GreeksinLondon

Which is the most beautiful word in the Greek language?

by GreeksConnect Team



The question was posed 80 years ago, in a rather playful way, by Petros Charis (1902-1998), a Greek scholar of last century, who published the answers given by prominent poets, writers, journalists and politicians of his time, a time marked by reforms in the language field and the education sector as well as by a heated, the so-called Language Question (“το γλωσσικό ζήτημα”). The Language Question was a highly controversial topic in the 19th and 20th centuries which had polarized the country in two sides: Katharevousa (puristic) was the language spoken and defended by the elite and the conservatives, while demotic (populist) was the language of the progressive. 

So, Petros Charis asked the intellectuals to answer his question. Poet Kostis Palamas answered that the most beautiful word is «δημοτικισμός» (demoticism), Gregorios Xenopoulos found the word «αισιοδοξία» (optimism) particularly charming, Spyros Melas found the word «ελευθερία» (freedom) attractive while Zacharias Papantoniou came up with «μοναξιά» (loneliness, solitude). The list of words selected, some of which rather hard to translate, was rather long: «χάρμα», «απέθαντος», «ιμερτή», «ζάχαρη», «χίμαιρα», «φως», «ουσία», «θάλασσα», «αρμονία», «όνειρο», «πίστη», «ζωή», «καλοσύνη», «εμπρός», «φιλότιμο», «ανατολή», «πόνος».


Almost a century later, GreeksConnect decided to pose the same question to Greeks living in London through its @GreeksConnect Instagram profile and was pleasantly surprised not only by the number of responses, but also by the diversity of the words selected. Greek Londoners voted for «απομεσήμερο», «ρηξικέλευθος», «ίριδα», «λησμονιά», «οτρηρός», «μεράκι», «ίριδα», «μούχρωμα», «ψόγος», «συνάμα», «νηπενθή», «ερήμην», «δημιουργικότητα», «γαλήνη», «σοφατεπί», «χαμόγελα», «αρχιπέλαγος», «ειλικρίνια», «αιθεροβάμων», «φερειπείν», «χαρμολύπη», «νοσταλγία», «ήλιος», «μαζί», «θάλασσα», «φιλότιμο», «νόστος», «φιλοξενία», «κέφι», «ήθος», «ενσυναίσθηση», «χάρις», «οικογένεια», «ριψασπις», «αναζήτηση», «μασάλια», «αγάπη»,.


Some of our favourites that are also hard to translate are:

χαρμολύπη | joyful mourning, sweet sorrow

Charmolipi is actually a compound word. Composed of the word joy and sorrow or sadness, it is one of the tough Greek words that cannot be translated literally, but it conveys the idea of having mixed feelings about something. 

ίριδα | iris

The modern Greek word irida comes from Iris, the goddess of the rainbow which connects heaven to earth. It is said that she had beautiful wings and a coat of many colors, which would leave a trace when she would carry a message from the gods of Mount Olympus to earth. Her name later gave the meaning to the word rainbow in ancient Greek, from which the English word iridescent derives.

νοσταλγία | nostalgia, homesickness

The word nostalgia which gives nostalgia or nostalgic in English is a compound word. It is the combination of the ancient Greek word nostos, which means return home or homecoming and the word algos, a Homeric Greek (a literary language) word which means ache, pain. Algos serves as the root for the English word analgesic, which is formed with the an- (without) + algos (pain)).

φιλότιμο | self-sacrifice

One of the hardest to translate Greek words, filotimo is the concept of putting others (or the greater good) before yourself. It involves a sense of courage, self-sacrifice, and honor. In short, doing something with filotimo means you are doing something right and honorable even if it is against your own interests.

µεράκι | passion or absolute devotion

One of the hardest words to translate, to do something with meraki means to put “a part of your soul” into what you’re doing.

Enjoy a sort video including @GreeksConnect Instagram poll responses

GreeksConnect Team

We are a team of Greek professionals who love London and have chosen to make it our home. A city with a great vibe that never ceases to surprise you; exhibitions, theatres, restaurants, nightlife, parks, and much more! Yet, keeping connected to Greece and the Greek community in London is something that you need and want while living in London


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