Why Ancient Greek Is a Great Language

Because they had words like ἀιγίλιψ “destitute even of goats.” (I just ran across this word in Homer.) What makes it even better somehow is that it rhymes with “chicken-lips.”

My favorite Greek verb is also somewhat zoological: βοόω “to change into a cow” (an obviously useful expression).

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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8 Responses to Why Ancient Greek Is a Great Language

  1. sboydtaylor says:

    Tee hee.

    How ’bout “Destitute of people turning into cows”?

  2. filomancer says:

    Kwak’wala has a suffix, -[x]’id, which among its other functions means “to change into an x, to start being or doing x” when attached to noun or verb.

    Well, Kwak’wala strictly speaking doesn’t have nouns or verbs. But you get the idea.

    • JE says:

      Interesting! Does it just have a common wordstock that can perform nounlike or verblike functions?

      • filomancer says:

        Basically something becomes a noun-like object by being given case, person and deictic markers.

        I once got interested in a Kwak’wala text that on the surface made very little sense. It turned out it was chock-full of ribald puns. One of these abused the fact that the root kw’a_t(a)- means both “blanket worn as clothing, robe” and “to stick on to,” the latter with the possible connotation of sexual intercourse. In the story, the two main characters, a man and a woman, are gambling. The man loses and has to give the woman his kw’a_ta’al/ ‘robe’ (no way can I reproduce the correct characters here, but a_ is schwa and l/ means voiceless lateral). In the next line the form kw’a_ta’al/-[x]’id occurs and the collector of the text, no mean linguist but something of a literal-minded prude, had translated kw’a_ta’l/-[x]’id as “she became a blanket.” That left the oblique noun of the sentence, “the thing she had won,” strangely dangling, as it were–she became a blanket by means of what she had won?? However, if you translated kw’a_ta’al/-[x]’id as “she stuck her self onto something,” then all makes sense. “She stuck herself on to the thing she had won.”

        • JE says:

          Sort of a win-win situation, there. A friend of mine used to say about Martial’s poems, “If you reach the end and you didn’t think it was dirty, you didn’t get it.” Sounds like he had some kindred spirits in the western hemisphere.

          I really have to get some non-IndoEuropean languages in my head. There’s some merit to studying related-but-different languages, but I’m sure it’s narrowing my linguistic imagination, my sense of what language can do.

          • filomancer says:

            American languages can certainly expand it. My favorite t-shirt I don’t own: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in Ojibwa–where the phrase is a single word. (Linguists used to call this ability/characteristic holophrasis or polysynthesis.) Kwak’wala is not as synthetic as the Algonquian languages, but it has these so-called lexical suffixes which are pretty interesting, and a lot of other fun things, such as modal suffixes indicating the source of information… on of which is “in a dream.”

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