The Concise Gringlish Dictionary

 

I must admit from the offset a definite bias when it comes to the vernacular of any community, people, language, country, grouping, setting or location.  To some extent thus has been influenced through growing up in northeast London, where Cockney was shunned by most of our teachers, and languages from various parts of the world were marginalized from school. We learned French or German, even Latin, but never anything remotely like what many people would be speaking at home with their parents.

 

 

As an integral part of culture language played a crucial part in my everyday life and I was fascinated by picking up as much as possible from my friends, different words, Turkish, Urdu, Jamaican Patwah, Spanish, and smatterings of charismatic Cockney. What also fascinated me from an early age was the way English and come to think of it the vernacular Cypriot dialect was spoken by my parents generation. At Greek school we had our ears pulled for using Cypriot terms such as Tzai (meaning and – pronounced with a J sound) and using the Cypriot dialect ended up being an act of rebellion. This had a powerful political effect on me personally, especially when Greece was ruthlessly ruled by a military dictatorship. I can recall those schoolbooks at Greek school with the fascistic symbolism of the military state in Greece.

 

 

There was also as mentioned the humourous side to it, and this became more evident every time we came to Cyprus. In 1968 my mum declared to my late aunt in Famagusta ‘kori, touti cooka sou eshi kabion wrong’ which loosely translated means ‘there is something wrong with your cooker’. My mum’s hybrid of Cypriot and English made my aunt laugh for about 30 minutes. I had similar personal experiences when my cousins laughed at my Greek and I in return laughed at their English in the late 1970’s. My cousins always found it very hard to say the word ‘Can’t’, which often sounded like an abusive term referring to a woman’s vagina. This did cause them some embarrassment when they tried to chat up Swedish tourist women on the beach. Imagine being asked please come here and some one replies ‘I c**t’.

 

There was however a more oppressive side to things, which is reflective of much wider issues relating to the inferiority complex of Cypriots and their identity in general. Our media always succumbed to this dominant, hegemonic notion that we had to write and speak proper Greek or Turkish. While paradoxically at the same time most Cypriots tended to speak, in their everyday interactions in Britain, the Cypriot dialects. So having worked for 5 years on University radio I returned to London in 1984 buzzing with the idea of getting on a Greek –meaning run by Greek Cypriots pirate radio station. I can recall going to some place off Turnpike Lane, it was hair salon, and some man took me to the back room, which led to another room that was presumably the studio. Despite my technical experience on radio the first thing he did was throw a Greek dictionary at me, which I refused to read. Not because I couldn’t do it but because I did not really see the point in being some one I wasn’t.

 

So I turned my energy to making music and toyed with the idea of mixing reggae with Cypriot vernacular and instruments popular to Greece, like the bouzouki and baklama. It had to be done with my friend Sugar, who was not only the best music producer in my mind but possibly the only one who really understood what I wanted to do. I never really set out to chat in Gringlish or label myself as a Grockney MC. I just had a deep love for dancehall reggae and wanted to do my own thing with it in much the same way that Apache Indian did at that time. So it just happened the way it did and as it did I began to notice reactions, responses, people loving it, people hating it. There was nothing new that occurs all the time with any kind of music.

 

1992-93 was very good to me. I think in 12 months I came and went to Cyprus in as many times. By 1994 I had become a household name in Cyprus and decided to fulfill a long time dream of returning for good to the land of my birth. In complete contrast with Greek radio stations in the community, in Cyprus I had a different kind of reaction, which resulted more or less in being given radio and later TV shows. I understood at the time that there was a novelty element to this but people soon realized that I was not a novelty. The way I spoke, was not fake, it was the way I spoke. Obviously, having lived in Cyprus for the last 15 years my accent has changed, but as they say ‘I glossa mou ‘koma fakka’ – in other words I still have an accent. I laugh when people say that though because I always felt the way people speak is reflective of their character, so why should they try to be some one else.

 

A couple of interesting things also occurred. Having done my music thing I soon discovered that I was not the first, as some people had claimed to ‘rap in Gringlish’. I always found the epithet of being a rapper to be so distortive, as I always saw myself as a reggae MC. It also got up the noses of emerging Cypriot rappers a little bit that here comes this ‘Charlie’ (a racist term used against Cypriots from the diaspora) and he is calling himself a ‘rapper’ Fact is the media called me that not me, and as for the Charlie tag, I never was and never will be.

 

Also I discovered that Haji Mike was just a very small part of the puzzle. People had been doing their Gringlish thing for decades. Café Aman Amerikka featured songs written by American Greeks as far back as the 1930’s. I found copies of the original songs at Trehantiri (rip) in London and learned a lot about Gringlish or Greeklish in the USA and how different it was from the vernacular hybrid in London. Around that time in Australia there was a play called ‘Wogs Out of Work’ by Greek Australian actors who explored their realities in Oz. By the way, the racist epithet ‘wogs’ meant Greeks in Australia and much second and third generation Australians of Greek or Cypriot origin were discriminated at school. Peter Andre for example, when I interviewed him a decade ago revealed how he took up martial arts at a young age in order to defend himself from constant racially motivated attacks at school. Additionally in London two sisters by the name of Donna & Kebab aka Eve Adam & Martha Lewis took their unique brand of Gringlish humour to the Edinburgh Festival and a string of dates at The Shaw Theatre. Eve & Martha took Gringlish and Cypriots to places that no one had ever dared attempt before and much of this was being done at a time when Harry Enfield’s completely ridiculous and racist Stavros parody was on TV each week.

 

It also dawned on me that many people were completely misunderstanding things, especially the media, and in Greece in particular. About 5 years ago there was this short-lived fascination with ‘Greeklish’ and various emerging pop stars like Kalomira tended to play weak parodies of themselves just to be successful. This kind of branded Gringlish as a dumbed out way of speaking and people who spoke it as equally dumb. Some people even started to live out the stereotypes thinking it was great while others totally shunned Gringlish as an example of very confused village people.

 

And of course there was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which played out the stereotypes in a very effective populist manner through the medium of cinema. Frankly I didn’t see it until many years later when it was on TV. It was very Greek-American stereotypical, but written more for playing to an American audience.

 

Somewhere amongst my long ramble, I want to get back to language and the importance of accepting people for who they want to be and are. Its not that Gringlish will ever be the language for the evening news on RiK just that people should be entitled to have a laugh, and communicate in their own distinct way. As my late musical producer friend Sugar used to say after a great mix, ‘Unbezable – unbeatable, top notch. Some years later, as I turned on the news, the then Health Minister, Mr. Frixos Savvides said about a friendly football game between rival political parties “Unbezable”. That’s how vernacular language travels and grows….And Sugar was smiling when he heard that one…

 

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