COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

The Greeks had a word for it

We have all heard this expression before — the Greeks had a word for it — primarily because Greek was the first universal language and became the root of many other languages over the centuries. Now the Greeks need a word to define their economic crisis. Here are a few of my suggestions.

Let’s start with a government system that doesn’t promise everything to everybody without expecting anybody to pay for it. This was evident over the last few months while the European Union threatened to cut off their monetary system. A good word would be “austerity.”

Unfortunately, the Greek people have already rejected this concept. They took to the streets with violent protests against any austerity program that would take away the giveaways.

With the government backed against the wall of European Community resistance of more bailout funds, the Greek government had no choice but to close the banks.

Let’s try another word to define a Greek economic recovery: “liquidity,” meaning funds to meet government debt and keep business flowing.

After three weeks of limited access to their money or for business transactions, the stubborn leadership that had promised no more austerity was forced to reverse its opposition to the reform demands and restore bank reserves for liquidity.

I cannot decipher if the Greeks have a keyword for their crisis, but “reality” might do for the country’s future. Some of the principal cutbacks required for the extension of bailout include workers retiring at a later age with perhaps fewer pension benefits.

The same would apply to a multitude of social programs that have accumulated over several generations of socialism and become a way of life without adequate support.

Another major reform would install a mechanism to enforce collection of taxes that the Greek citizens have deftly been avoiding for many years.

No country can maintain an economic balance without an appropriate basis for taxation to support its programs. If the authorities allow taxpayers to dodge reporting their income or make an effort to collect past due taxes, the country’s economy is doomed for failure, as we have seen.

Another issue that has been widely debated concerns Greece remaining in the European Union. Many critics contend that it wasn’t adequately qualified when it was taken into the monetary system. Certainly the country’s failure to meet its bonded debt provided by other EU countries proves that the country was not economically stable in the first place.

Greece is not the only EU nation having financial difficulties. Ever since the recession began eight years ago, most of the socialist governments have suffered economic setbacks. Germany, with a more conservative leadership, survived the recession and continues to be the primary lender of the EU monetary system.

Perhaps the experience that Germany had to unite an extreme socialist state when East Germany joined West Germany in 1990 demonstrated the folly of providing social benefits that are not sustainable.

Sweden, which had been the poster child of a successful socialism society, began to suffer during the recession and modified its programs.

Use of the phrase, “the Greeks have a word for it,” has many references. I often am curious about the word defining the situation that I am writing about. That meant checking Wikipedia for the source.

It is not as old as you might expect for a language as ancient as Greek. It actually came to public attention as the name of a 1930 bawdy Broadway play that was very popular and launched the career of the playwright Zoe Akins. The screen rights were acquired by 20th Century Fox in 1932 to star Joan Blondell, Madge Evans and Ina Claire, big cinema stars of the day.

Then the film industry’s censor, known as the Hays Office, became concerned the word “it” to be suggestive. To get approved for public viewing, the film was renamed “Three Broadway Girls.” Hollywood mavens thought the censors were being somewhat stuffy.

When the play was filmed again in 1953 starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, “it” was still considered too risqué (can you believe that?), so the film was titled “How to Marry a Millionaire.”

Its success launched the career of Marilyn Monroe and renewed interest in Akins’ play for television using the original title and thus introduced the phrase, “the Greeks have a word for it” into our language.

If Greece ever finds a word for its economic crisis, the sacrifices required to implement a recovery might not be tolerated. Then it will be a real Greek tragedy.


Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego and can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com.

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Joan Henkelma n 12:00am July 23, 2015

I do hope that Pat Ford will find another venue to display his talent. His writing is always well researched insightful and very interesting. Thank you Pat.