How to say transgender in Greek

In A cis lament for the Greek language, I posted on the difficulties of rendering transgender and intersex in Greek. The solution I reported there seems not to have been the settled solution. I did some further reading since, and this is an expanded version on the challenges that were involved.

The first challenge to rendering transgender and intersex in Greek is that, like most languages Greek does not have a distinct word for sex and gender. An added complication is that all the words Greek does have for sex (or gender) are derived from words for ‘tribe’ (since that’s how Greeks first conceived of sex—as two different tribes of people); and any words based on ‘gender’ or ‘sex’ are going to sound like they’re referring to ethnicities or nations instead.

The word genos for example is used for grammatical gender; outside of grammar, it only means ‘ethnicity’. The word that has prevailed is phylon (our phylum), and that is uncomfortably close to phylē ‘race’. So phyletikē diakrisē is ‘racial discrimination’, although the default term for that is ratsismos. (And ratsismos has been extended to mean bigotry in general; it is used to include homophobia and sectarian prejudice, for example.)

Which means that there is no good adjectival form for phylon, to mean gender-related. Any attempt is going to sound too close to ‘racial’; and the default solution, phylikos, is pronounced identically to the well established philikos ‘friendly’. (I’m using Ancient Greek transliteration here to help readers recognise the terms; in Modern Greek, they’re both filikos.)

Here, Modern Greek has used a nice trick. While the default strategy for forming adjectives is to suffix an ending like –ik-, an alternate strategy is to prefix en– ‘in’. There is a subtle meaning distinction, which, like all subtle meaning distinctions, is not always there: the ‘in’ adjectives have a connotation of the noun being immersed, imbued with the adjective quality, whereas the -ik- adjectives can just mean the noun is about the adjective quality. So metrikos is ‘metrical’, ‘about metre’; emmetros is ‘in-metre, put in verse’. A treatise is metrikos if it is about verse; it is emmetros if it is in verse. Similarly, rhythmikos is ‘rhythmical’; errhythmos is specifically ‘in rhythm, with a beat’. Psychikos is ‘relating to the soul’ (psikhiko in the vernacular is almsgiving, which is done for the good of your soul); empsychos is ‘having a soul, animate’.

So gender studies are emphyles meletes, and gender identity is emphylē tautotēta. It’s not an identity about gender; it’s an identity in gender, realised through gender. (Of course the real reason for this being adopted is that the default formation phylikē tautotēta would be misunderstood as ‘friendly identity’.)

Because emphylos has been established as a rendering of English ‘gender’ as an adjective, the Greek renderings of transgender have used emphylos rather than phyl-ik-. That could be generalised into a notion of phyl– ‘sex’ vs emphyl– ‘gender’, given that homosexual and heterosexual already use phyl-: homophylophilos, heterophylophilos. In fact the coinage I reported last post, too clever by half, differentiated transgender and intersex as di-emphyl-ikos and dia-phyl-ikos. It really was too clever, and it hasn’t stuck.

That was the first puzzle to deal with. The second is that Greek is very proud of its prepositional prefixes, but none of them is a precise match for trans-.

Greek does have a precise adverb match for trans and cis, the Latin for ‘this side of’ and ‘the other side of’: enteuthen and ekeithen. The Latin expressions where trans and cis got the most exposure were Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul: Gaul on the other side of the Alps (= France), and Gaul on this side of the Alps (Northern Italy, which was still Celtic). The Greek renderings of those were Galatia ekeithen tōn Alpeōn and Galatia enteuthen tōn Alpeōn. But as you can see, that’s an adverb, not a prefix. So it won’t work for transgender.

Greek has no less than four prefixes that have been used to render trans– ‘other side of’.

  • Meta– means ‘after’. It is the established classical means of rendering trans– (if you’ve gone the other side of a state, you are in the aftermath of the state), and indeed a lot of trans- words in Latin are renderings of meta– words in Greek. So transformation, transition, translation = metamorphōsis, metabasis, metaphrasis. So it’d be the obvious solution…
    • … if this was Classical Greece. Meta– has kept picking up connotations since, and metaphylikos would now end up sounding like either ‘meta-sexual’ or ‘post-sexual’. Phylometabatikos ‘gender-transitioning’ has been suggested, but I think you can see the problems with that.
  • Hyper– means ‘above’, and it can be used in the sense of overcoming something. Cf. hyperanthropos, Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Hyperphylikos was in fact an early proposal for transgender.
    • No, hyperphylikos does not immediately make one think ‘hypersexual’; and no, hyperphylikos still didn’t get accepted.
  • Para– ‘by the side’ has longstanding usage to mean ‘auxiliary’ or ‘unconventional’. The model in English is paramilitary; the prefix is much more productive in Greek. So parekklēsiastikos ‘para-church’ is a name for religious organisations that are not officially part of the church; parakratos ‘para-State’ is the term for the Deep State or for thugs acting as a regime’s enforcers.
    • This is of course a value-laden term, so it was never contemplated for transgender. It has however been adopted for cross-dressing (old term: trans-vestite): parendytikos. The unconventionality in cross-dressing is, for many practitioners of it, the point.
  • The prefix people have settled on is dia– ‘across’. The problem with dia– is that it means ‘inter-’ as much as it means ‘trans-’; in fact, the coinages I reported used it in both ways. Diemphylikos seems to have stuck as the official rendering of transgender—although as I reported, the term that is actually used most is transdzender.

And if diaphylikos was rejected for ‘intersex’, what has been used instead? The NGO pamphlet I found that was up on all the current terminology didn’t use any of the above. It used mesophylikos.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence that mesophylikos corresponds exactly to the title of a renowned novel with an intersex protagonist, written as it happens by a Greek-American: Middlesex.

What terminology from “The Guardian” newspaper’s list of 35 misused word definitions do you often use wrong?

Ah, I see we have an instance of that special being we call in Greek the glōssamyntōr, the “language defender”.

Harold Evans, Fleet Street editor, eh? Of the Street that gave us Lynne Truss? And in turn the immortal book review of Lynne Truss, Bad Comma? (“An Englishwoman lecturing Americans on semicolons is a little like an American lecturing the French on sauces.”)

I will make like John Gragson Esq., and comment on these and how I came to know of them.

  • Affect/Effect: when I was in high school, I did Music Literature. And part of my study of the Baroque was a (diluted, as it turns out) introduction to the Doctrine of the affects. That consolidated in my mind that affect gets to be a noun, even if it is an archaic noun, distinct from effect.
  • Alibi/Excuse. I’ve watched enough police procedurals to know what an alibi is, even if I didn’t know that alibi is Latin for “somewhere else”. Like John says, surely everyone knows this.
  • Alternative/Choice. “If there are two choices, they are properly called “alternatives”. If there are more than two, they are choices.” Sod off.
  • Anticipate/Expect. “To expect something is to think it may happen; to anticipate is to prepare for it, to act in advance.” I see it, but I don’t bother with it.
  • Blatant/Flagrant. “It’s best to use “blatant” for offence that is glaringly obvious, without care, brazen. Best use “flagrant” to emphasise a serious breach of law or regulation.” Huh. Again, I see it, but I doubt I use flagrant at all. Then again, I’m not a lawyer.
  • Chronic/Acute. I’m Greek, I know chronic is ongoing.
  • Compose/Comprise. “Compose means “to form” or “constitute”. Comprise means “to contain, include, be made up of”. The US comprises 50 states; 50 states do not comprise the US.” Really? I know that compose isn’t about inclusion, but I’ve only said or heard is comprised of.
  • Continual/Continuous. A pedant’s favourite, and my English teacher got to me with this one before I stopped being so fussy. I may have caught myself making the distinction once or twice.
  • Crescendo/Climax. I get this one right too, having a music background.
  • Decimate/Destroy. Oh come on. Noone uses decimate to mean “kill 1 in 10”. It is applied only to human casualties though.
  • Disinterested/Uninterested. I learned disinterested in its original meaning, and the “uninterested” interpretation never made sense to me.
  • Entomb/Trap. “The trapped miners may be alive; entombed miners are dead, ie in a tomb.” What, noone gets buried alive in your world, Evans?
  • Flotsam/Jetsam. I read about the distinction when I was 6, and forgot all about it, because I neither throw things overboard, nor pick things up from the sea. Cute distinction if you care about property rights. Irrelevant to anyone else.
  • Forego/Forgo. Um. I certainly understand the difference; I’m not confident I’ve always spelled it like I do.
  • Gourmet/Gourmand. I’m not familiar with gourmand, so I’m off the hook.
  • Inchoate/Incoherent. Inchoate things are often incoherent, but yes, I rather like inchoate, and I am aware of the distinction.
  • Incumbent/*Former incumbent. “As a noun, the current holder of an office; a “former incumbent” is nonsense. But when you hold an office, it is incumbent (adjective) on you to perform your duties.” I don’t particularly see why “the former[ly] current holder of an office” is nonsense. It is incumbent on Evans to take a chill pill.
  • Inflammable/Flammable. Yes, I know they’re synonyms. I just avoid using inflammable. Or being around anything inflammable.
  • Insidious/Invidious. I was aware of the distinction without reflecting on the etymology, but once you do, it’s obvious: the Latin for ‘trap’ vs ‘evil’.
  • Judicial/Judicious. I call lots of people judicious that have nothing to do with the legal system.
  • Less/Fewer. You know, I’ve been corrected on this on Quora itself. To which all I will say is: Stannis Baratheon is noone’s idea of a good stylist.
  • Litigate/Argue about it. “In January 2017, while telling ABC why Trump would not keep the off-and-on promise, Conway said: “We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him.” Wrong verb.” Not that I welcome the opportunity to defend Kelly Ann Conway, but Harold Evans has clearly never heard of figurative language.
  • Luxuriant/Luxurious. I know this one, thanks to a million hair shampoo ads.
  • Momentarily/For a moment. Only Poms use momentarily to mean “in a moment” anyway.
  • Prescribe/Proscribe. Prescribe is what Harold Evans does. Proscribe is what I want to do to Harold Evans. Simples.
  • Refugee/Migrant. Come on. Why is this even in this list.
  • Refute/Deny. Yes yes, refute is something that you prove, deny is something you can just say.
  • Regalia/Regal. Regalia is something I know most about from Frank Zappa. And regalia is not just what a king has: words do broaden. You’ll be saying paraphernalia can only describe dowries, next. (Look it up.)
  • Replica/Reproduction. “A replica is one recreated by the original creator, so there is no such thing as “a virtual replica”.” Didn’t know, didn’t care. I think this one’s gone.
  • Sceptic/Denier. Outside of climate change, scepticism retains its meaning, particularly as sceptical. Within climate change, it’s dead.
  • Transpire. My apologies to the Magister and Andrew Marvell both, but yeah, this one was lost in 1700.
  • Viable/Feasible. Noone says a foetus is feasible. Plenty of people can say plans are viable, because figurative language. You should try it some time, Evans.
  • Viral. Evans seems to object to viral going viral. He must be great at parties.
  • Virtually. “Incorrectly used to mean “nearly all”; eg: “Virtually all the chocolates were eaten.” “Virtually” is useful for an imprecise description that is more or less right, close enough, as good as. “He’s virtually the manager.”” Oh, you’re funny, Harold.

Harold Evans. Editor of the Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981; 88 years old and retired, now dedicating his time to writing. Writing lists like these. God help us all.

What got you into linguistics and languages?

A high school Latin grammar. One of the many school textbooks my uncles and aunts left behind in my granddad’s shed, which I read in primary school.

I was fascinated by the declension tables and the familiar lexicon, and I taught myself enough Latin to stumble my way through Cornelius Nepos. (“His simple style of writing has made him, in the UK at least, a standard choice for passages of unseen translation in Latin exams, from prep school, even up to degree level.”)

Then, I was inspired to create my own conlang. Which featured declension tables heavily.

Then, I started going through the Teach Yourself language books in my local library.

Then, when I was finishing my engineering degree in University, I met a girl at a party who was doing historical linguistics. And I sat in on her lectures.

And that was it.

EDIT: God bless the Greek government for digitising all their past textbooks. I was looking for Achilleas Tzartzanos’ classic Syntax of Modern Greek; I’d forgotten that the Latin Grammar I’d found in the shed was also his:

Γραμματική της λατινικής γλώσσης

Thanks, Achilleas!

Updated 2017-06-07 · Upvoted by

Steve Rapaport, Linguistics PhD candidate at Edinburgh. Has lived in USA, Sweden, Italy, UK. and

Don Grushkin, Ph.D. Cultural/Linguistic Anthropology, University of Arizona

Did ancient Greek scholars ever adapt Roman numerals?

Greeks did not adopt Roman numerals, like, ever. (“Roman Numerals? We taught those beef eaters everything they know!”) Where the West uses Roman numerals, Greek continues to use Greek numerals; see examples in Nick Nicholas’ answer to Is it possible to shorten the ordinal numbers in modern Greek? I’m honestly not aware of any tradition of using Roman numerals in Greek, outside of as a third level of numbering (like how English goes from 1, 2, 3 to a, b, c to i, ii, iii: Greek numerals are already equivalent to a, b, c, so Greek needs an alternative.)

Milesian numerals continued in use right through Byzantium; the transition was made direct from Milesian numerals to Arabic numerals, in the Renaissance. Late Byzantine scholars (e.g. Theodore Meliteniotes) were aware of Arabic numerals, and described them, but went on using Milesian numerals. Which made their astronomical texts rather painful to read…

Manuel Glyzonios’ Arithmetic (Λογαριαστική), published in 1568 in Venice, certainly used Arabic numbers, and the Glitzouni was how Greeks learned arithmetic for the next few centuries. (A PDF used to be online at Ελληνομνήμων, a repository of texts at Athens Uni about the history of STEM in Modern Greece. Long disappeared of course.) O Εμμανουήλ Γλυζώνιος και η Λογαριαστική του,πιο γνωστή ως Γλυτζούνι cites it as saying:

Γίγνωσκε ότι η λεγόμενη νούλα, ήντινα βάζομεν έμπροσθεν εις το 1 και λογίζεται 10, αυτό το λέγουσιν ελληνικά ουδέν και δια τούτο πληροί μόνον την θέσιν ψηφίου…..

You should know that the so-called nulla, which we put after 1 and count it as 10, is called in Hellenic [= Ancient Greek] nil (ouden), and for that reason it only takes up the position of a number.

Greek now calls zero mēden, which is a synonym of ouden.