NA! Feesa! The Origins of the Moutza
What’s worse than giving someone the middle finger? If you are Greek, you know it’s the “Moutza” of course. Not exactly the American “give me 5” but the dreaded open palm in your face that is one of the most offensive forms of humiliation for a person of Greek descent. The “moutza”(derived from the word for “cinder” or μούντζος moutzos ) has the connotation of smear, smudge or dirt on the face. But most likely, it is worse—like shoving sh** on someone’s face. The moutza pops up when Greeks are really disgusted or angry; a gesture of disgrace it is meant to ridicule or show disapproval.
The “moutza” is accompanied by the epithet “NA!” which is to say, “Here you are!” Like you deserve this pie of excrement in your face (the chance to add a pinch of sarcasm is never wasted on a Greek). A variation of the “moutza” is when an unwitty victim is directed to “blow here” or “Feesa edo” onto the pinched fingers of an insulter who then opens the palm and thrusts it into his or her face. Worse than this, is the double “moutza.” When someone gets not one but two open palms in the face, well, that means they have really passed the point of decency. The intensity of his or her disapproval is magnified when one open palm is smashed against the other and both are pushed back and forth into the victim’s face with repeated force of “NA! kai NA! kai NA!” The more “moutzes” given, the more intensely the giver feels the disgust or disapproval.
This is what tried and sometimes true Wikipedia has to say about its origins:
The origin of the gesture can be traced back to the ancient years, when it was used as a curse. It is said that even during the Eleusinian Mysteries, it complemented verbal curses against evil forces. It was then called φασκέλωμα faskelōma; that word and its variant faskelo still survive as synonyms of moutza.
In later years, the name changed to moutza in the penal code of the Byzantine Empire, whereby a chained criminal was paraded around town sitting, facing backwards, on a donkey and with their face smeared with cinder (μούντζος moutzos) to enhance their ridicule.
Because cinder was wiped on the person’s face first by collecting it in the palm and then by extending open the fingers, the gesture itself became insulting, to be known as moutza, after the name of the material applied. The modern Greek word moutzoura or mountzoura for a smudge, scribble or dark stain has the same origin. (Wikipedia.org/moutza)
When would a “moutza” be appropriate? Much like the middle finger, when someone disrespects you enough. When you want to say “F** off, you stupid ass.” Politicians and drivers are probably the greatest per capita receivers of the “moutza” in Greece. But it can be used to signal disapproval of objects as well. The new tax system? “NA!” “moutza”.
Our fellow Greek-American Chicago Tribune reporter, John Kass, has done a fairly good job of applying the “moutza” in Greeklish for an American audience. In fact, he builds his op-ed column around awarding a “Golden Moutza” every month for any stupid, incompetent or disgraceful motion in government or beyond. In his article “Appalling Moutza News from Greece,” he gave the “Golden Moutza” award to the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Christos Spirtzis, the mastermind behind the “moutza fine” last November when the law came out. Kass exasperates how the leftist government of Tsipras has implemented a a campaign against “antisocial” driving, making it a moving violation for taxi drivers and other professional drivers to give the “moutza”. Considering these are the people who proportionately give and take most of the “moutzes” in the country, it seems like an excellent tactic for the government to increase revenue, I think. However, Kass complains that “as a patriotic American of Greek descent, I’m embarrassed for the fatherland, because this is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard in my life. . . Greece invented democracy, philosophy and literature and taught the world of the primacy of the individual and about “Freedom or Death.” And now she imposes Orwellian thought control on the moutza?”
He pointed to another Greek American Chicago Tribune reader who “demanded the Golden Moutza for the Greek government.” In the same article, he awards the Golden Moutza to Nancy Pelosi– “Pelosi was calling Conyers an icon and now she FINALLY realizes what a pervert this 88-year-old is as he hides from ‘stress.’ Nah! Feesah!”
You gotta love this guy! If he can use the “moutza” to talk about the escapades in American government, you can use it in your daily interactions with people. In fact, for homework, practice using the “moutza” on someone you disapprove of—the obnoxious driver who cuts you off without signaling perhaps. When they ask, “What was that all about?” Just brush it off and say, “I was just saying hi.” Stop overusing the middle finger. Talk with your whole hand. Learn to body talk like your Greek culture taught you. You think it’s stupid, you say? NA! Feesa!