Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A nice long word from Homer

Since I happened to mention fraternities earlier, I had better give you a little Greek to go with it. If you have some nice black olives, maybe some feta cheese, some wine and crusty bread, you're all set for this wonderful poem...

Polyphloisboisterous Homer of old
Threw all his augments into the sea,
Although he had often been courteously told
That perfect imperfects begin with an e.
But the poet replied with a dignified air,
"What the Digamma does any one care?"

[Schoder & Horrigan, A Reading Course in Homeric Greek II, 184]

Yes, polyphoisboio is a real word - in Homer's Odyssey line 1271.

Ah, and I hear someone ask: What is "Digamma" ???

Well, digamma is one of those secret Greek letters that the "Frat Boys" don't want you to know about. It looked like a capital F - two Gammas one on top of the other - but probably sounded like a W. The Greeks gave it up long ago, and there are some anomalies here and there which suggest that it belongs in words like Foinos = "wine" or "oFon" = "egg"... The Romans liked to write that sound with a V, and so we get the Latin vinum and ovum. Since the Greeks didn't want the Digamma any more, the Romans "borrowed" it for their "f" sound.

So just as the Canadians say "zed" for Z (it used to be the Greek "zeta"), we can say "digamma" for F.


At 16 April, 2009 09:16, Blogger Woodlander said...

Really pleased to find this poem - just couldn't recall lines 3 & 4. But there are two more line to end it:
Then he sat himself down by the wine-dark sea
And composed some books of his Odyssey.
Sincerely, Roger Savage - near Cambridge, UK


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