The Greeks Have a Saying for it

By Jonathan Carr and Paul Anastasi
Athens News


DOING the duck (Κανω την παπια ­Kano tin papia)

Meaning: remaining unobtrusive, not rocking the boat, keeping silent, acting dumb.

The duck is here used.as a symbol of quiescence. Yet as the Greeks as a national character are far from quiescent, such untypical behaviour is almost invariably deemed to have some ulterior motive. Deliberateiy playing the fool or not rocking the boat in a potentially difficult situation is one of them. A Greek thus "does the duck" not out of timidity but as a tactical manoeuvre. Not a few historians are prepared to argue that such tactics helped the Greeks stay together as a nation through aeons of alien rule.

Eating someone (Τον τρωω, τον εφαγα - Ton troo - ton efaga)

Meaning: getting the better of someone.

Being able to outwit the other person in the struggle for survival is expressed in variants of this expression, for example, in grabbing a parking space before the driver in front can back into it. "He's eaten it from me," (Mou to'fage) exclaims the driver cheated out of his parking. "I ate him!" (Ton efaga) gloats the other, I've bested the next guy.

Having crabs in the pocket (Εχαβονρια στην τσεπη μου- Ekho kavouria stin tsepi mou)

Meaning: being miserly; not wanting to spend money.

Having your pocket crawling with crabs would make you rather reluctant to put your hand in it. The Greeks, though traditionally poor, have always held generosity to be a cardinal virtue, and correspondingly, hold parsimony in contempt. Hence the dour humour of the image.

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(Posting date 7 September 2006)



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