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The Philly Greek-Stake Blog



Greeklish. Every Greek-American (or Canadian) knows the meaning of this word, but for those of you who are not Greek, or a Greek not living in an English speaking country, it basically means the destruction of the civilized world! Well, not really. It’s when we start mish-mashing Greek and English, thus… Greeklish.

Technically, Greeklish, according to Wikipedia, is the “Greek language written in Latin characters” which was developed for use with the computer. It’s actually a heated debate. That’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is the everyday words used by Greek-Americans. Everyone has their own. There are numerous lists of them floating around on the internet. But, in my opinion, there are several types of Greeklish.

The first type we will call “Make It Sound Greek, Greeklish”. This is taking an English word and making it sound Greek (remember to roll the “r”s). For example – a car is known as “karo,” birthday cake is “birthday cakie,” or the different floors in a building are referred to as “florie,” as used in, “to spiti ehi tria flories”. You get it. Growing up, I always thought cakie was a real word until someone asked me if I wanted some “tourta” (τούρτα). What the heck was tourta? That’s when I realized that maybe my family and friends weren’t exactly speaking “proper” Greek! There’s also “stekie” for steak, “hot dogia” for hot dogs, and, my personal favorite, “meatballakia” for small meatballs! Greek-American comedian, Basille, has a funny YouTube clip about this type of Greeklish relating to the word moon. I can’t discuss it here, though.

Another form of Greeklish is the “If You Don’t Understand What I say… Tough, Greeklish”. In this type, it is the way a Greek, with an accent, pronounces English words. Such as, “Fere mou to garachky”. Sounds Polish, right? Wrong. Garachky is the key to the garage – the garage key! How about, “Take e rizie”. No, we’re not talking about giving someone some rice – rizie, we’re telling someone to “take it easy”. Now you’re getting it.

Then there is the “Reverse Greeklish”. That’s where an English word has become so engrained in the Greek psyche that it becomes Greek. For example, the Greek word for computer is “ilektronikos ipologistis” (ηλεκτρονικός υπολογιστής). No ordinary Greek I know uses that word. They all say “computer,” of course, rolling the “r”. Even the late great singer, Dimitri Mitropanos, in the song, Roza, uses the word computer instead of ηλεκτρονικός υπολογιστής. Can you imagine, instead of Mitropanos singing:

“Συγχώρα με που δεν καταλαβαίνω τι λένε τα κομπιούτερς κι οι αριθμοί” he sang,
“Συγχώρα με που δεν καταλαβαίνωτι λένε τα ηλεκτρονικός υπολογιστής κι οι αριθμοί”

It just doesn’t cut it!

Of course, to be fair, I’ll include the English speaking person speaking Greek with an English (American/Canadian) accent. There is no rolling of the “r” or soft “g,” etc. (Some do this on purpose – you know who you are).

Finally, there is the “Half and Half Greeklish”. Usually this is used by young children talking to their Greek grandparents, especially on the telephone. For example (the English words are in quotes and bold): “Yiayia. Tha pame sto “store” ke tha paroume “toys” na pexoume mazi, “you and me”. Ti “time” thelis na pas? O “daddy” tha kani “drive” to “karo”. Ella pio “early” na fame “hamburgers” kai “hotdogia”. If you’re a parent with children born in the USA or Canada I am positive you have heard them speak like this… as I am sure some adults still do!

The world is becoming smaller and smaller and about 27% of the world’s population speaks English and a very high percentage of people around the world use American-English (known as Globish) in internet use. I have been told the Ancient Greek language had about 300,000 words. The Greek language at the time of the 1821 revolution had about 30,000 words and today’s modern Greek language has about 3,000 words. The way we are going, soon, the Greek language of the future will only have 300 words and most of them will be some form of an English word.

Oh well, Na ehete kali day!

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  1. John Pogas

    Great blog post Harry. With the proliferation of Facebook, it amazes me to see how many Greek citizens are substituting English characters for Greek on their posts. Unpistevable.

  2. Eleftherios Kostans

    I would have never thought to write about such a topic. Bravo re!

  3. Tina O

    Excellent blog post re’ Harry (go hard on the “H” soften the “a” and roll the “r’s”)..another blog post well done that had me laughing through my morning.

  4. John Pogas

    When I was a kid growing up in Northeast Philly, I played a lot of street hockey (didn’t every Philly kid in the 70’s play street hockey?). So, every time I would go out, I would tell my mom, “mama – pao exo na pexo hockey”. My best friend was 2nd generation Italian and thought it was hysterical that there was no Greek word for hockey. He loved that phrase so much, that he would say the same exact thing to HIS mom. And with a pretty good accent to boot.

    • Harry K.

      Just like I taught my defensemen on my High School soccer team (I was the goalie) certain Greek words – which will not be mentioned here – as a code to let them know what to do on a certain play, or against a certain player from the team!!!

  5. Michael

    Interesting posts. I was accidentally found this looking at more articles about the debate on greeklish on the internet. I was surprised to see the term greeklish was used even before that, for this funny other side of language use. This culture is new to me (even though I now realize that even some words we use in Greece are plays on english words and that’s interesting to me) although I remember some of these trends also appear in Cyprus (probably because of the British rule in the past) and I found them funny, I never think language is dying or something, it’s just evolving.

    p.s. Where the article says that modern greek language has only 3000 words, this can be misunderstood. It definitely can’t have so few. I’d guess there might be an original source claiming that the average greek person’s vocabulary is 3000 words, not the language’s vocabulary itself.

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