Archive | July 2012

30-Second Word Whoop: “Greek”

Greek Hoplites

Greek Hoplites (Photo credit: Dunechaser)

The Greeks have been taking a lot of guff lately about financial ruin and collapsing markets — clearly, the gods have not been on their side.

And yet we owe a lot to the ancient Greeks, apart from alpha leaders and utopian theories.

Not only has the age-old society been a pillar of myth, architecture, theater, philosophy, sport and yogurt  (ye gods, have you tried Ben & Jerry’s frozen Greek yogurt? To die a Greek tragic death for!), but also language.

Duh. You don’t need a higher education to associate Greeks with frat boys and sorority sisters, even if staring at those hieroglyphic Greek letters on buildings off-campus leaves one musing: “It’s all Greek to me” — aka anything incomprehensible.

In any arena, when “Greek meets Greek” it means one has met their match.  A Greek cross is one with four equal arms at right angles.

A Greek fire? Hearkens back to medieval times and refers to a secret weapon invented by a Syrian engineer and deployed successfully by the Byzantine Empire — especially in naval warfare, as the mixture mythically could burn in water. According to Wikipedia, “the composition of Greek fire remains a matter of speculation and debate, with proposals including naphtha, quicklime, sulphur, and niter.”

One of the most mysterious (to me) Greek derivations might have sprung at the dawn of the computer age, when impatient graphic artists and photo editors in the newsroom would suffer the time it took for artwork to “greek” — or materialize — on then-primitive 512-by-342 pixel, monochromatic  screens.

But only a media geek would know that — “geek” being not a typo for or even deriving from Greek but apparently stemming from the low German geck, an imitative verb rooted in Scandinavia meaning “to croak, cackle” and also “to mock, cheat.”

Somebody bail me out here.