04:39:08 pm on
Sunday 23 Jun 2024

Saving the Greek Alphabet
David Simmonds

Constantine Karamelis has had enough. Acting interim secretary-treasurer of the Society for the Preservation of the Integrity of the Greek Alphabet (SPIGA), he is “just fed up,” he says, with the wanton misuse of his beloved alphabet. He launched into a tirade when he spoke with us recently.

Appropriation of Greek letters.

Karamelis is upset with the way letters of the Greek alphabet have been appropriated by disease managers at the World Health Organization (WHO). “Why did they have to go and call it the Delta variant?”  Then, to add insult to injury, WHO named a worse still variant the Omicron.

Two perfectly harmless letters of a distinguished alphabet suddenly associated with the worst strains of the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu. Why couldn’t they call them something nobody would object to- like the Hitler and Amin variants. Perhaps, Stalin-cron.

“It’s taken us centuries to maintain the high standing of the building blocks of the language of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle,” says Karamelis. “Look at what we’ve accomplished. When you think Alpha you think of the dominant male in a group of gorillas, mountain goats or people.  The very word begins the “ALPHAbet”; in English it denotes something that always comes in first.

“Then there’s Beta. When you take beta blockers, you are taking a top-drawer heart medication. When beta testing something, you are proudly going out to the market, saying you are ready to compete with the best of them, but flexible enough to adapt to what the market is telling you. Admittedly, we had a bit of an issue with the Betamax video recording format; it was technologically superior to VHS, but the market went to VHS nonetheless. At least it can still refer to losing with dignity.

“I could go on. There’s Gamma in gamma rays. There’s Delta in the Mississippi, in faucets and in airlines. And of course, let’s not minimize the significance of Omega, found in prestige watches and a good-for-your health fatty acid.  

“The Greek alphabet has also long been associated with academic prestige. To graduate Phi Beta Kappa, you must be a student at a prestigious university and graduate in the top ten per cent of your class. It’s surely no accident fraternities and sororities choose to name themselves by picking three letters from the Greek alphabet,” says Karamelis.
“There was no need for the WHO to go with the Greek alphabet to name iterations of the coronavirus. Our system of Arabic numerals goes up to infinity. You’d never run short of numbers. 

“You could go with paint colours. Along with your standard primary colours. You’ve got all those endless in between colours that the paint manufacturers come up. For example, there are Winter Orange and Aubergine Green, among many others.

“The truth is Greece, itself, has had a bit of a rough ride ever since Spiro T Agnew resigned his vice-presidency in disgrace and eclipsed Zorba the Greek in the public consciousness. Some negative expressions regarding Greece, such as  “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” “It’s all Greek to me” and “The Greek Economy”  have entered the lexicon  Thank goodness Greek yogurt, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nana Mouskouri are still working for us.

“I feel sorry for little Omicron, sitting there minding its own business, content to be a minor figure in mathematical language, and suddenly dragged off the shelf to front for a devilishly contagious strain of Covid-19. Just as it does with the big boys, your Alphas and your Omegas, SPIGA will fight for Omicron to be free from negative associations. The same goes for Delta. The Greek alphabet deserves nothing less than our best efforts to preserve their dignity.”

Delta and other Greek letters need your help.

Anyone who wants to help Delta and Omicron in this fight can contact spiga.org for more information. Karamelis will be happy to hear from you.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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