Word Play: It’s all Greek to me

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, August 23rd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. English speakers owe a great debt to the Greek language. WORLD Radio’s George Grant tells why on the August edition of Word Play.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: Xenophon Zolotas was a renowned economist and longtime director of the Bank of Greece. In his long and storied career, he held senior posts in the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. He also served briefly as his nation’s Prime Minister. 

But for all that, he is probably most famous for a speech that he gave to the assembled conference of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 1957. 

While his primary purpose was to espouse a stabilizing monetary policy for the ongoing post-war recovery of Europe, he also wanted to demonstrate the important contribution of the Greek language to English vocabulary. So, he actually gave the speech using only Greek words, with the exception of articles, conjunctions, and prepositions—Greek words which had all passed into everyday English usage.

“I always wished to address this Assembly in Greek,” he began, “but I realized that it would have indeed been Greek to all those present in this room. I found out, however, that I could make my address in Greek and still have it be in English.”

To a smattering of chuckles, he then launched in “eulogizing” the “archons” of the organization for the “orthodoxy of their axioms, methods and policies,” while simultaneously acknowledging the current global “episode of cacophony.” 

And Zolotas was just getting started.

“With enthusiasm we dialogue and synagonize at the synods of our didymous organizations in which polymorphous economic ideas and dogmas are analyzed and synthesized. Our critical problems such as the numismatic plethora generate some agony and melancholy. This phenomenon is characteristic of our epoch.”

The chuckles had by now given way to full-throated laughter. Zolotas had his audience transfixed.

“But, to my thesis, we have the dynamism to program therapeutic practices as a prophylaxis from chaos and catastrophe. In parallel,” he continued, “a pan-ethnic, unhypocritical economic synergy and harmonization in a democratic climate is basic.”

Concluding, he said, “I apologize for my eccentric monologue” in this “generous symposia.” 

No apology needed. The normally staid bankers and economists rose to their feet with enthusiastic applause. Zolotas had made his points brilliantly—both about stabilizing international monetary policy and about borrowed words. Indeed, if we didn’t know it before, we most assuredly know it now: the English language owes much to the Greek.

For WORLD Radio, I’m George Grant.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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