I’ve been trying to learn Greek for eleven years. It’s a difficult language, and I can scrape by at it so long as nobody uses big words…which are, unfortunately, very common in Greek. When I fail at Greek-speak, I do like to make sure that I at least pronounce Greek words correctly. This is appreciated by the Greek people I speak to, but generally not by the rest of the World. Here, to illustrate this last point, is a hypothetical conversation with John, my imaginary friend who works in an Office in Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, UK.
John : Hi Will, guess what! I’ve booked a holiday to Greece this summer!
Will : Excellent! Where are you going?
John : Me and Bob are going island-hopping in the Cyclades
Will : Oh, you’ll really enjoy it.
John : Which of the Cyclades do you like best?
Will : Santorini, Milos, Mykonos, Amorgos…they’re my favourites.
A reasonably normal conversation…except I am desperate to avoid the word “Cyclades” in the conversation. Please, please, please, don’t let the conversation develop where I need to say this word. If there is a God in Heaven (there isn’t) then make this word disappear! After speaking with Greeks for over a decade, and where the Cyclades have been mentioned hundreds and hundreds of times, the word snob in me just can’t - really, really can’t - pronounce the word as my friend John has pronounced it - ”Sickladees”. I’m busy thinking “Oh no…I know that this is how the English-speaking World generally pronounce Cyclades, but I never, ever pronounce it like that - I’ve learned the word from my Greek friends and to them the word is “Kik-la-thes”. Desperate not to make my friend feel uncomfortable or for him to think I’m a know-it-all language show-off (“actually John, it’s pronounced Kiklathes, you know”), I squirm and avoid all mention of the word with John from that day forward and forever until one or other of us is dead. I also avoid the word with anyone who is ever likely to speak with John. In fact, I change my phone number, move house and get a new job so that I never, ever have to come across John again.
I am a language snob! I admit it! Take me out at dawn, tie me to a post, blindfold me, and shoot me!
Actually, it’s not that bad. If someone asks me “Where in Greece should I take my holiday, Will?”, I may well say “Oohh…go to the Kiklathes!” and as I got the word in before they did, I don’t have to feel embarrassed if they already know it and get it wrong.
On Symi, the same issue arises. Fortunately not that often, and I’ve given up caring what the non-Greeks on Symi think about me anyway…almost universal hatred, by the way, but I wear that as a badge of honour! What follows is a list of words that are commonly heard on Symi, and almost always pronounced incorrectly by non-Greek visitors and residents, even after decades of visiting and/or living here. I am sure that many of them will think my head is even further up my bottom than they'd thought, but they can go stick their heads up their own capacious backsides! Symi is Greek, and it’s not asking too much for a little effort in pronouncing the following few words correctly. It’ll show you care! If you don't think it important to get it right, then fair enough, get it wrong despite the miniscule effort involved.
Symi: yes, the island’s name itself is very often pronounced “Simmy”, rather than correctly as “See me”. In Greek there is no “i” as in “sin”. If you ever see an “i” or a “y” in a Greek word, pronounce it as an “ee” as in “beans”.
Pedi: The delightful village by the sea here in Symi that non-Greeks almost all call “Peddy” whereas the Greeks pronounce the “d” exactly the same as the “th” in the word “weather”. Is it really that difficult?
Chorio: Never, ever, ever pronounce the “ch” as a “ch”. In Greek, the Ch is just a H. So it’s Horio….and with both the “o”s like in “dog”, and not like the “o” in “low”, and with the stress on that final “o”, not the first one. The only “o” you’ll ever hear in Greek is like the “o” in “dog”. Woof! Oh, and while I’m at it, please don’t ever call Horio “The Village”. Its name is “Horio”! The Greek word for “a village” is “ena chorio”, but Chorio is a name for a particular place, and shouldn’t be translated into English. No doubt by now you think I’m being terribly anal…but just imagine how you would feel as a resident of London or New York if a Greek who had lived in either of these places for ages insisted on calling it “Lonthino” of “Nea Yorky”. Exactly!
Yialos The wonderful harbour area of Symi starts with a “Y” (that pesky Greek gamma), which is the most difficult of the sounds for a non-Greek to get perfect, but nobody really cares about this too much. With Yialos, the problem is that people call it “Yalloss” with the word stressed on the “a”, rather than “y-ia-loss” with the “ia” sound being like the “ia” in a cat’s “miaow!”. The stress in “Yialos” is on the “o”, by the way.
Dodekanisos: the name of the island group that Symi belongs to, and also to be found in the “Dodekanisos Pride” and “Dodekanisos Express”, two of the boats that take people to and from Symi. Both the “D” and the “d” are like the “th” in “weather”, and not the “d” in “dog”.
Pachos is a wonderful cafeneio in the harbour and you should never let the word pass your lips as “packos”. Pronounce that “ch” as a simple “h” and not a “ k”…the “o” is like in “dog”…and stress the “a”, not the “o”.
Lakis, the much-missed Symi dog, quizmaster and mascot of SymiGreece. The “a” is as in “cat” and the “i” is an “ee”.
Ok, enough already!
Greek is a beautiful, musical language, and if you want to be delighted and challenged have a go at learning it. It will make your stay in Greece much more memorable to be able to speak a few words.