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"Neh" means "Yes"? Neh, in Greek!

Week 13, Episode 25

After traveling to a parallel universe during our Langventure into Swedish, it is time to enter an inverted reality that gives us the Greek language—what a great thing this Langventure! It is not all that upside down compared to English, but this simple act of saying "Yes" and "No" do take some time to get used to.

I welcome you to the language of the hellenic people—almighty Greek! The one that gave birth to Latin, and thus to English. The one that is the ancestor of the Cyrillic script, and thus Russian. So in a way, it makes English and Russian brothers :) Hard to imagine, neh?

As the title of this episode suggests, "Neh" (ναι) in Greek means "Yes", even though to your year it may sound closer to "No". The common question after one discovers this is: then how do you say "No" in Greek? Here is the answer: by saying "O-hee" (όχι) with the accent on the "o" and strong "h" sound. As some of my friends say, in Greek "Yes" is "No" and "No" is "Yes" (like "OK").

It is like playing a video game where the left arrow on your controller makes you go right and the right one—left. You have to constantly remind yourself about it and in the beginning your walking pattern looks, to put it mildly, very dumb :) Now try it in a conversation where to your question "Do you speak English?" people answer with a smile "Neh" and you find yourself at first odd to be so politely rejected and then frozen while your brain is trying to code the inverted meanings.

OK, Alina, you say, but words is one thing, what about head movements? This should help me! Let's see about it:

You would think that in every country on the planet these two simple words—"Yes" and "No"—if don't match by sound then at least have the same way to be expressed by our body language.

But as you've just seen, Greeks do not usually shake their heads from side to side to indicate a negative response, i.e. "No". Instead they tilt their head in a backwards movement (and sometimes even click the tongue) that actually looks more like "Yes" to us. This is done only once, not repeatedly.

For "Yes", the head is tilted downwards and slightly to one side, also only once, so with the "Neh" audio it can be confused with a negative answer.

So what, Greeks don't shake their head from side to side at all? They do. But it doesn't mean "No"! It means that he or she doesn't understand what you are saying or why you are saying it, so kind of a gesture of confusion. (Are you shaking your head now Greek style?) :) I am with you.

How is that for the first Langventure trip into the Greek language? Are you ready to learn more?

Neh! :)

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