Definitions

greek to

Greek to me

That's Greek to me or It's (all) Greek to me is an idiom/dead metaphor in English, claiming that an expression is incomprehensible, either due to complexity or imprecision. The expression may be used with respect to verbal expressions with excessive jargon of dialect, mathematics, or science. The metaphor makes reference to the Greek language and the Greek alphabet (either ancient or modern).

The usage of the metaphor in English language traces back to early modern times:

but those that understood him smiled at one another and
shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me
(William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1599)

Ironically, this line worked literally. The speaker Casca has just returned from a celebration at which he says that Cicero spoke in Greek, and "it was Greek to me."

The expression is almost exclusively used with reference to the speaker (generally "Greek to me"; rarely or never "Greek to him").

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 Greek was dwindling among those who were copying manuscripts in monastic libraries.

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

Language Phrase IPA "target"
language
English It's Double Dutch. Dutch
English That's Greek to me. Greek
Arabic .يتحدث باللغة الصينية Yataḥaddaṯ bil-luġah al-Ṣīnīyah
Chinese
Arabic .يحكي كرشوني Yaḥkī Karšūnī
Garshuni
Bulgarian Все едно ми говориш на китайски. Chinese
Chavacano Aleman ese comigo. German
Chinese Mandarin 看起來像天書。 Kàn qílái xiàng tiānshū "Book from the Heaven"
(Referring to an unknown writing system.)
Chinese Mandarin 聽起來像鳥語。 Tīng qílái xiàng niǎoyǔ "Sounds/tongue of the Birds"
(Unknown phonology system.)
Chinese Cantonese 呢啲喺雞腸呀。 "Chicken Intestines",
referring to the Latin Alphabet
Croatian To su za mene španska sela. Spanish
Dutch Dat is Chinees voor mij. Chinese
Esperanto Tio estas Volapukaĵo. Volapük
Finnish Täyttä hepreaa. Hebrew
French c’est du chinois. Chinese
German Das kommt mir spanisch vor. Spanish
Greek Αὐτὰ μοῦ φαίνονται κινέζικα. Chinese
Hebrew זה סינית בשבילי Chinese
Hungarian Ez nekem kínai. Chinese
Italian Questo per me è arabo/aramaico/ostrogoto Arabic, Aramaic, Ostrogoth
Japanese ちんぷんかんぷん chin pun kan pun Chinese
Latin Graecum est; non legitur Greek
Latvian Tā man ir ķīniešu ābece Chinese
Lithuanian Tai man kaip kinų kalba. Chinese
Low Saxon Dat kümmt mi spaansch vör. Spanish
Persian انگار ژاپنی حرف می زنه Japanese
Polish To dla mnie chińszczyzna. Chinese
Portuguese Isto é chinês/grego para mim. Chinese/Greek
Romanian Esti turc? Turkish
Russian Это для меня китайская грамота. Chinese
Serbian То су за мене шпанска села.
To su za mene španska sela.
Spanish
Serbian Ко да кинески причаш.
Ko da kineski pričaš.
Chinese
Sinhalese Melo Huththak Therennae. Sinhalese
Slovak To je pre mňa španielska dedina. Spanish
Slovene To mi je španska vas Spanish
Spanish Esto me suena a chino. Chinese
Swedish Det är rena grekiskan. Greek
Turkish Konuya Fransız kaldım. French
Ukrainian Це для мене китайська грамота. Chinese
Yiddish ס'איז תּרגום־לשון צו מיר Aramaic

See also

References

External links

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