Friday 23 March 2012

The Polyphloisboisterous Wiliad

The following is from the London Review of Books. It's a rather recondite discussion of the historical existence of Troy and its relationship with a city called Wilusa, but it gives me such puerile pleasure that I thought I should reproduce it here so that you, dear reader, can snigger.

Wilusa is most definitely Troy. The book we know as Iliad is the adjective for the city of Ilios - in our present text of the Iliad the place is called Troié less often (53 times) than it is Ilios (106 times). Ilios sounds much closer to Wilusa than Troié but their identity need not rely on a similarity that could be coincidental, because it can be shown quite conclusively that the city's original name was 'Wilios': the W sound in both spoken and written East Ionic Greek, was used till 1200 BCE and became increasingly silent thereafter: the Iliad was really the 'Wiliad'.

Full article here.

While we're on the subject of the Wiliad, there's a word that Homer often uses to describe the sea. πολυϕλοίσβοιο or polyphloisboio, which means loud-roaring. So familiar was this word to the classically educated chaps of the C19th, that is got imported as-is and has endured a long, if rather obscure, run in the English language. First was polyphloisboioism in 1823, then polyphloisboian, then Thackeray really upped the game in 1843 with the sentence:

The line of the shore washed by the poluphlosboiotic, nay, the poluphlosboiotatotic sea.

And then in the 1890s it was portmanteaued with English to make polyphloisboisterous, which is great fun to say aloud.

The Inky Fool smoked his pipe obscurely.


  1. well that's put me right off Illy coffee

  2. Polyphliosboisterous sound great said out loud. Now how to work into a conversation over the weekend, living on the coast should perhaps give a slight advantage.

  3. New Kid on the Block24 March 2012 at 15:21

    Nice article, as usual!
    Some slight corrections/observations (being a Greek is sometimes an advantage…)
    The city’s name is ILION / το Ίλιον (n.)with an n, and not ILIOS with an s.
    Ilios (O Ήλιος(m) means Sun , “Helios” according to Erasmus.
    Please note that πολύ-φλοισβος is not the see (that is Θάλασσα, thalassa) but the combination of πολύ (poli) meaning much/very and φλοίσβος (phl(o)isbos )meaning loud noise/roar . The roar of battle is mentioned as: Φλοίσβος somewhere in Homer’s Iliad too.
    “The line of the shore washed by the poluphlosboiotic, nay, the poluphlosboiotatotic sea.”
    Well ,very nice indeed! I suppose the word poluphlosboiotato-tic is πολυφλοισβοιότατο the ending –ότατο (-ότατος, -ότατη for masculine and feminine respectively) is the superlative form, thus meaning the VERY loud (or better said: the loudest roaring) see.
    The word ΦΛΟΙΣΒΟΣ is perhaps kind of obscure (not widely understandable) for modern Greeks. But if you find yourselves waiting to be served at a tavern or restaurant called “ΦΛΟΙΣΒΟΣ” (there are many everywhere) you can be almost sure that you have hit a coast! :-)

  4. I should really stop getting my hopes up that my friends will be interested when I relay all of these etymological facts to them- I, on the other hand, find all of this fascinating.


  5. New Kid on the Block – Ἴλιος is the ancient Greek form:*%29ilios&la=greek#lexicon