Greek to me

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That's Greek to me or It's (all) Greek to me is an idiom in English, expressing that something is not understandable.

The idiom is typically used with respect to the foreign nature, complexity or imprecision of verbal or written expression or diagram, often containing excessive use of jargon, dialect, mathematics, science, symbols, or diagrams. The metaphor makes reference to Greek (either ancient or modern), as an archetypal foreign form of communication both written and spoken. Technically, the phrase is classified as a dead metaphor, meaning that its components cannot be used separately, unlike for example the dormant metaphor "foot of the hill", which permits saying "that hill has a tree at its foot".

Origins[edit]

It may have been a direct translation of a similar phrase in Latin: "Graecum est; non legitur" ("it is Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read"). This phrase was increasingly used by monk scribes in the Middle Ages, as knowledge of the Greek alphabet and language was dwindling among those who were copying manuscripts in monastic libraries.[citation needed]

The usage of the metaphor in English traces back to early modern times, and is used in 1599 in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, as spoken by Servilius Casca to Cassius after a festival in which Caesar was offered a crown:

CASSIUS: Did Cicero say any thing?
CASCA: Ay, he spoke Greek.
CASSIUS: To what effect?
CASCA: Nay, an I tell you that, I'll ne'er look you i' the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me. I could tell you more news too: Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar's images, are put to silence. Fare you well. There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.

(William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1599))

Here, Casca's literal ignorance of Greek is the source of the phrase, using its common meaning to play on the uncertainty among the conspirators about Cicero's attitude to Caesar's increasingly regal behaviour. Shakespeare was not the only author to use the expression.

It was also used in 1603 by Thomas Dekker in his play Patient Grissel:

FAR: Asking for a Greek poet, to him he fails. I’ll be sworn he knows not so much as one character of the tongue.
RIC: Why, then it’s Greek to him.

The expression is almost exclusively used with reference to the speaker (generally "Greek to me"); Dekker's "Greek to him" is rare.

Another meaning attributed to the phrase implies that "it's all Greek to me" could be seen as a wordplay for: "everything is Greek for me"[2].

Variations[edit]

Different languages have similar formulations. Many have picked the point of reference to be a foreign language with another alphabet or writing system.

This is an example of the usage of demonyms in relation to the ability of a people to be understood, comparable to the development of the words barbarian (one who babbles), Nemecky (Slavic for "one who is not understood", indicating Germans).

In other languages[edit]

In an article published by Arnold L. Rosenberg in the language journal Lingvisticæ Investigationes, he claimed that there was a popular "consensus" that Chinese was the "hardest" language, since various non-English languages most frequently used the Chinese language in their equivalent expression to the English idiom "it's all Greek to me".[1] Also, David Moser of the University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies made the same claim as Arnold L. Rosenberg.[2]

Language Phrase Pronunciation Translation Target language / meaning
English It's Double Dutch. /ɪts ˈdʌbəl ˈdʌ/ Dutch, Tutnese
English That's Greek to me. /ðæts ˈɡriːk tuː ˈmiː/ Greek
Albanian Mos fol kinezce. Do not speak Chinese. Chinese
Afrikaans Dis Grieks vir my. [dis xriks fir mai] It's Greek to me. Greek
Arabic .يتحدث باللغة الصينية Yataḥaddaṯ bil-luġah al-Ṣīnīyah
[jataˈħadːaθ bilˈluɣa(t) asˤːiːˈniːja]
Speaking in Chinese Chinese
Arabic .يحكي كرشوني Yaḥkī Karšūnī
[jaħkiː karʃuːniː]
Garshuni
Asturian Suename chinu / Ta'n chinu. Chinese
Bulgarian Все едно ми говориш на китайски. Vse edno mi govoriš na kitajski.
[fse edˈnɔ mi ɡɔˈvɔriʃ na kiˈtajski]
It's like you're talking in Chinese. Chinese
Catalan Això està en xinès. [əˈʃɔ sˈta n ʃiˈnɛs] This is in Chinese. Chinese
Cebuano Nilatin Latin Latin, language in rituals by holy men such as Catholic priests, faith healers, and talisman owners.
Chavacano Aleman ese comigo. It's German to me German
Mandarin 看起來像天書。/看起来像天书 [kʰan˥˩ tɕʰi˨˩ lai̯˧˥ ɕjɑŋ˥˩ tʰjɛn˥ ʂu˥] Looks like hieroglyphics "Book from Heaven"
(Referring to an unknown writing system, or god's language)
Mandarin 這是甲骨文嗎?/这是甲骨文吗? Zhè shì jiǎgǔwén ma? Is this written in oracle bone script? Oracle bone script
(Referring to very poor, incomprehensible handwriting.)
Mandarin 聽起來像鳥語。/ 听起来像鸟语 [tʰiŋ˥ tɕʰi˨˩ lai̯˧˥ ɕjɑŋ˥˩ njɑʊ̯˧˥ y˩˧] Sounds like the birds "Sounds/tongue of the Birds"
(Unknown phonology system.)
Mandarin 聽起來像火星話。/听起来像火星话 [tʰiŋ˥ tɕʰi˨˩ lai̯˧˥ ɕjɑŋ˥˩ xwɔ˨˩ ɕiŋ˥ xwa˥˩] Sounds like Mars language. Martian language
Cantonese 呢啲喺雞腸嚟呀。 [nɛː˥ tiː˥ hɐi˧˥ kɐi˥ tsʰœŋ˨˩ a˥] These are chicken intestines.
Croatian To su za mene španska sela. [tô su za měne ʃpǎːnska sêla] These are to me the Spanish countryside. Spanish
Czech To je pro mě španělská vesnice. [ˈto jɛ ˈpro mɲɛ ˈʃpaɲɛlskaː ˈvɛsɲɪtsɛ] This is a Spanish village to me. Spanish
Danish Det rene volapyk. [də ʁenə volapyk] This is pure gibberish. Volapük
Dutch Dat is Chinees voor mij. [dat ɪs ʃineːs vɔr mɛi] That is Chinese to me. Chinese
Esperanto Tio estas Volapukaĵo. [ˈtio ˈestas ˈvolapuˈkaʒo] This is Volapukaĵo. Volapük
Estonian See on mulle hiina keel. This is Chinese to me. Chinese
Filipino kinalahig ng manok chicken scratchings/markings
Finnish Täyttä hepreaa. [tæytːæ hepreɑː] It's Hebrew Hebrew
French C'est du chinois. [sɛ dy ʃinwa] It's Chinese Chinese
German Das kommt mir Spanisch vor. That seems like Spanish to me. Spanish
German Fachchinesisch technical Chinese Chinese
German Kauderwelsch chatter(?)Welsh Romance languages
German Böhmische Dörfer [ˈbøːmɪʃə ˈdœɐ̯fɐ] Bohemian villages Czech
Greek, Standard Modern Αυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα. [afˈta mu ˈfeno(n)de ciˈnezika] This strikes me as Chinese Chinese
Greek, Standard Modern Αυτά μου φαίνονται αλαμπουρνέζικα. [afˈta mu ˈfeno(n)de ala(m)burˈnezika] These seem to me gobbledygook. Alaburnese (similar to Gibberish)
Greek, Cypriot Εν τούρτζικα που μιλάς; [e‿ˈnduɾ̥t͡ʃi̞kɐ p̬u mi↗ˈlɐs] Are you speaking Turkish? Turkish
Hebrew זה סינית בשבילי Zeh Sinit bishvili.
[ze sinit biʃvili]
It's Chinese to me! Chinese
Hungarian Ez nekem kínai. [ɛz ˈnɛkɛm ˈkiːnɒi] It's Chinese to me. Chinese
Icelandic Hrognamál [ˈr̥ɔknaˌmauːl] Fish-egg language
Indonesian Jangan pake bahasa Urdu dong. Urdu
Italian Questo per me è arabo/aramaico/ostrogoto[3] [ˈkwesto perˈme ɛ ˈarabo/araˈmaiko/ostroˈɡɔto] To me this is Arabic / Aramaic / Ostrogoth Arabic, Aramaic, Ostrogoth
Japanese ちんぷんかんぷん chin pun kan pun Gibberish, referring to the "Chinese" sound of incomprehensible Chinese loanwords used by the scholarly élite
Latin Graecum est; non legitur [ˈɡrai̯kum est non ˈleɡitur] This is Greek; it can't be read Greek
Latvian Tā man ir ķīniešu ābece [taː man ir kiːnieʃu aːbetse] These are Chinese ABCs Chinese
Lithuanian Tai man kaip kinų kalba. [taɪ mɐn kaɪp kinuˑ kɐlba] Its Chinese to me Chinese
Macedonian За мене тоа е шпанско село Za mene toa e špansko selo
[za mɛnɛ tɔa ɛ ʃpaŋskɔ sɛlɔ]
It is for me a Spanish village. Spanish
Marathi कानडी बोलत होतो का? Was I speaking in Kannad? Kannada
Low Saxon Dat kümmt mi spaansch vör. [dat kymt miː spoːnʃ føɐ] That seems like Spanish to me. Spanish
Norwegian Det er helt gresk for meg. It's complete Greek to me Greek
Persian[citation needed] انگار ژاپنی حرف می زنه Speaking Japanese Japanese
Polish To dla mnie chińszczyzna. [tɔ dla mɲe xʲiɲˈʂtʂɨzna] To me it's Chinese Chinese
Portuguese Isto para mim é chinês. (Portugal)
Isto para mim é grego. (Portugal)
Não entendo/falo (d)esse grego/hebraico/aramaico. (Brazil)
Está falando grego. (Brazil)
[ˈiʃtw ˈpaɾɐ ˈmĩ ɛ ʃiˈneʃ] (Portugal)
[ˈiʃtw ˈpaɾɐ ˈmĩ ɛ ˈɡɾeɡu] (Portugal)
[nɐ̃w ĩˈtẽdw/ˈfalw (d)esi ˈɡɾeɡu/eˈbɾajku/ɐɾɐˈmajku] (Brazil)
[ˈta faˈlɐ̃du ˈɡɾeɡu] (Brazil)
To me it's Chinese
To me it's greek
I don't understand/speak Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic
(He/She) is speaking Greek
Chinese, Greek (Portugal)
Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic (Brazil)
Romanian Parcă e chineză.
[parkə ye keenezə] It's like Chinese. Chinese
Russian Это для меня китайская грамота. Eto dlya menya kitaiskaya gramota.
[ˈɛtə dlʲa mʲɪˈnʲa kʲɪˈtajskəjə ˈɡramətə]
For me this is Chinese Chinese
Serbian То су за мене шпанска села.
To su za mene španska sela.
[to su za mene ʃpanska sela] Spanish
Serbian К'о да кинески причаш.
K'o da kineski pričaš.
Like speaking in Chinese Chinese
Sinhala මටනං අණ්ඩර දෙමළ වගේ matanaŋ andara demala wage Telugu, Refers as Andhra (andara) Pradesh Tamil (demala)
Slovak To je pre mňa španielska dedina. [to je pre mɲa ʃpaɲielska ɟeɟina] Spanish
Slovene To mi je španska vas [to mi je ʃpanska vas] That is a Spanish village to me. Spanish
Spanish Está en chino/arameo.
Me suena a chino/arameo.
[eˈsta en ˈtʃino] It's in Chinese/Aramaic.
It sounds like Chinese/Aramaic to me.
Chinese
Aramaic
Swedish Det är rena grekiskan. [deː æ reːna ɡreːkɪskan] It's all Greek Greek
Turkish Konuya Fransız kaldım.[4]
Anladıysam Arap olayım.[5]
[konuja fɾansɯz kaɫˈdɯm] I am French to the topic.
If I could understand, I'd be an Arab.
French, Arabic
Ukrainian Це для мене китайська грамота. Tse dlya mene kitas'ka gramota.
[tsɛ dlʲɑ ˈmɛne kɪˈtɑjsʲkɑ ˈɦrɑmo̞tɑ]
Chinese
Urdu فارسی لگ رہی ہے یہ Farsi lag rahi hay yeh It looks like Persian Persian
Venetian Par mi xe turco. par miː ze ˈtɥɾko Turkish
Vietnamese Tiếng Miên. Khmer Cambodian
Yiddish ס'איז תּרגום־לשון צו מיר S'iz Targum-loshn tsu mir.
[sɪz tarɡumloʃn tsu miɐ]
Aramaic

Popular Use[edit]

Two books have been published to help beginning students of ancient Greek bearing the titles "Greek to Me".
1. Greek to Me, J. Lyle Story & Cullen I.k. Story, Xulon Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1-59160-222-4. A humorous look at using memnonics to learn Biblical Greek.
2. It's Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek, David Alan Black, Baker Academic, 1998, ISBN 978-0-8010-2181-7. Makes learning Greek easier by keying in on differences between Greek and English Grammar.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rosenberg, A. (1979). Lingvisticæ Investigationes:III 3(2). 323-339
  2. ^ Moser, D. Pīnyīn.Info. Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard. Retrieved Jun 4, 2011, http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
  3. ^ Modi di dire (Italian)
  4. ^ [1] (Turkish)
  5. ^ http://hurarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/goster/haber.aspx?id=7619601&yazarid=82

External links[edit]