. Garrigus Carraigg says:

    (Extra g of mysterious provenance.)

  6. Probably a left-over laryngeal that fastened onto your name and assimilated.

  7. [Aεροπλάνο for airplane]
    Actually, the -plane part is from Latin, not Greek, and the Greek word is borrowed from French; I suspect the katharevousa word they’re talking about is αεροσκάφος [aeroskaphos] ‘aircraft.’
    I’m expert in neither Greek nor aircraft, but:
    Pokorny pp. 805-807 has:
    with n-formants: gr. πέλανος ‘flat Opferkuchen, flat Mönze’;
    Google returns 1.5 million hits for αεροσκάφος and 7.8 million hits for αεροπλάνο.

  8. Off-topic footnote:
    Didn’t Neal Ascherson write somewhere that he wrote (or finished) Black Sea as a guest at Fermor’s home somewhere in Andalusia?
    It struck me as odd that Fermor was living in Spain.

  9. Google returns 1.5 million hits for αεροσκάφος and 7.8 million hits for αεροπλάνο.
    Yes, of course αεροπλάνο is the normal word for ‘airplane,’ but it is borrowed; the existence of an Ancient Greek word πέλανος is neither here nor there. I mentioned αεροσκάφος because it seemed a possible candidate for a katharevousa invention. Another possibility, of course, is that Wikipedia is mistaken.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    LH: αεροπλάνο is the normal word for ‘airplane,’ but it is borrowed;
    You don’t say from where: perhaps from French, where aéroplane was the original word, soon replaced by the current avion.
    Apparently, many relatively recent technical words of Greek origin found in other European languages were first coined in those languages (or at least one of them), by people familiar with Greek roots, and they were later adopted into Modern Greek as well as in other languages. One example concerns words with meter (thermometer, odometer, dynamometer, etc). Similarly, in linguistics, words like phoneme and morphophonemics.

  11. You don’t say from where
    Actually, I did, further up the thread:
    Actually, the -plane part is from Latin, not Greek, and the Greek word is borrowed from French

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Sorry, LH, i must have read too fast. You are right!

Speak Your Mind

*