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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What are some common Greek idioms?
Chrissi: And how are they used?
Michael: At GreekPod101.com, we hear these questions often. The following situation is typical. Karen Lee hears an idiom she's not familiar with. She asks Evangelia Evdoxiadi,
"What does 'to smell my nails' mean?"
Karen Lee: Τι σημαίνει «μυρίζω τα νύχια μου»; (Ti siméni "mirízo ta níhia mu"?)
Karen Lee: Τι σημαίνει «μυρίζω τα νύχια μου»("Ti siméni 'mirízo ta níhia mu'"?)
Evangelia Evdoxiadi: Σημαίνει «μαντεύω». (Siméni 'mandévo'".)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Τι σημαίνει «μυρίζω τα νύχια μου»; ("Ti siméni 'mirízo ta níhia mu'"?)
Michael: "What does 'to smell my nails' mean?"
Evangelia Evdoxiadi: Σημαίνει «μαντεύω». ("Siméni 'mandévo'".)
Michael: "It means 'to guess.'"

Lesson focus

Michael: Idioms are phrases or sentences that express something different from their literal meaning. These are called figurative or metaphorical language structures. Many idioms are similar in different languages, such as the well known English phrase, "an open book", or, in Greek:
Chrissi: ένα ανοιχτό βιβλίο (éna anihtó vivlío)
Michael: In English, this expression is used to describe someone who is transparent about their motives. In Greece, it is also used to say that someone is open about their feelings, and the expression "I am an open book" is commonly used there. It sounds like this in Greek:
Chrissi: Είμαι ανοιχτό βιβλίο. (Íme anihtó vivlío.)
Michael: Idioms give richness, depth, and variety to speech and written language. They make it come alive, so to speak! Therefore, there are many idioms unique to every culture, and they are sometimes difficult to translate. However, learning them is fun and using them correctly will help you sound like a native speaker.
Michael: Let's look at this idiomatic expression, for instance,
Chrissi: δεν μου έχουν μείνει άντερα! (den mu éhun míni ádera)
Michael: which translates to, "I don't have any intestines left". That sounds gross, right?! However, when a Greek uses this line, it means that they've been laughing long and hard and probably out loud. It does correspond to the English “Laughing my guts out”, but that is very much a fringe expression and not as common a saying as “Laughing my head off.”
Michael: Sometimes, idiomatic expressions form part of unique Greek proverbs, such as this one:
Chrissi: Όποιος δεν θέλει να ζυμώσει, δέκα μέρες κοσκινίζει. (Ópios den théli na zimósi, déka méres koskinízi.)
Michael: The proverb translates to “Whoever does not want to knead, sifts for ten days” and the meaning should be easy to guess. It is used to describe a procrastinator who finds every reason not to engage with their assigned task.
Michael: The Greeks are friendly, hospitable, and open people, but if you dig a little deeper, you will find that they are also passionate and fiery at heart. Their language reflects these traits. Take, for instance, the idiomatic expression, "to drink someone's blood".
Chrissi: πίνω το αίμα κάποιου (píno to éma kápiu)
Michael: It has nothing to do with vampires or cannibals, but rather refers to someone who is angry with another person and they feel like taking revenge! That person would say something like, "I'll drink his blood!".
Chrissi: Θα του πιω το αίμα! (Tha tu pio to éma!)
Michael: I know these expressions may sound rough, but be assured that Greece is a very safe place to visit! And, to be fair, this vivid declaration is used only in extreme cases of anger and injustice. The locals seem to like idioms that have to do with an uncommon diet, though, as the next two sayings will illustrate. Can you guess what someone means with the expression, "I ate (a) door"?
Chrissi: Έφαγα πόρτα. (Éfaga pórta.)
Michael: Don't worry, it's not easy to guess. Imagine getting a door slammed shut in your face so hard that it hits you in the mouth—well, that should give a clue. The idiom refers to a complete rejection or to being fired from your job, or, if you are prevented from entering any premises, such as a nightclub, for instance. It means approximately the same as the English saying, "That door closed for me".
Michael: The next Greek idiom is a commonly-used threat or warning:
Chrissi: Θα φας ξύλο! (Tha fas xílo.)
Michael: This translates to, "You will eat wood!" and it is often shouted at someone as a warning right before things become violent. Another common version of this is "wood is falling" when someone sees two people fighting.
Chrissi: Πέφτει ξύλο. (Péfti xílo.)
Michael: As idioms go, the next one is also very expressive.
Chrissi: μασάω τις λέξεις (masáo tis lexis)
Michael. This means "to chew words" and Greeks use this when they want to indicate that someone is not speaking truthfully, or that the person sounds like they're hiding something. You would then say this, for instance, "He's chewing his words."
Chrissi: Μασάει τα λόγια του. (masái ta lóya tu)
Practice Section
Michael: Now, let's review. If you want, respond to the prompts and also repeat the sentences after Chrissi. Can you remember how to say "What does 'to smell my nails' mean?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Chrissi: Τι σημαίνει «μυρίζω τα νύχια μου»; (Ti siméni "mirízo ta níhia mu"?)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Chrissi: Τι σημαίνει «μυρίζω τα νύχια μου»; (Ti siméni "mirízo ta níhia mu"?)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Michael: How did that go? Well done, if you tried! Next, can you remember how to say "It means 'to guess'"?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Chrissi: Σημαίνει «μαντεύω». (Siméni "mandévo".)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Chrissi: Σημαίνει «μαντεύω». (Siméni "mandévo".)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Michael: You will use this expression if you want to indicate that you don't know something and have to make a guess. You could, for instance, ask: "How would I know? Should I sniff my nails?"
Chrissi: Πού να ξέρω; Πρέπει να μυρίσω τα νύχια μου; (Pú na xéro? Prépi na miríso ta níhia mu?)
Michael: The unusual reference to sniffing nails has to do with fortune-telling, and it has an interesting history. Apparently, sniffing the nails was part of a divination rite that was a custom in Ancient Greece at the athletic games. Betting on races was common among spectators—something they took so seriously that they would consult with an oracle or fortune-teller before placing a bet. The oracle would then sniff their nails after having dipped them in a special, hallucinogenic oil. The hallucinogens would make the oracle fall into a deep trance and, in this altered state, the names of the winning athletes could apparently be divined.
Cultural Insight
Michael: Now let's look at more fun and interesting idioms and a bit of trivia! Do you know the English expression: "That sounds like Greek to me"? We say it when we hear or read something incomprehensible to us. Well, the Greeks have a similar expression, but they can hardly call their own language incomprehensible, can they? Instead, they say,
Chrissi: Eἰναι σαν να μου μιλἀς κινἐζικα. (Íne san na mu milás kinézika.)
Michael: which translates to: "It's like you're speaking Chinese to me". That works, doesn't it?! But if you are really confused and don't know what's going on, you would say,
Chrissi: Έχω χάσει τα αυγά και τα καλάθια. (Ého hási ta avgá ke ta kaláthia.)
Michael: which literally means: "I've lost the eggs and the baskets". The origin of this idiom is not clear, though. It probably refers back to a time when belongings could get lost easily, say, at a very busy market, for instance.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Chrissi: Γεια χαρά! (Ya hará!)
Michael: See you soon!

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