“Kataperdomai” is one of my favourite words from Classical Greek, a language I’ve been more or less incompetently picking up for the last decade as part of my study of Greek philosophy. The standard Classical Greek dictionary, the great Liddell-Scott-Jones (that Liddell being the real-life father of Alice of Alice in Wonderland fame), gives the meaning “break wind at,” but they were obviously working in the era before Monty Python. Coming after the efforts of the British comedy troop, the contemporary rendering is practically inevitable: “I fart in your general direction.”
“Kataperdomai” remains one of my favourite words from Classical Greek in spite of its starring role in a Very Painful Memory of mine. And although painful memories are sometimes best left repressed, what is a blog if it is not a chair one can pull up to history’s greatest experiment in group therapy? Here, then, is my painful memory.
Several years ago, I was hanging out for a few minutes with some fellow graduate students in one of the offices our department sets aside for teaching assistants. These were the days before I responded to an exciting email offer to enlarge my manhood, so I had little to brag about at the time. Naturally I fell back on my ability to hurl abuse at someone in Classical Greek. Really, this ability comes down to my being able to shout “kataperdomai,” but we brag about what we can, no?
I was asked to demonstrate. I was happy to oblige. I whirled about and pointed my finger at the empty doorway of the office for emphasis and bellowed “Kataperdomai!”
At that precise moment – at that very second – the only other person in my department guaranteed to understand what I was saying, my supervisor, as it happens, walked by. My relationship with him was a bit frayed at the time, at least as far as I was concerned, since I owed him quite a lot of work. Even in the best of circumstances one look at him was usually enough to drive home for me how painfully behind I had fallen. Like so many other graduate students before me, the dominant mood of my graduate career has always been aggravated shame mingled with a fervent desire for redemption. Anyhow, I had been assiduously cultivating the (mostly correct) impression with my supervisor that I was working practically without interruption from the moment I got up to the moment I went to sleep.
Needless to say, ambushing the poor man with classical obscenities did nothing to improve my standing with him. True, my assault was a learned one, but a learned assault is still an assault. I watched in horror, as if in a B-film which plays out the drama of a scene through the clumsy use of slow-motion, as his face ran the gamut of emotions from surprise to recognition to anger. And then in a flash he was gone, the final expression on his face burned into my memory.
We never spoke about it.
Howls of outrage (5)