[B-Greek] Body Humor and Voice

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Fri Mar 10 07:48:52 EST 2006

On Mar 10, 2006, at 6:54 AM, Randall Buth wrote:

> I thought something light and possibly humorous for the weekend might
> be appreciated. Hopefully, this can be discussed in a dignified
> manner. While language learning entails becoming a child, there are
> times for adult reserve as well, smiles permitted. This is a serious
> part of language learning, though it borders on the 'colorful'.
> The ancient Greeks, like cultures most everywhere, sometimes made fun
> of bodily functions. In my work on internalizing the old Greek, I
> need/run-across words for most everything. Fortunately, ancient Greek
> has a much richer attested vocabulary than biblical Hebrew. It turns
> out, though, that ancient Greek is so rich that it poses problems
> where biblical Hebrew has a blank.
> Take a simple, commonplace event like breaking-wind/passing-gas. There
> would have been words that every little first century Greek kid would
> know.
> But was it PERDESQAI or BDEIN? How does one distinguish?
> In Greece last month the issue came up and the Greek guide did not
> know BDEIN but laughed at PERDESQAI, it is still a known entity though
> not the common modern word. So did PERDESQAI continue in the language
> because it was the cleaner word, or perhaps because it was the more
> colorful word? I've seen BDEIN in more colorful first century texts,
> so I would vote for PERDESQAI being the clean word.

I think this is probably right; notable PERDESQAI is also the word  
with well-known cognates in other IE languages (Sanskrit, German, to  
name a couple), including English.

On the other hand BDEIN seems like an onomatopoetic word, like PTUEIN  
("spit"), imitating the noise. This too is cognate to Latin PEDO  
(from *pezdo) and has other IE cognates as well.

> PERDESQAI raises another issue that Carl has often clarified elegantly
> here on the list.
> Voice.
> PERDESQAI is one of those words that is attested as middle/MESH FWNH
> in the present/ENESTWS, but then in the simple past one says EPARDON
> (PARDEIN). I would chalk this up to accident and the vagaries of
> language. This kind of inconsistency happens in languages in general.
> For language learning, I think that one can simply use the forms as
> needed.
> However, in Greek it may reflect some older processes.
> ERXESQAI//ELQEIN shows the same shift between
> AORISTOS+ENERGETIKOS(active). Is there a principle here that can
> elucidate these?

I don't think these are accidental at all. But Martin Culy raised the  
issue with me as to why these aorist (and perfect) "actives" from  
present Middle lemmata (lemmas, if you will) shouldn't be called  
"deponent." I've had to do some thinking about this and I'll post in  
in a separate message with a different header.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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