It has been said that for a group as charming yet occasionally volatile as the Cypriot community, the use of the words for concepts such as “apologize”, “embarrassed” and “thought” is so rare that including them in the lexicon could be construed as an attempt at an embarrassment of riches for which the editorial team should think of apologizing.
Yet this contemplative little word does offer an opportunity for exploring certain multi-linguistic issues that could benefit from a little more consideration.
Charlemagne* said that “to have another language is to possess a second soul”, and whilst this is a rather ambiguously phrased statement for some, it might surely be argued that at the very least the influence of language on what we express in that language is profound, and so makes us appear very different to those who hear us.
What we hear causes us to make a variety of assumptions about what is actually meant - some of which are inaccurate.
An Englishman thinks in English (by and large) and doubtless a Cypriot in Greek, and when we speak our second language the author finds we tend to speak a translation of the first language – the phrases we use, our intonation and rhythms, and often this plays merry hell with what we actually thought we meant to say.
If you tell an English girl to “sit up” she will straighten her spine and stop slouching. A Greek girl will either slap your face or else giggle as the self same phrase (katse bano) in Greek is telling her to “sit on it”. If she does slap your face, or else call her muscular life-guard of a boyfriend you could say egatsa bano (I sat on it) meaning you made a mess of things and got into trouble.
A not uncommon outcome if you are choosing phrases rather than words without appropriately multilingual awareness.
Likewise, a property developer once described himself to a suddenly anxious client as “very feared”. The author thought about this for a while then gave up and asked him to say what he really meant in Greek.
The key word was “sevastos”, alias respected. Perhaps similar but hardly the same.
If we accept the concept that we think our mother tongue regardless of the language we are actually expressing our thoughts in, certain common bloopers, misstatements and apparent incongruities of behaviour begin to appear more understandable even in quite advanced multi-linguists. At least we can acknowledge the need to say “please explain that again” with a smile before bopping people on the nose or dismissing the taxi driver as an ignorant dolt because he did not say please. (S'barakalo)
In Greek he might have said “Bou beyenetai?" where the “beyenetai” is the polite/plural form of the verb "to go". But since he was struggling in English, the concept of the polite form is (to the English) long gone - who says “thou” these days after all - and thus the whole polite bit was lost in the translation.
Fifty Euro for an ice cream or a hand on the bottom is unambiguously inappropriate and the appropriate response is unlikely to puzzle any visitor in any language.
But if the issue is purely verbal, or if a previously smiling face abruptly darkens as you wrestle with the language of Homer then it could be that what you said and what they heard ( or vice versa) bore much less of a relationship to each other than you thought.
*King Charlemagne - The greatest of medieval kings was born in 742, at a place unknown. He was of German blood and speech, and shared some characteristics of his people- strength of body, courage of spirit, pride of race, and a crude simplicity many centuries apart from the urbane polish of the modern French. He had little book learning; read only a few books - but good ones; tried in his old age to learn writing, but never quite succeeded; yet he could speak old Teutonic and literary Latin, and understood Greek thereby multiplying by three his chances of getting into arguments.