Almost everyone knows the saying “the Greeks had a word for it” (sometimes heard as “the Greeks have a word for it”).
It’s a humorous phrase that was launched into our language with a splash on September 25, 1930.
That was the night the bawdy play The Greeks Had a Word for It opened on Broadway.
The Greeks Had a Word for It was written by the Missouri-born American playwright, poet and screenwriter Zoë Akins (1886-1958). And, she is generally given credit for coining the phrase she used as its title.
But her most remembered play (and play on words) is The Greeks Had a Word for It.
It’s a comedy about three young “gold diggers,” women on the hunt for wealthy men.
What was the “It” the Greeks had a word for?
“It” obviously seemed to be referring to something that no one in polite society would say publicly at the time.
I’ll let you figure “It” out for yourself. But here’s a hint…
In 1932, Twentieth Century Fox made a film version of the play, starring Joan Blondell, Madge Evans, and Ina Claire.
The original title of the film was The Greeks Had a Word for Them.The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (a.k.a. Hays Code), which prohibited “obscenity.”
Even the title The Greeks Had a Word for Them was considered a bit racy in 1932. So, the name was ultimately changed to Three Broadway Girls.
In 1953, Akins’ play was used as the basis for a much more famous film starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall.
It was titled How to Marry a Millionaire.
Although that film also avoided using Akins’ original play title, it revived interest in her and her plays, leading her to be hired as a scriptwriter for several early, prestigious television shows in the years before her death in 1958, including Kraft Television Theatre and Screen Directors Playhouse.
Of course, the phrase “the Greeks had a word for it” has outlived the stuffy censors of earlier decades.
It is still commonly used today as a humorous saying — though what “It” is now varies depending on the use and does not necessarily refer to an “obscene” sex-related term.
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