It’s amazing how the Greeks managed to create one of the most complex and nuanced languages with only 24 letters. It goes to show you that more isn’t necessarily more, but neither is it necessarily less. The Germans (and German is the cognate of English, i.e. it is the root language of English), managed to achieve their linguistic complexity through the stringing together of different words. For example, the street name on which the train station is located might well be called, “Trainstationstreetonthelefthandsideofthecity”. Hence the enormously long words on street signs that drive tourists crazy in any German city.

English on the other hand takes a more complex approach, putting together words into bundles of meaning, the meaning of which isn’t necessarily transparent, e.g. “Spiritual Materialism” is the term for someone who hides his ego under a cloak of poverty and piety, as in “I’m closer to God than you are because I’m poor, devout, pious, etc.”.  Just hearing the words Spiritual Materialism doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is. The Germans would just as soon have called the phenomenon, “I’mclosertogodthanyouarebecausei’mpoordevoutandpious”. But you get my drift.

The Greeks take a slightly different route, somewhere in between the two. They will string together two or three words, but the sum total of the net word is greater than its parts. One great such word that I love is: Koutoponiros. It is made up of two words:

Koutos: Dumb

Poniros: Cunning or sly

So in effect the word literally means Dumbsly. It is used to describe people who think they are sly but wind up outsmarting themselves. For example, I once had an employee who would routinely fudge his expense reports to make a few extra bucks. Our VP Finance would catch these (usually very minor transgressions like tips, or meter parking) and go ballistic. I would simply shrug my shoulders and say “Forget it”. I figure that every year he “took” the company for about $500. So every year, at bonus time, I would pay him $1500 less in bonuses than I had been authorized to pay out….just to balance the books. I’m sure to this day he smiles smugly thinking that he got away with something…not realizing that he got screwed for far more than he made off with!  That is a classic example of someone who is koutoponiros [noun, male].

Of course this phenomenon is very widespread and not limited to morally challenged people like my former colleague. The world is full of people looking for a “deal” or the goods to “fall off the truck”.  Almost inevitably there are few true deals and they are far between. As the Jews say: “Sevel is sevel” (junk is junk). It always pays to buy quality, stay away from status objects…and have the wisdom to know the difference. The wisdom part is the tough one!