Greek is one of the oldest languages in the Indo-European family. It possesses a rich and diverse history, with its writing system being inspired by the Phoenician alphabet. The history of the Greek language spans more than 2,000 years, and various periods ranging from Archaic (ca. 900-600 BC) through the Hellenistic Period (323-30 BC), even though its written tradition begins with early first millennium BC epic poetry.
One of the most fascinating things about the Greek language is its ancient roots. The Greeks have spoken a unique language for over 3,000 years! As we all know, alphabets were used in Ancient Greece, and they were also taken as part of the cultural heritage by many countries that the Greeks colonized. Fortunately, being influenced by other languages does not change one’s roots; it only makes them stronger.
The dialect of Greece is a very poetic one. It has got a soothing sound that leads to easy learning and can be effortlessly memorized. Unlike other languages, Greek makes the use of visual images in the meaning of its words. So apart from their actual meanings, certain characteristics like colors, sounds, and reasons make them unique.
Charmolipi/Joy and Sorrow
Meaning: Etymologically, the Greek expression Charmolipi refers to the word “joy and sorrow”.
Use: It is more practical to say that Chrematoli can be written as an expansion of Chara (joy), Molos (sorrow). Charmolipi is untranslatable and yet wonderful and filled with meaning. Made up of two Greek terms — one for joy and one for sorrow — charmolipi encapsulates in itself the entirety of what life means. After all, isn’t it a striking medley of joy and sorrow?
Meaning: This beautiful word has an equally wonderful meaning. Elpida, originating from the word ‘Elpis’, means hope.
Use: In Greek mythology, Elpis was considered to be the spirit and embodiment of hope and was often represented by a young woman carrying a cornucopia.
Meaning: Ygeia or ee-yee-ya means health in ancient Greek.
Use: This world finds its origin in the name of the goddess Hygeia, the Greek goddess of good health. Did you know that the word hygiene is also derived from it! Ygeia is also a part of the Greek greeting Yia Sou that is a wish for good health – isn’t it the sweetest thing ever?
Meaning: Synonymous to the English term hospitality, Philoxenia’s literal translation means ‘friends with a stranger’.
Use: In Greece, it runs much deeper than that. It translates into a culture of courtesy and generosity to strangers and guests. This word finds its origin in the name of the Greek god Zeus Xenious – who was also considered to be the guardian of travelers.
Meaning: Kalon in Greek means beautiful.
Use: However, it refers to the beauty that is not just skin deep. It is used to describe someone who is not only wonderful on the outside, but also holds noble intentions and an honorable character. The word for beautiful in Greek is itself wonderful, isn’t it?
Meaning: Meraki means soul.
Use: It is a passion, an absolute devotion. When you do something with Meraki, you are putting your soul into it. Surprisingly, this widely used modern Greek term finds its origin in the Turkish term Merak that literally translates to ‘labor of love’.
Meaning: Yia is short for iyia ‘iji:a’ which means health.
Use: Yia Sou, pronounced as ‘ja: su’, is one of the most widely used informal Greek greetings and quite possibly the most popular ancient Greek phrase across the world. Effectively, every time you wish someone Yia Sou, you wish them good health! To greet elders or strangers, you can use Yia Sas ‘ja: sas’ instead.
Meaning: Also spelled as eudaemonia, this term denotes a content state of being happy, healthy, and prosperous.
Use: Simply put, it means the state in which a human truly flourishes. We have Aristotle to thank for this term – a single term that so effortlessly explains something so vast and deeply meaningful.
Meaning: Paracosm comes from two ancient Greek words – para, meaning beside, and kosmos, meaning universe.
Use: Together, these two expressions form paracosm, which means a detailed imaginary world, especially the ones that are woven by children. It is so fascinating that Greek has a separate word for this wonderful thing that kids do!
Meaning: Agapi or a-ga-pee is one of the many beautiful Greek words for love.
Use: What sets agapi apart is that it is the purest form of love – a love that parents and their children share, a love that brings two partners together, a love that binds humans to their gods.
Meaning: Yia Mas is the ancient Greek equivalent of ‘cheers’, a standard toast made by the Greeks before drinking from a glass of alcohol.
Use: Similar to Yia Sou, Yia Mas ‘ja: mas’ also is a wish for great health. However, it is about one’s own health this time. If you are a party person, you’d thoroughly enjoy Athen’s nightlife and go bar hopping – and probably hear and say Yia Mas multiple times over!
Nostalgia/Affection for Past
Meaning: A combination of nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning a dull ache, a longing.
Use: Together, they make nostalgia, which means a deep longing or a wistful affection for the times bygone – especially about something that had in the past but do not own anymore.
Meaning: The smell of the earth as the first drop of rains touches it.
Use: Close your eyes and imagine it has just started to rain. As the first drops of rain touch the dry ground, an earthy smell overcomes your senses – sounds familiar? This wonderful earthy aroma is called petrichor and it is made up of the Greek word for stone, petra, and the blood of mythological Greek gods, īchōr.
Philokalist/Lover of Beauty
Meaning: Philokalist is a Greek term that is used to describe a person who manages to see beauty in everything.
Use: A philokalist is essentially a lover of beauty, someone who appreciates the beauty of small things – something that makes life worthwhile.
Meaning: Efharisto is the Greek word for ‘thank you’.
Use: If you are traveling to Greece, and you had to learn just one word, let it be this. This will open up new conversations with the locals and let them know that you are enjoying all the philoxenia that the Greeks are showering you with!
Agathokakological/ Good and Evil
Meaning: This quirky-sounding Greek word comes from agathos, meaning good, and kakos, meaning bad.
Use: Well, you guessed it right! Agathokakological is used to denote something or someone made up of both good and evil. Somewhat like human nature, which is made up of both good and evil.
Meaning: The literary translation of ataraxia is a state of serene calmness. But the literal translation of the Greek word ataraxia is impassiveness.
Use: It is used to express an ultimate state of freedom, where the mind is free from the shackles of emotional disturbances like stress and anxiety – oh, the dream!
Meaning: The reply to efharisto, parakalo is the modern Greek equivalent of ‘you’re welcome’.
Use: But that is not all! The Greeks love to attach several meanings to a single term. So parakalo, along with the meaning welcome, also means please. Between efharisto and parakalo, you can now say thank you, welcome, and please – the holy trinity of a polite tourist!
Meaning: Empyrean finds its origin in the modern Greek word empyros, which means in or on fire.
Use: In ancient Greek cosmologies, the highest place in heaven was called Empyrean – and it was occupied by fire. Therefore, quite simply, Empyrean means heaven! The term itself invokes a cosmic feeling, doesn’t it?
Meaning: The fleeting right moment – at the right time and at the right place, which creates the perfect atmosphere for everything to effortlessly fall into place, is Kairos.
Use: While the English term serendipity is a lucky development, Kairos is taking advantage of serendipity. Isn’t it mesmerizing how everything is connected!
The Greek language, also called Hellenic, is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages and traces its origin to the southern part of the Balkan region. Spanning more than 3,000 years, its history of being documented is the longest among any other Indo-European languages. The alphabet was first standardized in the 8th century BC and reached its most complete form in the 5th century BC.
It is a rich language with words acquired from other languages and from coinages. Every word has a story to tell, and often, the etymology of most words will surprise you. It may even be that you never knew the meaning of certain common words such as démos (δήμος) or trópos (τρόπος).
One of the coolest things about learning Greek is stumbling upon awesome words and meanings you have never encountered before or even heard of. Yup, there are a lot of classical and philosophical words that people simply do not know of because it is not the easiest to learn — even for great minds like Plato and Aristotle.