Sunday, 22 March 2009

It's All Greek To Me!

It's all Greek to me! is one of those great phrases that we (certainly I) use all the time without knowing anything about its etymology. We can probably blame Shakespeare for it's modern usage as it appears in the following passage from Act I, Scene II of Julius Caesar: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.

Its origin is, however, likely to date to the Middle Ages when the knowledge of Greek was declining among monks charged with copying manuscripts where it sometimes appears in the margin as Graecum est; non legitur -- it is Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read.

What's interesting is that the same phrase appears in many languages around the world albeit with reference to a different confusing language. For example, the German's say Das kommt mir Spanisch vor and so clearly find Spanish more confusing than Greek. Here is an interesting diagram showing how languages are related via their versions of this phrase.

Interestingly Chinese seems to be the most confusing language there is -- given it's entirely different character set that doesn't really surprise me!
23 March 2009 at 07:16 , GB said...

Dat was zeer interessant. Ik kan niet begrijpen waarom niemand zegt „het al Nederlands aan me“ was.

23 March 2009 at 07:25 , GB said...

Sorry but I don't speak any Greek even though I can recite the Greek alphabet See

24 March 2009 at 20:52 , The Archduchess said...

I find it interesting that the Chinese, apparently having no other language to refer to and being referred to by most other languages, turn to "Heavenly Script".

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