Trying to Learn the Greek Alphabet and other interesting stuff

Interesting Greek Facts

A Greek Temple

As I write this, I have managed to survive the introductory ‘Orientation Week’ at Spurgeon’s College and am about to embark on a term of Greek lectures. So far, it has been fine, as the main thing that would terrify me is the logistics—the whole ‘what if the traffic is bad,’ ‘where will I park?’ ‘how do I know where to go/sit/eat,’ ‘what if my brain runs out of energy before the end of a session?’ You can imagine the type of thing. Therefore a term (at least) of all lectures being online, is perfect for me.

Learning Greek

Greek Text Book

I haven’t had any proper lectures yet, but I have enthusiastically started reading the book they sent, and searched the resources they sent for interesting YouTube clips. I have to say, it has proven to be a very interesting week. I hadn’t realised how much of the English I speak has its roots in ancient Greek. Here are some fascinating facts:

The New Testament part of the Bible is written in Koine Greek. ‘Koine’ simply means ‘common’ because it was the common language for about 600 years. Obviously languages evolve—so if I wanted to read Chaucer, I would need to understand the language spoken in that period, whereas Henry VIII spoke a slightly different English. “Ah,” you might say, “but if it’s an ancient language, how do you know how to pronounce it?” Well, I thought the same thing, and the answer is brilliant. Historians study as many sources of the writing as possible—on tombs, and carved onto monuments, and written on manuscripts. They then compare them, and the spelling mistakes give clues about how the words were spoken. Isn’t that great? If you take an English example: “I read the book yesterday,” and find that in 200 instances, the word “read” had been misspelt as “red” then you could conclude that “ea” can be pronounced as the “e” in “red.”

When you learn the Greek alphabet, there are some letters which are very weird, and listed as sounds that we don’t say in English, like Psi. However, the Greek words have evolved into the words that we use today, we simply ignore the bits that we don’t pronounce. So the letter Psi gave us the words for psychology and psychopath and pseudo. (Now you know why they have odd spelling.)

There is a symbol in Greek called a breathing which looks like a tiny ‘c’ and floats above some vowels: αͨ εͨ ιͨ οͨ. When it’s backwards, it’s not pronounced (I don’t yet know what purpose it serves, that will have to be a later blog). But when it’s the correct way round (c) and it’s over a vowel at the start of a word, it adds an ‘h’ sound to the start of the word. In Greek, the letter P is called ‘rho’ and it is apparently a vowel (but only sometimes—again, I can’t yet explain this). This is interesting though, because when it has the breathing over it, an ‘h’ is added to the pronunciation. In English, we don’t say the ‘h’ but it is hidden in words like rheumatism and rhesus and rhetoric.

νόμος (sounds like nom-us) is the Greek word for law. If you add alpha (which looks like a fishy ‘a’ letter) to the front, it means the opposite. So νόμος = law and ανόμος = lawless. We still do this today with some words: symmetrical vs asymmetrical.

The word οͨ means ‘the’ when the word is masculine (I guess like ‘le’ in French, when ‘la’ is feminine) it’s pronounced ‘ho’ because the little ‘c’ adds an ‘h’. The word for God is θεος (‘Theos’) and in the places I’ve found it, it is preceded by the masculine ‘the’—so although I think God is genderless, certainly the Greek word was always masculine. The word θεος appears 1300 times in the New Testament, so I haven’t yet checked them all.

Learning the Greek alphabet in order is, I have decided, impossible. I have managed to learn the letter names (which gives a clue to how they sound) and the symbols for the lower-case letters. Everything I have read so far says not to bother learning capital letters at this stage as they are rarely used, so I have taken this to heart and ignored them completely. What is impossible though is learning the alphabet in order.

α alpha (sounds like ‘a’)

β beta (sounds like ‘b’)

γ gamma (g)

δ delta (d)

ε epsilon (e)

ζ zeta (z)

η eta (a long ‘e’ sound like in ‘air’) this one always confuses me!

θ theta (th)

ι iota (i)

κ kappa (k)

λ lamda (l)

μ mu (m)

ν nu (n) this is a tricky one too

ξ xi (x) easy to remember if you notice it looks like a pair of boobs so is ‘sexy’!

ο omicron (o) I always forget this one. Always.

π pi (p) brings back horrible memories of school mathematics

ρ rho (r) another tricky one because it pretends to be a ‘p’ and really it’s an ‘r’

ς σ sigma (s) this has two symbols, depending on whether it comes in the middle or at the end of a word. It is very hard to remember that σ is ‘s’!

τ tau (t)

υ upsilon (u,y)

φ phi (ph)

χ chi (ch)

ψ psi (ps)

ω omega (o, but a long one like in ‘bone’)

To be honest, I struggle over the order of letters in the English alphabet, and it’s only ever useful when I’m filing (which is never) or looking in a dictionary (which is rare) so why bother? I have tried making useful rhymes to help with the tricky bits: ‘epileptic zebras eat thick ice kittens’ and ‘lovely male nurses x-ray other people’ but I find I start to muddle up the rhymes too. I am shelving it for now and hoping that by the time I do an exam, the lecturer will have moved onto more complicated things and won’t bother to test us for the alphabet.

I sent one of my children a few words written in Greek, wanting to show-off a little. He was able to name all the letters, which was very disappointing (I long for the day I will know something my children don’t know—something beyond what temperature to use on the washing machine or how to hatch an egg). Apparently the Greek alphabet is used a lot in Physics, so he learnt all the letter names and symbols at uni. I think learning to read the language is much more interesting than Physics though, so I have decided that doesn’t count.

I hope you have something interesting too this week.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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A Greek Temple

Learning Greek

Returning to Education When I am Really Rather Old:

Starting to Learn Greek

You might remember that a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I plan to learn the languages that the Bible was originally written in—ancient Hebrew and Greek. I enrolled in a course at Spurgeon’s College, was accepted, and the term is now about to begin. It is a long time since I attended a college. It has all been very scary! These are the most terrifying points to date:

I received an email, saying we need to rearrange the timetable as one member of the class works on Thursdays. Wednesday was suggested, but I have my Mandarin lesson on Wednesdays—should I admit that I am learning another language or will that be seen as a conflict? I decided to say I was busy that day but not give a reason.

After much pondering, when a form arrived asking if I have any special needs, I indicated that I do (one of the diffy students, as my family put it). Since my brain surgery, there are a few things I cannot manage—like concentrating for more than about two hours without a break. But how to communicate that in a way that showed I was still an intelligent human, I simply need a ‘brain break’ to recharge? I therefore ticked the ‘special needs’ box, explained that this simply meant I might need to go and sit in my car for 20 minutes to recharge (I sounded like a synth in Humans!) and waited to see what would happen. A very nice email came back, saying they had made a note of my potential need, and I should let them know if I need anything. Very kind.

The college have their own website thing: Moodle and I was told how to log-on. This was extremely scary, as it is full of acronyms which I didn’t understand, and a complex array of colours and links. I looked at it, then shut it down again quickly.

The following day, I forced myself to log-on again and try to make sense of some of it. I managed to find the timetable for my course and printed it off (it is comforting to have something written on paper when you’re my age). This then directed me to some pre-course preparation that I was meant to complete.

I went back to Moodle, and watched the Principle giving a short speech. Logged off.

Returned when I had recovered, and found a short test that I needed to complete. It is a long, long time since I have done an exam. It was all done online, and it had to be completed within an hour, so there was a little clock ticking away in the corner of the screen to add a further element of stress. I didn’t know whether I could return to pages once they were complete, or if it would wipe my answers, so I tried to completely finish and proof-read each question before going to the next page. The time whizzed past. Husband was especially noisy, so I yelled at him to shut his door. A telephone rang. My pulse was racing, I forgot to breathe. But the questions were fine. Some were very quick (put the correct word into the space) and some took longer (add punctuation to an essay). It was all very churchy, but I guess that’s to be expected at a Bible college, even though it was an English test. I finished, within the hour, and sent it off. Went for a cup of tea.

Learning Greek

Greek Text Book

The next excitement was a parcel. I have been sent a ‘Teach Yourself New Testament Greek’ book (doesn’t show much faith in the tutor, but maybe they’re covering their backs!) It looks fabulous, and I am dying to dive in. The first chapter is called Read This First so of course I ignored that and flicked straight to the alphabet page. What fun! I am chanting every time I go upstairs now, it’s like teaching the children the alphabet when they were small, but without the annoying tune: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta…

When I did go back and read the first chapter, it was brilliant. As you know, when I was too ill to be able to do anything else, I learnt Mandarin. I was never able to learn languages at school, so I tried to teach myself differently, surrounding myself with the language and not worrying too much about making progress or understanding everything as I went. I now speak very bad, but pretty fluent, Mandarin (it’s good enough for me to have coffee with a friend who speaks no English and we manage pretty well to discuss our children and mothers-in-law). Anyway, this book suggested all the things I had discovered as a way to learn a language—like not trying to completely understand everything before moving on to the next thing (the opposite of how you would learn maths) and attempting to read things that are ‘too difficult’ so your brain can work them out, and not studying for too long because the brain assimilates information when you are ‘resting’ rather than studying. I was very excited! I went and bubbled about it to Husband. He has now set a time limit on how long I am allowed to tell him about my Greek lessons. But that doesn’t matter, because I can tell you instead.

I will let you know in a future blog how my Orientation Week and first lectures go. It’s all being done virtually this semester, so I’m planning to wear my killer heels and a pink wig.

Hope you have some excitement this week too. Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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Look on your device for this icon (it’s probably right at the bottom of the screen if you scroll down). Follow the link to follow my blog!


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope you have enjoyed the whole Christmas period and 2017 is a good one for you. I always think the new year is like an unopened gift, none of us know what it will bring, but it makes us look ahead, to think about things we might like to change or try harder with.

One thing I would like to change is a Christmas gift husband bought for our sons. We had a ‘Men in Black’ party, so he thought it would be a good idea to give them alien guns. It wasn’t. The gun lit up when fired and made a noise. A very loud, irritating noise. Like those toys which people who have never had children buy for your toddlers (and you remove the batteries as soon as they leave.) Except, my sons are not toddlers. They are 20 and 22.

Did you like my story? It was bit of an experiment. Modern European literature has everything in a story build towards the end, where the climax is. However, I have been reading about ancient Greek literature, where the climax, the most important part, is in the middle. It acts like a sort of hinge, with the elements on either side balancing each other. I found this a very interesting idea, so would like to try and write my next book, Clara Oakes, in this style. Not in a way that the reader especially notices, it will read like a normal novel, but just for my own amusement, to see if I can. So “One of those days…” was a practise for me. It was more difficult than I thought, though quite fun to write, bit of a challenge.
If you missed it, the link is:

We saw a lot of the extended family over the holiday, which was nice. I’m very fortunate, as our family all gets on very well, the cousins enjoy being with each other and we share the same sense of humour. One tradition is a games evening at my sister-in-law’s. Each family takes a game, and we eat bacon sandwiches, and sit around on chairs and the floor, chatting and playing games.

One game was a memory game, which involved lots of changing seats and remembering names that changed every turn. I was completely confused the entire time.

Another game was a word game. We worked in pairs, and were given a word or picture. We then, independently, wrote a prescribed number of other words, which related to what we were given. This list was compared with our partner, and we got points for all those which were the same. So for example, one word was ‘Airport’. I wrote: Heathrow, Gatwick, Newark, JFK, Manchester, Luton, Stansted. My husband wrote all the same, except he wrote ‘City’ instead of Manchester, so we got 6 points.

My brother was with my mother. Trying to guess what my mother thinks is quite a challenge, so he had a very difficult job. For ‘Airport’, Mum wrote: planes, Ruth leaves, Ruth arrives, noise. He didn’t manage to match any of those (can’t think why!) My personal favourite was the word ‘Compass’. Mum wrote: come, pass, useful, Ben Tucker. Again, none of my brother’s words matched, though Mum was able to explain exactly how her choices were completely logical. It was very funny.

Of course, the couple who scored the highest were my sons. I sometimes think they’re the same person shared between two different bodies. Ever since son 2 was born, they have basically been a unit. Even now, when the second son returns home, his brother greets him in the hall and they start talking and they talk, or play computer games, or watch telly, until one of them leaves. They are in ‘boy world’ and the rest of us are outside. Which is nice. Unless they have alien guns. Then they’re just annoying.

Have a lovely 2017.
Take care,
Anne x