Last year (1998) George Babiniotis, professor of linguistics at the University of Athens, compiled "The Dictionary of the Modern Greek Language." The dictionary was a much needed work, given the fact that all Greek dictionaries up to that time were rather "childish" efforts in lexicography. Babiniotis adopted (mostly) the Merriam Webster approach to a reference publication. Even the formatting and the fonts resemble those of the Merriam Webster dictionaries. The result was an excellent reference work from all points of view; entries, etymology, etc. However, the dictionary had a fatal flaw. It had a Patriotically Incorrect (PI) entry!
The PI entry: " Bulgarian ... 2. (excessive, derogatory) the fan or player of a team from Salonica (mainly of P.A.O.K.)."
This (rather malicious and silly) name-calling is quite common. Greeks from the southern parts of the country, especially from Athens, when angry, insult people from the northern parts, especially Salonica, by calling them "Bulgarians," given the fact that the Bulgarian border is a few kilometers away from where the Northerners live. It is much stronger than the equivalent of a US Southerner calling (insultingly) a Northerner a "Yank," but the spirit is the same. As expected, the sports fans easily incite themselves with this kind of name-calling and reach a higher level of hooliganism. P.A.O.K is usually the Salonican (soccer or basketball) team that attracts this kind of Grreek-Christian benevolence.
So, immediately after the Babiniotis dictionary hits the bookstores, out come the patriots, the nationalists, the Greek Orthodox, the adherents of the purity of the Greek race, the PC intellectuals, the cryptonazis, et al. Prominent among them politicians and intellectuals of both the rightist New Democracy party and the ruling "socialist" PASOK party. For weeks the Babiniotis dictionary and its controversial entry are dominating the media. Intellectuals of all kinds and laypeople with shouts full of hate and patriotic fervor demand the head of Babiniotis.
Babiniotis and his dictionary are dragged to court "for unlawful affront to the personality" of the Northerners, etc, etc. The court of the first instance finds Babiniotis and his dictionary guilty! The court orders the removal of the dictionary from the bookstores. Remember, this is 1998!
At first Babiniotis tries to defend his work on a scientific basis, but he is terrorized by the shrill chauvinism of the "professional" Christian patriots and agrees to remove the entry in future editions. Finally, Babiniotis finds the courage to take his case all the way up to the Supreme Court (which bears the classical Greek name of Areios Pagos). In April 1999, the Supreme Court rules that the controversial entry does not constitute "an affront to the personality..., because the Babiniotis dictionary does not use, or promote, or adopt the entry, but has it only as a neutral listing..."
Happy ending of the story? Not exactly. It is depressing to realize how easily the reactionary sector of a society can commandeer the media and spill their hate and stupidity. However, the fact that the Supreme Court ruled rationally, whether from the need to avoid international ridicule or from motives of honesty, is a step forward.
Some comments and some reminiscences:
Professor George Babiniotis is a politically conservative person. I have the feeling that the experience from this rather brutal confrontation with the politico-religious reactionary forces taught him some very valuable lessons.
On May 28, 1978 Noam Chomsky gave a lecture at the University of Athens for the Department of Linguistics, headed by Professor Babiniotis. (Theme of the lecture: "Language and the Development of Knowledge"). After the lecture, as usual, Noam invited anyone in the audience that wished to discuss any subject with him to meet him at Babiniotis's office. I went and met Noam for the first time in my life. In the brief conversation that we had I mentioned his remark in "American Power and the New Mandarins" in which he bitterly says: "We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent-or denazification", of course Noam had not changed his mind. (Remember, that was 1978, aeons before Kosovo). Also, I remember mentioning "Seven Days", the "transition" magazine between the closing of "Ramparts" and the "birth" of "Z", as part of the dissent in the US. (By the way, is there a history of the US alternative press?)
A few years after the Noam lecture, as I was passing by the U. of Athens, on the spur of the moment I decided to walk up the stairs to Babiniotis's office and ask him if he knew anything about a Chomsky forthcoming book, I think it was "Turning the Tide." Babiniotis said that he had no idea (a surprise for the naive me) and I was left with the impression that he was not very comfortable with the question about a Chomsky political book. Anyway, his dictionary is OK.
Although soccer, football, etc might or might not be the "opium of the people" (I think it is), nevertheless, it is interesting to reflect about the potential for political protest from a crowd in a stadium. Of course, Greeks calling Greeks "Bulgarians" in a stadium, politically is rather uninteresting. By the way, the only party that should have been offended by the derogatory use of the word "Bulgarians", should have been the Bulgarians themselves. Of what I know, to their credit, the Bulgarians were mature enough to not pay any attention to this dictionary childishness. However, let as take as an example the opportunity for political protest that arose in Belgrade a few days ago, on June 27, during a soccer game between the two top teams of Yugoslavia, the "Red Star' and the "Partisan." Following the global (sports) religion, the supporters of the Jugoslavian teams hate the guts of each other. The soccer game itself, a final, was almost ignored by the crowd, what was dominant for them was their political protest. The "Red Star" fans started first by shouting from their side of the stands: "Slobo, you sold out Kosovo!" The "Partisan" fans answered: "We'll celebrate for a month, if we get rid of Slobodan!" Finally, the fans of both teams shouted in unison: "Slobo get out, resign!" ("Eleftherotypia", June 28, p.18). Did this send a message to Milosevic? Maybe.
Of course, humanity will make "a giant step" forward when the fans in American Stadiums shout in unison: "No to the Clintons!", or "Nuremberg for the NATO killers!", etc, etc.
Finally. a few comments on "dictionary etiquette." In the late sixties, besides the Vietnam turmoil, there was quite a tumult (in Time, etc) about the respectability awarded to "ain't" in the Third Edition of the Merriam Webster, which came out in 1969. Of what I remember, the conflict, if not of the Babiniotis intensity, was quite lively. Now, after 30 years, to celebrate the Babiniotis victory I made a brief research on the Merriam Webster history of "ain't". Here are the results:
Year 1903 Webster's First Stylistic label: [ colloq. or illiterate speech] Total words in entry: 13
Year 1945 Webster's 2nd Stylistic label: [Dial. or Illit.] Total words in entry: 16
Year 1969 Webster's 3rd No stylistic label; "ain't" accepted as part of the standard English!!! Total words in entry 9 LINES.
Year 1993 Webster's 10th, Standard English Total words: 3 LINES for the main Collegiate entry plus 17 LINES for the usage
Does the above list mean a defeat for the reactionary elites? I think it does. The same holds for the Babiniotis dictionary.