NZTC Word of the Week: Philotimo

Date
Oct
23
20151023

NZTC Word of the Week: Philotimo

There are many examples of so-called “untranslatable” words that have no single-word counterpart in other languages. They express ideas or emotions that other languages do not identify with a name, though the concepts may not be unfamiliar to speakers of those languages.

One such word in the Greek language is philotimo (Φιλότιμο). This literally translates as “love of honour”. However, philotimo is so much more than this. The true depth and complexity of this word is hard to define.

It’s considered to be the highest of all Greek virtues, encompassing a number of things - pride, honour, respect - philotimo to a Greek is essentially a way of life, and so commonly used among Greeks that it’s somehow believed that you are actually born with it. It’s the expected behaviour of any Greek, associated with acts of generosity and sacrifice for one’s family, community and society, without expecting anything in return.

The Greek philosopher Thales once said, “Philotimo to the Greek is like breathing. A Greek is not a Greek without it. He might as well not be alive.”