Notes From The Greek Class

So what’s Verena up to? Haven’t heard from her in ages.

Well, dear imaginary friend, when I’m not writing or taking pwetty pictures, I’m going to a Greek language class. And, to leave all the quipping and sarcasm aside for a moment, that is something that is very important to me.

My husband grew up in Greece, it’s a part of him. Not only that, but through marrying him I also gained a large number of terribly nice, generous Greek relatives. The cousins are no problem, they all speak fluent English, but as  far as the older generation, his aunts and uncles, goes, I am sadly and utterly unable to communicate with them. They only speak a smattering of English and German (and a bit more French; fat lot of good that does) and my Greek is basic verging on non-existent. And sign language only takes you so far, I fear.

All of this has been, if not a cause for sadness, at least the cause of some wistful discomfort. So now, only three or four years late, I’m finally making good on my promises and taking a Greek class.

If it all works out the way I want it to, I’ll be able to speak something resembling basic Greek in one or two years. Basic, mind you; with the exception of English I can hardly be called a language buff. But I’m still very happy that I’ve finally taken this step.

Also: if my classmates continue to be as amusing as they were in the first session last Wednesday, I’ll be making this a weekly column. Because, let’s face it, Greek is a difficult language and Germans can be so damn hilarious.

Today we shall cover the alphabet. The teacher, Konstantinos, is a nice guy. Late fifties, I’d have to guess, and soft-spoken. His German is a little broken – as he says himself, he didn’t pay any attention to the articles, der/die/das, when he learned German, and is regretting it to this day. Personally I don’t mind, I’m there to learn Greek, not German. The class is full, fifteen people. Probably, anyway. A father/daughter team doesn’t yet know if they’ll stay on. Konstantinos – we’re all on a first-name basis here – is confused, the class list he got from the school only has eight names on it. Chaos reigns. Please take out your books, he says. Blank faces meet his smile. Book? Nobody said nuffing about any books. He sighs, doesn’t seem very surprised. Plan B then.

The Greek alphabet. 24 letters. Careful, they’re a little different from what you’re used to. Here’s how it goes: Alpha. Beta. Gamma. Confusion arises, the class breaks into whispered conversations. Surely that one is pronounced like an r. Or maybe a g. J, someone volunteers with some certainty… or maybe ch? Konstantinos lets it all wash over him, I’m sure he’s heard it before. No, he says, actually it’s pronounced γ, like in this εγώ. That means I, as in yourself. Also, and here is where it all goes wrong, that’s basically the same word you know as ego (a word which in German can among other thing also mean self-esteem or self-assuredness). Aha, crows a red-haired woman in her late forties (you know the type: perm, colored hair, neat black costume, perpetual frown on her face, looks like a Doberman): “Ego, that’s so typical for you Greeks.” Aha, I think to myself… you’re learning the language, but you hate the people. Fan-fucking-tastic.

Konstantinos ignores this and moves on. Delta. Or rather Δ. (Pronounced like the th in this.) A hand shoots up. “Excuse me, sir, why aren’t you saying delta?” The letter d hangs heavily in the stale air. Hmm, lady, dunno… maybe because that’s not the way it’s pronounced? Unfortunately Konstantinos doesn’t say that. Instead he looks a little helpless and then ignores the question. It’s hard to tell people that they’re utter idiots, I guess. The rest of the alphabet is less eventful, although it seems hard to grasp why a language needs this many versions of the i. When Konstantinos reads out a few Greek place names, including some islands, the woman next to me giggles. “Funny,” she says, “they say Ρόδος, not Rhodos.” There’s that sneaky delta again. Tsktsktsk. I sigh. But we’ll get there, won’t we?

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Search Engine Term of the Week (Episode 2)

Today:

the name verena where does it originate?

Since I’m interested in stuff like that, I shall give you a straight answer, unknown quester for knowledge. (But don’t get used to it.) And that answer is:

I don’t quite know.

So I did some research.

The name Verena is, depending on whom you ask, of Latin, Swiss, Russian, Dutch, Teutonic or Greek origin.

Verena might be derived from the Latin word for truth: veritas -atis f. [the truth , reality; truthfulness, telling of truth]; in gen. [honesty]. Same as the name Vera. Sounds good to me. If you don’t agree try vereor -eri -itus dep. [to be afraid , fear; to have respect for, revere].

As for Swiss: Verena is the name of a 3rd century Swiss saint. Only she’s not really Swiss, but from Egypt, and only settled in Switzerland after she sort of got stranded there when the army company she was with got slaughtered to the last man. Read the rest on Wikipedia if you like.

In Russian it’s supposed to mean faithful or loyal. I don’t know anything about Russian, so I can’t tell if that’s true or not. Maybe we’re still in the Latin realm here.

One lonely site claims that it means “from the bridge” in Dutch. Which reminds me of a bag of kittens weighed down with a brick in a rather uncomfortable way. Let’s move on.

And Teutonic? All I could find is that the name is, well, very Teutonic. The Germans use it, as do the Belgians and the Austrians (36th most popular girl’s name in 2004, yay!). So, if all the Germanic tribes use it, it must be, like, Teutonic, right? Anyway, it’s supposed to have originally meant “protective friend”. Fine by me.

As for Greek: I read in one place that it’s supposed to mean “true picture” and I guess we’re at the Latin theme again, with that. Jonas doesn’t know where that’s supposed to come from. Sometimes people confuse Ancient Greek and Latin.

The explanation that I like most comes from a birthday card that my grandmother gave me a couple of years back. It said that the name Verena originates from the Greek word fereniki which roughly translates as bringing victory. I’ve seen the same etymological origin claimed for Veronica, which is a very similar name. Who knows?

And if you want some statistics, here you go:

Verena ranked #2810 out of 4276 eligible names in a 1990 U.S. Census.

If you think that number is low you’ll be pleased to know thatVerena was most popular in 1898, God knows why. Maybe a lot of Swiss people moved to America in that year.

The current ranking of Verena is way past the 1000 mark at 11565, but one site says that the popularity of Verena is 4.349 on a scale of 1 to 6, whatever that may mean.

All the girls out there will be glad to hear that based on popular usage, it is 77.333 times more popular for Verena to be a girl’s name than a boy’s name.

According to one site it also rhymes with Andrena, Arena, Cyrena, Irena, Pyrena, Serena, and of course the ever popular Hyena; if you mispronounce it terribly, that is.