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11 Untranslatable Greek Phrases We Need in English

Greece Athens Languages
by Lena Papadopoulos Mar 13, 2018

Language is a powerful reflection of cultural values. Emotion and passion are central tenets of Greek culture, imbuing the Greek language with untranslatable concepts that only a Greek can truly understand; these are things that need to be felt and experienced. How many times have you felt something you just couldn’t put a word to? Keep reading, and maybe you’ll find that word in this list of 11 Greek words with no direct English translation.

1. Φιλοξενία (filoksenia)

The first part of this word comes from the word φιλώ, or love, while the second part comes from ξένος, foreigner. It literally means “love of/for the foreigner,” and is most often roughly translated as “hospitality.” But the significance of hospitality in Greece is beyond translation. The importance of hospitality toward a guest in one’s home is a pervasive part of Greek culture. One of the ways to ensure you’re a good host is to have a hefty stash of κεράσματα…

2. Κεράσματα (kerasmata)

This is any host of goodies you have on hand at your home at all times in case a guest comes by, which is guaranteed to happen multiple times a day in Greece! It’s expected that you will serve coffee, along with an offering (kerasma) of something like chocolates, homemade pitas or pies, or home-made liquor (among other things).

3. Καψούρα (kapsoura)

The first, initial phase of complete infatuation with a new love — you hate to be away from them, and your thoughts are consumed by them. This intense state of feeling/obsession leads one to suppress their self-respect in order to act irrationally for the sake of the person they desire.

4. Κοψοφλεβικα (kopsoflevika)

This is a genre of music, roughly translated to “vein cutters.” Basically, these are songs so incredibly sad, emotional, and full of passion/pain that Greeks joke they will make you want to slit your wrists.

5. Καμάκι (kamaki)

This is technically the word for “harpoon,” but it’s meaning refers to men trying to pick up women. It’s commonly used when men are flirtatious/charming with the intention of “reeling” a woman in. Originally it was used in reference to men who had the intentions to hook-up with tourists, but now it’s a more general term.

6. Κέφι (kefi)

The spirit of joy, passion, and enthusiasm which overwhelms the soul and requires a release. You may have heard that Greeks are infamous for their plate smashing. This is an example of kefi in action. People release kefi by doing things like breaking plates and dancing on tables.

7. Ξενέρωσα (ksenerosa)

This term refers to the effort of stopping a feeling of interest or feeling excited about something or someone. It does not mean a gradual loss of interest or enthusiasm, it comes as a result of a sudden or unexpected encounter, situation, etc. that causes a person to change a positive perspective or idea.

8. Ξενέρωτος (ksenerotos)

Someone who is not interesting or intriguing; very boring. Do you notice how similar this word and the word above are? This person brings down everyone’s mood; they often cause the feeling described above (Ξενέρωσα).

9. Μεράκι (meraki)

This term refers to actions that come from the heart, as a labor of love (derived from the Turkish “merak”). It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, or how simple the task (like making your neighbor coffee), you do it happily and with devotion.

10. Για πάρτη μου (gia party mou)

This is to do something solely on behalf of yourself. It implies a sense of not caring about anything or anyone. It might be slightly equivocal to “treat yo self,” but in this case, “treat yo self, and fuck everything else”!

And finally, the single word the Greeks are MOST proud of…

11. Φιλότιμο (filotimo)

The first part of this word comes from the word φιλο, or friend, and the second part comes from τιμή, meaning honor. At its most basic meaning, it is the love of honor or respect for honor. It is doing what is right/honorable out of a sense of loyalty/duty, regardless of the possible outcome. It also indicates a general feeling of compassion and duty towards humanity. It is to prioritize the well-being of others, to live for something greater than yourself.

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