“Philotimo”: A Greek word packed with so much meaning, it can’t be defined

A virtue and a way of life

Philotimo, is a special Greek word that even Greeks themselves have trouble defining or translating, so much so that it even became a hot topic tackled by English broadcaster BBC, in their article “Philotimo: the Greek Word that can’t be translated.”

Vassilios P Vertoudakis, lecturer in Ancient Greek philology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens told BBC, “All the same, Philotimo has become one of the building blocks of the Greek disposition because of the unique standing of Greece in relation to what we call the West.”

He explained that Philotimo comes from the Ancient Greek word philotimia (φιλοτιμία), of which the first attested written reference dates to the dawn of the Greek classical period (6th and 7th Centuries BC) in the writings of lyric poet Pindar.

It’s no surprise there is no translation for this word, as you need to experience it in order to truly understand it.

In most common dictionaries, the word Philotimo describes a list of virtues that include honour, dignity and pride, the ideal actions and behaviours, hospitality, and warmth received by another.

The saying “actions speak louder than words” comes to mind when trying to explain Philotimo, as it’s easier to give examples of when you have experienced Philotimo, rather than trying to define the word itself.

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