All Greek to Me (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "All Greek to Me"?

The term "all Greek to me" means that something is meaningless or incomprehensible. It is usually said after being presented with something in a foreign language (not necessarily Greek) or something containing lots of jargon or scientific language.
All Greek to Me (Origin)
The longer form of this idiom is "It's all Greek to me," but occasionally it is said as "That's Greek to me." It almost certainly originates from the Medieval Latin phase Graecum est; non potest legi ("It is Greek; it cannot be read."), which would mean it is well over 1,000 years old.

Greek is used as a generic incomprehensible language in other cultures too. For example:
CountrySayingTranslation
South AfricaDis Grieks vir my.It's Greek to me.
NorwayDet er helt gresk for meg.It's complete Greek to me.
PortugalIsto para mim é grego.This is Greek to me Greek.
SwedenDet är rena grekiskan.It's pure Greek.
The Greeks themselves use Chinese in their version of the saying:
CountrySayingTranslation
South AfricaΑυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα.This strikes me as Chinese.
The idea that Greek is a metaphor for anything incomprehensible is used in 1599 in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar:
  •    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.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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