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JACK SMITH

Yankeeisms Go Home : Greece Defends Against an Invasion of American Bowling and Striptease

November 09, 1986|JACK SMITH

Iam disappointed to hear that Greece has banned the public use of certain American words.

This news comes in a clipping sent by Ed Wilson of Pasadena from a recent issue of Union Jack.

It says: "In an effort to protect Greek culture from influence, Greek police have embarked upon a campaign to remove from hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment certain English words that they feel may be absorbed into the Greek language.

"The banned words will be: snack bar , disco , blue jeans , fast foods , hamburgers , bowling , beach , yachting , self-service , souvenirs and striptease. "

In one simple act of censorship, the Greeks have not only made sure that their language will not be refreshed by the vitality of the American language but also that their urban life style will not be corrupted by trendy American institutions.

Can you imagine an American city functioning without snack bars, blue jeans, fast foods, hamburgers, bowling and striptease?

Obviously, this Greek assault on Americanisms is a sign of a general European fear of Americanization.

Of all the European nations, the French have been the most paranoid in this regard. Several years ago the French government banned the use of foreign (American) words in all advertising.

Explicitly, that decree outlawed the use of such terms as le hot dog , le weekend , le cocktail and after-shave . Obviously, the guardians of the French tongue feared that it would be polluted by such an infiltration of American sleaze.

Predictably, the government's attempt to control the language by fiat was a failure. Now, years later, Parisians continue to combine American and French in that useful hybrid known as Franglais .

Today's urban Frenchman could hardly discuss the day's events without such terms as blue jeans , sexy , checkout , jumbo jet , hijack , sandwich , racket , call girl , jukebox , zoom , gadget , best-seller , baby sitter , nonstop and checkup .

It seems only fair that the French should appropriate some Americanisms in compensation for the wealth of French words we use in America. We depend on French especially for the expression of elegance, refinement and the good life:

Elite , chic , hors d'oeuvres , chauffeur , soigne , Champagne , deja vu , joie de vivre , elan , carte blanche , lingerie , esprit de corps , savoir-faire , souffle , omelette , pas de deux , tete-a-tete , a la mode and je ne sais quoi , among many others.

Just as we need certain French words to express ideas or things for which there are no apt American equivalents--what is the American word for omelette , for example?--the French have need of certain American words.

Take businessman . The French term for businessman is un homme d'affaires . Literally, a man of affairs. I need not tell you that there is no French term for businesswoman . Could we possibly refer to a businesswoman as a woman of affairs?

Now, it seems to me, the Greeks are also trying to deny themselves an infusion of Americanisms that they are surely entitled to, in return for the Greek words we have taken from them.

We Americans, who have dazzled the world with our science and technology, owe about half of our scientific vocabulary to Greek.

Such words as mania , phobia and psychosomatic are from the Greek. So are therapy , antibiotic and gerontology . Isotopes and betatron , in atomic research, are of Greek origin, and atom itself comes straight from Greek. The nuclear vocabulary is largely Greek: proton , electron , pion , neutrino , beta rays.

Greek prefixes and suffixes abound in American words. Arche , the Greek word for "beginning" or "origin," is seen in arch , anarchy , archeology , archbishop , monarch , oligarchy and patriarch .

Chronos , Greek for "time," appears in chronic , chronicle , chronometer and anachronism . Grapho , Greek for "write" or "draw," occurs in graph , grammar , graphite , graphic , telegram and epigram .

The Greek word phos , meaning "light," appears in photograph , phosphorescence , telephoto , photostat and photoplay . Greek cardio , meaning "heart," gives us cardiac , cardiograph and cardiologist.

Believe me, the Greeks could use the very American words they seek to ban.

I was in Athens in the late 1950s, and at that time units of the U.S. 6th Fleet were anchoring at Piraeus and giving liberty in Athens to American sailors. They saw many pretty Greek girls on the streets, but the language barrier was too steep to permit any kind of communication higher than body language. The language of love is said to be universal, but Greek was so difficult for American sailors to pick up that there was almost no social intercourse between them and the Greek girls.

How felicitous it would be for Greek-American relations if we could find signs for snack bars, hamburgers, discos, fast foods, self-service and bowling in Greece.

Then, as Melina Mercouri, the optimistic prostitute in "Never on Sunday," said after watching an ancient Greek tragedy: "Everybody goes to the seashore."

Only we call it the beach.

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