EACH MONTH, WE’LL TAKE YOU TO THE MORE INTERESTING SIDE OF LANGUAGE, ALL IN AN EFFORT TO UNPACK WHAT IS ALL THIS
It’s All Greek to Me
Give or take a million years ago, the Roman citizens from Italy often knew as many languages as English speakers today: one. As a result, when the exclusively Latin-speaking citizens came in contact with other cultures, they were baffled. For better or for worse, a Latin phase exists to describe this unfortunate situation: “Graecum est; non legitur,” or it is Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read.
History continued and other cultures picked up on the humor of ignorance. In 1599, William Shakespeare, famous for confusing modern English learners everywhere, is credited with popularizing the phrase “it was Greek to me” with his play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
Today, the phrase, or something like it, is found in most countries across the globe. We can only assume that before Google Translate, the world was a very confusing and difficult place to exist.
Now you try!
Use this phrase any time you don’t understand a subject.
“I was lost the entire time in China. It was all Greek to me.”
“Yesterday, I went to a fancy French restaurant. The entire menu was all Greek to me.”
“Though I’ve dated 10 women, the gender’s actions continue to be all Greek to me.”
Say it in Chinese!
这是火星文吧 [zhè shì huǒ xīng wén ba]
“This must be Martian language.”
This time, the phrase will be used for any unknown marks, rare characters and homophonic characters by young netizens. It originated from a Taiwanese game where confusing dialogue was invented by players for chatting. The Mars aspect came from a discussion about the movie Shaolin Soccer (2001). From then on, Mars has been used by young people to describe all things unusual.
You can also say these:
看起来像天书 kàn qǐ lái xiàng tiān shū
Looks like hieroglyphics
这是鬼画符吗? zhè shì guǐ huà fú ma?
Is this written in ghost’s script?
听起来像鸟语 tīng qǐ lái xiàng niǎo yǔ
Sounds like the birds