Our Everyday Greek: Actors, Ethos and Hypocrisy: Greek–English Connections

March 17, 2019
Dimitra Pontoporou

Though many English words from the performing arts’ field come from the Greek theatrical tradition, the English word for the actor doesn’t come from Greek. The ancient one was υποκριτής (hypocrite) and the modern Greek one is ηθοποιός.


Ο υποκριτής is familiar to you from the transliterated Greek word hypocrite, hypocrisy. In modern Greek and in English as well, the hypocrite, ο υποκριτής, is a person, who pretends to be someone he is not (as an actor), or who pretends to believe something he doesn’t. Hypocrisy, η υποκρισία, is the relevant act. Υποκριτής is a compound word from the prefix υπο- =hypo-, which means under, and κριτής, judge (see κριτήρια =criteria). The verb κρίνω means express an opinion, interpret and η κρίση is opinion, judgment and crisis as well.


The modern Greek word for the actor doesn’t exist in English. Yet, its two compounds are familiar to you. Ήθος (ethos in English concerning actions, or behavior) + ποιώ (I do, I create). From the verb ποιώ derives the poem (το ποίημα), the poet (ο ποιητής), the poetic (ο ποιητικός). Thereafter, the original meanings were: το ποίημα, the poem, the creation, ο ποιητής, the poet, the creator and ποιητικός, ή, -ό, the adjective poetic, is creative. Due to the fact that the Greek theater had originally a highly didactic role regarding citizenship and morality, ηθοποιός is the one who creates ethos, morality. Aristotle in his writing particularly underlines the role of the actor as moral model.


The verb play in Greek is εγώ παίζω. From παίζω derives το παιδί, the child. You are familiar with παιδί from the term Pediatric > pedi+iatric = παιδί + ιατρική, verbatim child + medicine.


The English word star derives from the ancient Greek ο αστήρ, transcribed to αστέρι in modern Greek. For actors we also use the transcription of the English word star. Είναι σταρ! The Greek word ρόλος resembles the English role.


Greek word   Pronunciation       Meaning

Ο υποκριτής  o ipokriTEES hypocrite

Η υποκρίτρια EE ipoKREEtria   hypocrisy

Ο κριτής O kriTEES     judge

Η κρίση  EE KREEsi   judgment, opinion, crisis

Κρίνω ότι       KREEno Oti  I judge that

Υποκρίνεται   ipoKREEnete       he/she pretends

Παίζει            PEzi       he/she acts, plays

Το παιδί        TO peDEE    the child

Ο ηθοποιός   O ithopiOS    actor

Η ηθοποιός   EE ithopiOS  actress

Το ήθος        TO EEthos    ethos, morals

Η ηθική         EE ithiKEE    ethics, morality

Ο ποιητής     O piiTEES     poet

Το ποίημα     TO PEEima   poem

Ο ποιητικός, ή, -ό O piitiKOS, -EE, -O     poetic

Ο ρόλος        O ROlos        role

Το αστέρι      TO aSTEri     star

ο/η σταρ        O/EE STAR  star, for actors

πολύ             poLEE    very

καλός, ή, -ό   kaLOS, -EE, -O    good


Can you translate into English?

1.Η Μαρία έχει ήθος.

2.Ο ποιητής γράφει ένα ποίημα.

3.Ο Όμηρος είναι ποιητής.

4.Ο Ρόμπερτ Ρέντφορντ είναι πολύ καλός ηθοποιός.

5.Η Μέριλ Στριπ είναι πολύ καλή ηθοποιός.

6.Ο ηθοποιός παίζει πολύ καλά το ρόλο του.

7.Ο υποκριτής παίζει ένα ρόλο.

8.Η Μαρία υποκρίνεται.

9.Ο Γιώργος παίζει.

10.Η Ελλάδα έχει οικονομική κρίση.

Now try to say in Greek. (is= είναι)

1.Robert de Niro is a very good actor.

2.Glenn Close is a very good actress.

3.The actor plays his role very well.

4.Yiannis pretends.

5.Maria has morals.

6.Elliott is a very good poet.

7.“Ithaca” is a very good poem.

8.Maria Callas is a star.


i (idiom), ee (bee), e (energy), o (organism), oo (boot), y (yes), h (helium), th (theory), d (the). The capitalized syllables are accented.


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