We use words every single day: in emails, phone calls, text messages, conversations with others… conversations with ourselves. But how often do we stop and think, wow that’s quite a lovely word. If you’re like me, not enough!
However, as a new learner of the Greek language, I find myself constantly in awe of Greek words. The sounds of the “efffs” and “kkks” and the long, gentle “awws” and “oohs.” And even more so, the unique meanings, many of which don’t have precise English translations. It’s like stumbling upon a hidden trail you never knew existed, opening a whole new view.
The more I stop and appreciate Greek words, the more I fall in love with language as a whole. How powerful it is that we can articulate our feelings, ideas and observations. Every letter, punctuation mark and pause has a purpose. And just when I feel I know it all, something new comes up, as a reminder that there’s always so much more to learn.
Here are a handful of the many Greek words that have an extra special place in my heart.
10 Lovely Greek Words That’ll Remind You Of The Beauty of Language
1. Καλημέρα (Kah-lee-meh-ra) Kalimera
For the longest time I thought of Kalimera as “good morning.” Which it is – but it’s also so much more.
If you go to Greece, you’ll hear people saying Kalimera until 4 or 5 p.m. This is particularly nice if you find yourself waking up at noon on vacation after one too many bottles of Mythos beer the night before (just me?). Something about saying “good morning” until the evening makes the days feel longer, as if to say, no rush – the day is just getting started.
Now, I think of Kalimera as a way of saying “good day.” It makes sense (kali = good / mera = day). Plus, it’s one of those words you can say to anyone – friends, family, strangers, people in hotels, waiters, roaming cats. There’s no formal or informal version… or masculine or feminine. Just one Kalimera for everyone.
2. Mεράκι (may-rah-kee) Meraki
When was the last time you were completely focused on a single task? No multi-tasking or phone-scrolling? Whatever comes to mind – this may have been an experience of meraki.
The idea of meraki, pronounced “may-rah-kee,” is to do something with your whole self, whether that’s making a dish with detail or writing a new chapter of a story. If you’re putting passion and a sense of yourself in your work – that’s meraki.
When I asked Greek friends of mine to describe examples of Meraki, they emphasized that it’s more about effort and intention than skill level and mastery. For example, even if I’m not very good at drawing – if I put love, time and purpose in my stick-figure illustration, then that means it is made with meraki, regardless of the end result.
I find this concept empowering, especially when starting a new project or learning a new skill. It reminds me that there’s validity and purpose in a journey even if I don’t know exactly where I’m going with it.
Note: The word derives from the Turkish word “Merak” which means wonder and curiosity. In some contexts, it can also be used to express worry.
3. εντάξει (ehn-dah-ksee) Endaxi
Endaxi is a way of saying “OK” or “it’s all good.” Running late? Endaxi. Need another glass of wine? Endaxi. Whatever it is, endaxi is a way of communicating “I see you” or “no worries.”
In Greece, nearly everyone says it. Taxi drivers, waiters, friends, relatives, strangers, you name it. My yiaya would often shorten it to “daxi” which I think of like saying “kay” instead of “okay.” And as a native English speaker, it is a nice change of pace to use the “x” more regularly than I normally do.
4. Γειά σου (Yah-sou) Yia Sou
Yia sou – hi and bye in Greek — just sounds like a happy word. The quick one syllable sounds of the “ah” and the “ooh” makes it oddly enjoyable to say, at least for me. And since it’s one of the most popular greetings, if not the most popular greeting, it’s nice to have an excuse to say it all of the time. 🙂
5. Γεια μας (Yah-mas) Yamas
This is another fun one to say. Yamas literally means “to our health.” It’s used when clinking glasses to cheers, and I think of it as a word that’s a celebration of being alive and making it to another tomorrow.
Fun fact: Greeks don’t cheers with water – it’s said to bring bad luck!
6. Oπα (Oh-pa) Opa
In my humble opinion, Opa is the most playful word. It makes me think of plates breaking, people dancing and chairs lifting. While it can be used like the English “oops” after a mistake is made — it can also be said to express shock, surprise or enthusiasm.
One thing I love about Opa is how it seems to make light of mistakes. Dropped a glass or bumped into someone? Opa, no big deal! It’s almost like a verbal acknowledgement of something so that everyone can move on.
7. σιγά σιγά (see-gah, see-gah) Siga Siga
Siga Siga is a way of saying “slowly, slowly.” I wrote all about why I love this Greek saying here, but it’s one of those beautiful phrases that feels like comfort food for the mind. A reminder to slow down, take a pause and breathe. Siga Siga.
8. Aγάπη (a-ga-pee) Agape
Agape is my mother’s favorite Greek word, which is why it’s so special to me. It’s one of several Greek words for love – but this particular one refers to “unconditional, universal love” and is known by many as the “highest form of love.” In this sense, it’s about not only the emotional quality of love, but also the persistence of selfless love for humanity.
The other Greek words for love are: Eros (sensual, passionate love), Philia (deep friendship), Ludus (playful love), Mania (obsessive love), Pragma (longstanding love), Philautia (love of the self), Storge (familial love).
9. Πολύ ωραία (poh-lee oh-ray-ah) Poli Orea
Poli Orea is a way of saying “very nice” or “very beautiful.” My Modern Greek teacher says this whenever a student speaks with just the right pronunciation and inflection that is oh-so-hard to master. The ultimate compliment!
You can say Poli Orea to express admiration for so many things – a meal, a glass of wine, a performance or a view. And if you go to Greece, you’ll never run out of reasons to say it.
10. χαλάρα (ha-lah-rah) Halara
Halara is a way of being. The term means “leisurely” or “take it easy.” And it’s often associated with the Northern Greek city Thessaloniki, which is known for its laid-back atmosphere.
As a tourist visiting the Greek islands, I think of halara as slow mornings with multiple coffees in bed, days spent by the water or browsing little shops and evenings spent eating four-hour meals. How wonderful it is to truly forget what time it is. (That said, while Greece is known for its balanced lifestyle and beautiful views – make no mistake, it’s full of ambitious and hard-working humans. I’m always in awe of the work that goes into making Greece feel easy and enjoyable for visitors.)
Halara is truly a gift of Greece – that I try to take with me wherever I go.
Do you have any words that make your heart happy? Let me know in the comments!