The language of the Greek financial crisis
According to Greek mythology, Europe was the daughter of Agenor and Tilefasa. She was a princess living in Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon) with her three sisters Asia, Libya, and Thrace. One day she was playing on the seaside when she saw a beautiful white bull. She was mesmerized by his beauty so she approached him and started playing with him. Moments later, she was on his back riding him along the beach. The bull though, after gaining Europe’s trust, started galloping faster and faster, so fast, that the princess was very scared and could not come off him. The bull crossed the Mediterranean Sea and reached Crete. He then abandoned Europe there. Unfortunately for the princess, the bull was Zeus personified, who had fallen in love with her when he saw her from Mount Olympus and decided to abduct her.
As far as the word is concerned, it seems that it came into English from Latin, which came from the Greek word Ευρώπη (Evropi) ‘Europe’. The Greek word derives from the word Εύρος (Evros), ‘wide’. Taking it even further back in time, the word may be of Phoenician origin from the word Erob ‘where the sun sets’. This isn’t a surprise given that many Greek words and the Greek alphabet both came from the Phoenician.
In any case, there is something pleasant about the way Europe is described by both the myth and the Phoenician word. It makes me associate the word with a pleasant breeze on a hot summer’s evening in Lebanon or Greece. Thinking of the European Union though, that makes me think of less pleasant words such as: economy, crisis, Oxi, Eurozone, and paperology, all of which are of Greek origin. The financial jargon may be ‘all Greek to all of us’, but where did these words come from and what did they use to mean?
The 15th-century English word comes from the French économie or via Latin from Greek οικονομία (oikonomia) ‘household management’. The Greek word is a compound consisting of οίκος (oikos) ‘house’ + νέμειν (nemein) ‘manage’. In Modern Greek they say ‘Κάνε και λίγη οικονομία’ (Kane kai ligi oikonomia) literally ‘watch your spending – be frugal’.
This is an interesting one. In modern English the word denotes a situation of immense danger and difficulty. In late Middle English the word meant the turning point of a disease and it made it into the English language from medical Latin which came from Greek κρίσις (krisis) ‘decision’, from κρίνειν (krinein) ‘to decide’. But in Greek the word κρίσις (krisis) meant so much more than just decide. It often stood for logic, the mind, being critical, expressing an opinion, and giving a court verdict. Supposedly, it makes sense then that when you are in crisis you have to use your κρίσις (krisis) ‘mind/logic’ and make a decision: Yes or No?
Oxi (or more phonetically correct Ohi)
From Ancient Greek, oὐχί (ouhi) is the Greek word for ‘No’. Funnily enough ‘Yes’ in Greek is Ναι (Ne), which bears a strong resemblance to ‘No’ in many other European languages. I am not surprised the Eurozone was left confused…was it a Yes or was it a No?
The word zone appeared in late Middle English: from French, or from Latin zona ‘girdle’ which arrived from Greek ζώνη (zōnē) ‘belt’ and, further back, Ancient Greek ζώννυμι (zonemi), ‘to grid, encircle, enclose’. Eurozone is therefore a compound word consisting of Euro + zone, denoting the geographical belt-area where the Euro is used as a currency – although you might wonder whether it’s a warning to ‘belt yourself for a bumpy ride’. Eurozone’s latest bumpy ride has generated lots of agreements and disagreements sometimes exchanged in the form of written documents or papers. The continent has found itself in this whole new socio-political situation which seems to have given birth to a new non-word…
Paperology has yet to gain the traction needed to be included in Oxford Dictionaries, but it is used mockingly for the paperwork exchanged by Greece and its creditors. You might expect the word to arrive from paper + the common suffix –logy, as in anthology, sociology etc. Wouldn’t that though mean that paperology is the study of paper and that those being experts in paper are the paperologists? I’ve got a feeling I don’t trust this word.
With or without Greece, Europe will always carry something Greek in it.
Other finance words of Greek origin are: economics, autarky, elasticity, endogenous, system, policy and so on. Can you think of any other ones?