A cis lament for the Greek language

Today, I felt sad for the Greek language.

As I was describing on Nick Nicholas’ answer to Does modern Greek still have Latin prefixes and suffixes?, Greek has withstood the pressure to make like the Western languages for millennia. Oh, the common folk borrowed words from Latin and Turkish and Italian and Albanian, but scholarly vocabulary? Borrow from Latin? Screw that, we taught those beef-eaters everything they know. So for millennia, every scholarly term of Latin origin was meticulously calqued into Greek elements.

We had a great run of it. The run’s pretty much over. There’s some valiant work to keep calquing westernisms, but today I came across an instance where we just gave up.

The instance, maybe not that surprisingly, is vocabulary about gender, which has undergone upheaval in the last decade or so.

For links to what’s happened, see the linked answer. I’m drawing on the reports of Christina-Antoinette Neofotistou, a trans woman who was involved in coining native terms (and abandoned them) (transgender = διεμφυλικός, Η δήθεν ανακοίνωση των μουσουλμάνων και τα ψέματα (;) του Άδωνη), and on perusal of Greek Wikipedia.

Greek runs into a few problems when trying to render the concepts transgender, intersex, and cis.

  • Greek does not differentiate between gender and sex. They’re both phylon (phlyum). To render the English distinction, Greek has to resort to ‘biological gender’ vs ‘social gender’. Which makes the distinction much clearer, but is also awkward.
  • Greek does not differentiate between the prefixes trans– and inter-. Both are rendered as dia-, meaning ‘across’.
  • Greek does not have a notion of cis– as a prefix at all. It certainly has a notion of ‘this side of the river’ or ‘this side of the mountain’ in place names; but that notion is expressed as mesa vs exō ‘Inner vs Outer’; e.g. Mesa Mani and Exo Mani. It’s not a notion that you can usefully contrast with trans-.

Greek rather cluelessly called transgender people travesti ‘transvestites’ for a while. (To be fair, most people did, including transgender people themselves.) When it faced having to render transsexual, and then transgender… it got stuck.

(Cross-dressers, at least, was much easier to render in Greek: travesti has been replaced by par-endyt-ikos. That’s para- as in para-military: unconventionally dressing, if you like.)

Neofotistou and other trans people got together and came up with something ingenious to render both intersex and transgender. Naively, you could calque it as dia-phylos or dia-phyl-ikos ‘inter-gender, trans-gender’. But because dia– ‘across’ means both inter and trans, that doesn’t get you far. Never mind trying to differentiate sex and gender in the name—that’s just hopeless in Greek.

What they did was, pick up the adjective em-phylos ‘in-gender’ (or ‘in-tribe’—because the two words are not coincidentally related: gender was first identified as a ‘tribe’ of people). The adjective was already in use for a while, to use ‘within a tribe’; it’s a synonym of emphylios, which is used for ‘civil war’ (within a tribe). There was a biological use of em-phylos, to refer to reproduction in which both genders were involved. Latterly, em-phylos refers to the adjective ‘gender’ as in gender studies or gender roles; phenomena that gender is embedded in (‘in-gender’, ‘gendered’).

Neofotistou’s group decided to differentiate between phyl-ikos ‘sex-related’ and em-phyl-ikos ‘relating to the in-gender’, but they then interpreted em-phylos as ‘the gender one is born with’. So intersex is dia-phyl-ikos ‘across sex’ (across the two sexes); but transgender is di-em-phyl-ikos ‘across the in-sex’ (differentiated from the sex of birth).

You’ll see both diaphylikos and diemphylikos used online to render ‘transgender’. But what you’ll see overwhelmingly is trans and transdzender. Including by Neofotistou herself, who dismisses her coinages as pedantic and clinical.

I’m not sure what you *would* do with cis in this case; Greek Wikipedia just gives up and contrasts Τρανς – Βικιπαίδεια with Cisgender – Βικιπαίδεια, abbreviated cis or μη τρανς ‘non trans’. If people cared about using Greek terms, you could go with emphylikos ‘of the in-sex’ (sex of birth), or to make the point more explicitly, adiemphylikos ‘not across the in-sex’.

No hits for either on Google. Noone’s even trying any more.

I don’t know that I can convey what a feeling of loss I have, to have seen this. Greek-speakers themselves are used to using English terms for modern concepts, and they won’t see what the fuss is about. English-speakers are likely relieved that Greek-speakers use their terms.

But… it’s seeing a language that held out for millennia, saying “screw your Latinate vocabulary, we taught you beef-eaters everything you know”… crumple.

A small thing to get hung up on, perhaps. And after all, quem patronum rogaturus, cum vix justus sit securus: German Quora is full of programming questions, with half their terminology in English. I wish I could find it again (Quora Search), but I just saw a question there about which the most popular programming languages were in Chemical Engineering—and so help me, Chemical Engineering was in English. Didn’t those guys invent that discipline? And all the other disciplines in existence?

This… is what made me sad today.

Who’s your least favourite housewife of Orange County?

Is this even a competition?

The delusion. The entitlement. The drama. The self-righteousness. The infantilising of all that come athwart her. And the way she treated poor, poor Don.

Victoria Gunvalson.


Who could show me an example of the ending -σάτω and -σάντων in Ancient Greek?

Plato Phaedo 116e

ἀλλ’ ἄγε δή, ὦ Κρίτων, πειθώμεθα αὐτῷ, καὶ ἐνεγκάτω τις τὸ φάρμακον, εἰ τέτριπται· εἰ δὲ μή, τριψάτω ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

But come, Crito, let us obey him, and let someone bring the poison, if it is ready; and if not, let the man prepare it.

Demosthenes 24.105

Ἐὰν δέ τις ἀπαχθῇ, τῶν γονέων κακώσεως ἑαλωκὼς ἢ ἀστρατείας ἢ προειρημένον αὐτῷ τῶν νόμων εἴργεσθαι, εἰσιὼν ὅποι μὴ χρή, δησάντων αὐτὸν οἱ ἕνδεκα καὶ εἰσαγόντων εἰς τὴν ἡλιαίαν, κατηγορείτω δὲ ὁ βουλόμενος οἷς ἔξεστιν.

If any man be put under arrest after being found guilty of ill-treating his parents or of shirking service, or for entering any forbidden place after notice of outlawry, the Eleven shall put him into prison and bring him before the Court of Heliaea, and any person being a lawful prosecutor may prosecute him.

How did it come to the letter Y (ypsilon) having the sound value of a consonant?

That outcome of <y> is specific to English, and as Y – Wikipedia says, it is through the influence of the obsolete English letter yogh, which was conflated with <y>:

Yogh – Wikipedia

The letter yogh (Ȝ ȝ; Middle English: yoȝ) was used in Middle English and Older Scots, representing y (/j/) and various velar phonemes. It was derived from the Old English form of the letter g. … It stood for /ɡ/ and its various allophones—including [ɡ] and the voiced velar fricative [ɣ]—as well as the phoneme /j/ (⟨y⟩ in modern English orthography).

The velar instances of yogh were replaced by <gh>; the palatal instances were replaced by the arguably similar-looking <y>.

Answered 2017-05-31 · Upvoted by

Logan R. Kearsley, MA in Linguistics from BYU, 8 years working in research for language pedagogy.

Does the middle voice of τιμάω (τιμάομαι) in Attic Greek usually have an active (i.e. Epic: “to avenge”) or a mid/passive meaning (“to be honored”)?

Perusing the entry for τιμάω in Liddell–Scott, the negative meaning you mention is not Epic, and first turns up in Plato and Aristophanes; LSJ describes it as an “Attic law term”. The transition is:

  • to honour (since Homer)
  • to award (as an honour) (in Tragedy)
  • to award a penalty to someone, including a fine or a death sentence (in Attic legal contexts)
  • (medial) to estimate the extent of one one’s own penalty (in Attic legal contexts)

It is a specialist meaning, and I’d expect that the main meaning, ‘to be honoured’, continued to be dominant; it certainly is the meaning you would expect in a non-legal context.

Does modern Greek still have Latin prefixes and suffixes?

Evangelos Lolos’ answer to Does modern Greek still have Latin prefixes and suffixes? gives the prominent Latin affixes of Modern Greek.

No, I’m not going to cite them here. You’re going to have to go over there and upvote him yourself.

The suffixes Evangelos quotes are vernacular; they aren’t part of the whole apparatus of scholarly Latinate terminology.

Greek has had a very, very long history of calquing Latin terms with Greek affixes and stems. In fact, Greek even translates Linnaean binomens (or it used to; I’m pretty sure they’ve given up now). Then again, a whole lot of Classical Latin terms were calqued from Greek anyway.

So there is no precedent, or appetite, for using Latin prefixes or suffixes in Greek. Hybrid terms like automobile or television end up rendered as Greek only terms: autokinēton, tēleorasis. Modern coinages get calqued: amphiphylophilos (‘both gender loving’) for bisexual, metapoikiakos for post-colonial, diapanepistēmiakos for inter-university. The international Latin scientific vocabulary was never going to be a match for Greek cultural pride.

It’s only very, very recently that Greeks have stopped calquing; hence transexoual is much more common than diemphylikos ‘across-in-gender’. (There’s a nice subtlety in em-phylos ‘in-gender’ being a gender you were born with—the analogy is with innate; so that diaphylikos ‘across-gender’ is reserved for ‘intersex’.) But, as Christina-Antoinette Neofotistou, the trans woman involved in the coinages herself conceded, the Greek coinages don’t have the positive connotations that the English loans do, and she’s ended up just saying trans or transdzender and intersex, and dismissing the Greek coinages as pedantic.

I’ll admit to wincing when I saw her write, a bit further down, transfovia. That’s the kind of hybrid word Greek was never ever ever supposed to accept. But like I said: things have changed. At least (thank God) she said ousiokratia instead of esentsialismos.

Yes, of course we calqued essentialism.

See also: A cis lament for the Greek language by Nick Nicholas on Opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr In Exile

Do Top Writers not see ads on Quora?

The results of Are you seeing ads on Quora? by Nick Nicholas on Assorted Polls as of this writing:

79 answers received. 13 have never seen an ad, 66 have.

Of the 13 who have never seen an ad, 6 are current TW, and 7 are not. Of those who are not, 3 are in North America, 2 in Europe, 2 in Asia.

Of the 66 who have seen ads, 1 is a former TW, and the remaining 65 are not TW. Of the 66, 10 are in Asia, 6 in Europe, 41 in North America, 5 in Oceania, 2 in South America, and 2, somehow, are Other.

This confirms that Top Writers are not seeing ads; the immunity of Former Top Writers, which has also been reported, is not necessarily universal. No clear correlation with region in visibility of ads.