Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Greek compound nouns

Since I'm reading some Greek, I might as well inflict a little Greek on the world. That and I've got some serious dislike of traditional Greek grammar—parathetic and synthetic compounds being the sort thing that the classics have too much of. Let's remedy that.

I'm at the halfway point in True Story, and the sheer promiscuity that Lucian tosses out compounds wholly invented for his book astounds me. For whatever reason, it makes the work seem less alien. Anyway, back to my point. He makes compounds, and for sake of reducing assumptions let's assume he is following the standard patterns of forming compounds that Greek uses. Let's see what we can learn from these compounds. Specifically, N-N compounds in book 1. Anything that looked questionable or that I couldn't find, I ditched. First up: pre-existing words.

Right headed endocentric compounds
γαστρο.κνημίη – calf
Ἡρα.κλέης – Hercules
Λυχνό.πολις – Lamptown
οἰνο.φαγία – feast
πελτ.αστής – light shield bearer

Right-headed do-er compound
σκευο.φόρος – porter

Νεφελο.κοκκγ.ία – Cloudcuckootown

Well, um, yeah
οἰκο.δόμημα – building

Seriously, this thing means something like househome. Anyway. From the looks of these pre-existing words, it would appear that Greek uses right-heading as its main strategy when compounding. Sound like another language? That's right. English tends to use right-headed compounds as well. Yet another reason, Ancient Greek is more like English than you may think.

And here are Lucian's made up words. He used a lot of these, and they're fun.

 Right-headed endocentric
Ἀερο.κόρδακες – sky dancers
Ἀερο.κώνωψ – sky-mosquito
ἀερο.μαχία – air battle
Ἀνεμο.δρόμοι – wind walkers
Ἱππο.γέρανοι – crane cavalry
Ἱππό.γυποι – vulture cavalry
Ἱππο.μύρμηξ – horse ant
Κεγχρο.βόλοι – Millet throwers
Λαχανό.πτερος – Grass plumer
Νεφελο.κένταυρος – cloud centaur
νησο.μαχία – island fight
Σκοποδο.μάχοι – Garlic fighters

Right-headed do-er compound
Θαλασσο.πότης – Sea-drinkers

Ψυλλο.τοξότης – flea archer

Exocentric compounds
θυννο.κέφαλος – tuna headed
Καθλο.μύκητες – stalk mushrooms
Κυνο.βάλανοι – dog acorns
Στρουθο.βάλανοι – Sparrow acorns
Ψηττό.ποδες – Sole-feet

In a book like this, you can't tell if he means that the creatures are just heads (κέφαλος) that look like tuna (θύννος) or some sorts of Doctor Who style tuna-headed alien. I prefer the latter interpretation.

Sadly, not everything was a compound. Drat.
Τριτωνο.μένδητες – Mergoat
When I saw this, I was truly hoping I could find how this was a compound. The Middle Liddell failed me. Of course, given Greek culture, there was almost no way that there aren't all sorts of words having to do with every facet of boats and seafaring. Which brings me to the most glaringly odd omission. All of these other things are  compounded, but this one isn't despite the free way Greek compounds.
χείρ σιδήρεος – hand iron
But you might like to call it a grappling hook, and I think it's cool. Even if it isn't a compound.

And then in Book 2, section 4, Lucian spells out exactly how he makes his compounds.
ἅπαντα ἡμῖν προσεοικότας, καὶ τὰ σώματα καὶ τὰμεγέθη, πλὴν τῶν ποδῶν μόνων· ταῦτα γὰρ φέλλινα εἶχον, ἀφ᾽ οὗ δή, οἶμαι, καὶ ἐκαλοῦντο Φελλόποδες.
…entirely similar to us in both body and size, except for their feet: those are cork, from which I suppose, they are called Cork-feet.