When a Maven objects to a plural like “jackknifes” b/c “the dictionary says the plural of jackknife is jackknives”, even though it is not actually a knife, you might be tempted to hit yourself in the forehead. An avuncular sort will smile benignly and say, “They’re a purist, that’s why they object to any change in the language”.

Well, no, they are not purists. A purist would want the language to follow the rules of the language. These people are Shamans, Mavens, Scolds, and Guardians. A long-lasting, well-entrenched movement even managed to get away with calling itself purist. These were the people in Greece who wanted to keep the Greek language close to its classical origins, even before the koine in which the Bible is written.

There efforts were pitiful, b/c they were not really purists; that is, they did not make the effort to maintain the ancient forms but instead created a hodge-podge (I refuse to spell it hotch-potch b/c I have never heard anyone pronounce it to rhyme with hop-scotch), a mish-mash, if you will, of forms from all over the place. It started early on and mixed in Byzantine forms with the koine and even later forms, frequently misunderstanding the early forms, something like people who pronounce “Ye Olde Teashoppe” as “yee” instead of “the” b/c they mistook the letter for a ’y’.

True to form, the conservatives wanted to keep this mess even though the great literary figures of Greece had begun writing in the colloquial language everybody but everybody used in daily life, began back in the early part of the 19th century! It got tied in, as it does in this country, with religion and patriotism, and was favored by the military junta that dominated Greece until 1974. With the junta’s demise, the colloquial form was instituted as the standard language, which it remains today.

The Greek words for purist form and popular form are katherevousa and demotiki.

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