Greek to me

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".


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.

The usage of the metaphor in English traces back to early modern times, and it 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.


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), Nemec (Slavic for "the mute one" indicating Germans).

In other languages

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
That's Greek to me. /ˈðæts ˈɡriːk tʉ ˈmiː/ Greek
Albanian Mos fol kinezce. Do not speak Chinese.Chinese
Afrikaans Dis Grieks vir my. It's Greek to me.Greek
Arabic .يتحدث باللغة الصينية Yataḥaddaṯ bil-luġah al-Ṣīnīyah
[jataˈħadːaθ bilˈluɣa(t) asˤːiːˈniːja]
Speaking in Chinese Chinese
.يحكي كرشوني Yaḥkī Karšūnī
[jaħkiː karʃuːniː]
Asturian Suename chinu
Ta'n chinu.
It sounds like Chinese to me.
This is in 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 LatinLatin, language in rituals by holy men such as Catholic priests, faith healers, and talisman owners.
Inintsik Chinese Chinese
Chavacano Aleman ese comigo. It's German to meGerman
Cantonese 呢啲喺雞腸嚟呀。 [nɛː˥ tiː˥ hɐi˧˥ kɐi˥ tsʰœŋ˨˩ a˥][3] These are chicken intestines. Latin alphabets or cursive English writings, more commonly used to refer to English nowadays in Hong Kong.
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. [dɑt ɪs ʃiˈneːs foːr mɛi][4] That is Chinese to me.Chinese
Ik snap er geen jota van. I don't understand one yodh of it. Reference to Matthew 5:18.[5] Hebrew
Esperanto Tio estas Volapukaĵo. [ˈtio ˈestas ˈvolapuˈkaʒo] That's a Volapük thing.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 all Hebrew. Hebrew
French C'est du chinois. [sɛ dy ʃinwa] It's ChineseChinese
C'est de l'hébreu. [sɛ də lebʁø] It's Hebrew Hebrew
German Das kommt mir spanisch vor That sounds like Spanish to me. Usually meant to indicate something is fishy Spanish
Spreche ich chinesisch? Am I speaking Chinese? Chinese
Fachchinesisch specialty Chinese (meaning technical jargon) Chinese
Kauderwelsch "Kauder" = trade, Welsch = any/all of the romance languages. A mix of languages, or "lingua franca" Romance languages
Böhmische Dörfer [ˈbøːmɪʃə ˈdœɐ̯fɐ] Bohemian villages Not referring to a language, but likening someone's ignorance of a term to ignorance about obscure villages in Bohemia (considered an out-of-the-way place).
Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. "I understand only 'train station.'" Idiomatic
Polnisch rückwärts Polish reversed Polish
Greek, Standard Modern Αυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα. [afˈta mu ˈfeno(n)de ciˈnezika] This strikes me as Chinese Chinese
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
þetta er hebreska fyrir mér "This is Hebrew to me" Hebrew
Indonesian (Tulisan) Cakar ayam
(refers to unreadable writing)
Chicken feet
Bahasa planet (Other)-planet language Alien language
Italian Questo per me è arabo/aramaico/ostrogoto[6] [ˈkwesto per me ɛ ˈaːrabo], [araˈmaiko], [ostroˈɡɔːto] To me this is Arabic/Aramaic/OstrogothArabic, Aramaic, Ostrogoth
Japanese ちんぷんかんぷん chin pun kan pun
[tɕim pɯŋ kam pɯɴ]
Mumbo jumbo Gibberish, referring to the "Chinese" sound of incomprehensible Chinese loanwords used by the scholarly élite
Javanese Cakar pitik
(refers to unreadable writing)
Chicken feet
Basa londo Dutch language Dutch
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 ciːnieʃu aːbetse] This is Chinese alphabet book to me 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
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)
這是鬼畫符嗎?/这是鬼画符吗?Zhè shì guǐhuàfú ma? Is this written in ghost's script?
(Referring to very poor, incomprehensible handwriting.)
Ghost's script
聽起來像鳥語。/ 听起来像鸟语。[tʰiŋ˥ tɕʰi˨˩ lai̯˧˥ ɕjɑŋ˥˩ njɑʊ̯˧˥ y˩˧] Sounds like the birds
(Unknown phonology system.)
"Sounds/tongue of the Birds"
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
Polish To dla mnie chińszczyzna. [tɔ dla mɲe xʲiɲˈʂtʂɨzna] To me it's Chinese Chinese
Portuguese Isto para mim é chinês. [ˈiʃtu pəɾə ˈmĩ ɛ ʃiˈneʃ] This is Chinese to me Chinese (Portugal)
Isto para mim é grego. [ˈiʃtu pəɾə ˈmĩ ɛ ˈɣɾeɣu] This is Greek to me Greek (Portugal)
Não entendo grego/hebraico/aramaico. [nɜ̃w ĩˈtẽdu ˈɡɾeɣu], [ĩˈtẽd eˈbɾajku], [ĩˈtẽd(w) ɜɾəˈmajku] I don't understand Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic (Brazil)
Não falo grego/hebraico/aramaico. [nɜ̃w ˈfalu ˈɡɾeɣu], [ˈfal eˈbɾajku], ˈ[fal(w) ɜɾəˈmajku] I don't speak Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic (Brazil)
Você está falando grego/latim/árabe.
Você fala em... (ditto)
[ˈse ˈta fɜˈlɜ̃du ˈɡɾeɣu], [lɐˈtʃĩ], [ˈaɾəβi]
[voˈse ˈfalə̯ ĩ ˈɡɾeɣu (...)]
You are speaking Greek/Latin/Arabic. Greek, Latin, Arabic (Brazil)
Você está falando grego/latim/árabe? [ˈse ˈta fɜˈlɜ̃du ˈɡɾeɣu (...)] Are you speaking Greek/Latin/Arabic? Greek, Latin, Arabic (Brazil)
Não leio japonês.
Não sei ler japonês/árabe.
[nɜ̃w ˈlej.ju ʒɜpuˈneʃ]
[nɜ̃w ˈsej ˈleʁ ʒɐpoˈnes], [le ˈɾaɾəβi]
I can't read Japanese/Arabic Japanese, Arabic (Brazil)
Romanian Parcă e chineză.
[ˈparkə je kiˈnezə] It's like Chinese. Chinese
Russian Это для меня китайская грамота. Eto dlya menya kitaiskaya gramota.
[ˈɛtə ˈdʲlʲæ mʲɪˈnʲæ kʲɪˈtajskəjə ˈɡramətə]
That's Chinese writing to me. Chinese But emphasis is put on reading rather than speaking, typically the phrase is applied to branches of knowledge like Chemistry, Maths, computers experience, etc
Serbian То су за мене шпанска села.
To su za mene španska sela.
[to su za mene ʃpanska sela] These are to me a Spanish village. Spanish
К'о да кинески причаш.
K'o da kineski pričaš.
Like speaking in Chinese Chinese
Slovak To je pre mňa španielska dedina. [to je pre mɲa ʃpaɲielska ɟeɟina] That is a Spanish village to me. 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.
[esˈta en ˈtʃino], [aɾaˈmeo]
[me ˈswenaː ˈtʃino], [aɾaˈmeo]
This 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.[7] [konuja fɾansɯz kaɫˈdɯm] I am French to the topic. French
Anladıysam Arap olayım.[8] If I could understand, I'd be an Arab. Arabic
Ukrainian Це для мене китайська грамота. Tse dlya mene kitas'ka gramota.
[tsɛ dlʲɑ ˈmɛne kɪˈtɑjsʲkɑ ˈɦrɑmo̞tɑ]
That's Chinese writing to me. Chinese
Venetian Par mi xe turco. [par miː ze ˈtyɾko] To me this is Turkish. Turkish
Vietnamese Tiếng Miên. Khmer Cambodian
Yiddish ס'איז תּרגום־לשון צו מיר S'iz Targum-loshn tsu mir.
[sɪz tarɡumloʃn̩ t͡su miɐ̯]
It is Targum (Aramaic) to me. Aramaic

See also


  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,
  3. 鸡肠噉/唔知噏乜———it’s Greek to me (Cantonese)
  4. In isolation, voor is pronounced [voːr].
  6. Modi di dire (Italian)
  7. (Turkish)

External links

Look up it's all Greek to me in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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