It's all Greek to me


Senior Member
In English if a foreign language or phrase sounds incomprehensible, there is the expression 'This is Greek to me'.
In Greek we say 'This is Chinese to me'.
What do people say in other languages?
  • Selyd

    Senior Member
    In ukrainian:
    Це китайська грамота - /Tse kytays'ka hramota/ (It is the Chinese letter)


    ^We Bulgarians use Chinese too: Това е като (на) китайски. = This is like (in) Chinese. or Това е като китайско писмо. = This is like Chinese writing.
    As far as I know, Chinese is (one of) the most difficult language(s) in the world and it's still rarely known outside China, and that's why such expressions hav been created.


    Senior Member
    UK English (SE England—Home Counties)
    In English 'It's all Greek to me' — or some such variation — is so common, to my way of thinking, that looking at some alternate turns of phrase — for instance 'It's Double-Dutch' — seem unusual.

    When speaking in German with my mother's family, I am often at a loss to understand someone who speaks in a dialect or with an accent, with which I am unaccustomed. (I'm limited to Southern German at best; though some would argue that anyone with „Schwyzerdütsch“ shouldn't cast stones ... but I digress). As such — perhaps because of it — I've often made use of the same phrase as several other German speakers have mentioned, viz: „Das kommt mir spanisch vor“ ... quite literally: 'Seems like Spanish (to me)'.


    Senior Member
    Central Italian
    German isn't much easier. I'm surprised, no one posted such a saying with German.

    German isn't much easier than Chinese?! The grammar is probably more difficult but this is true for all the Indo-European languages. As for syntax, vocabulary, pronunciation and especially ideograms, Chinese is by far more difficult than German for a European speaker.


    Senior Member
    UK English (SE England—Home Counties)
    German isn't much easier. I'm surprised, no one posted such a saying with German.

    With regard to 'Double Dutch', as I mentioned above, perhaps I spoke too soon.

    Traces of the word 'Dutch' being used to mean 'German' & 'German-speaking peoples' are found in English to the present-day, in terms like 'Pennsylvania Dutch'; a people descended from dispossessed Germans, (because of religious beliefs).

    As late as the early English colonial period, the terms 'Low Dutch' and 'High Dutch' were used to mean 'Low German', (i.e. languages inclusive of those of the Benelux countries, as well as the indigenous Low German as once spoken 'north of the Benrath (line)'; and 'High Dutch' to mean what is to-day called 'High German', inclusive of the opposite extreme of Low German, viz „Oberdeutsch“.

    (Just as the German word for 'Dutch' is „niederländisch“ i.e. 'of the Low Lands', where the German word for 'German' is „deutsch“; in a similar way, I believe the Dutch word for 'Dutch' is «Nederlands» — i.e. of the 'Low Countries' — where the Dutch word for 'German' is «Duits»).

    Thus, the term 'Double Dutch' — inclusive of the language-game of the same name might have been a reference to the difficulty of an English-speaker to understand 'Dutch' in its erstwhile historic use, i.e. German.


    Senior Member
    français Clodoaldien
    In addition to what has been said in # 91, Japanese has also the expression ”ちんぷんかんぷん”(chinpun kanpun) also written : 珍紛/糞漢紛/糞 (other variants) meaning "unintelligible talk", gibberish, double Dutch. It bears the character 漢 kan/han meaning Chinese. Originally probably from Nagasaki, at the extreme south of "mainland Japan" (if you exclude Okinawa and the multiple small islands), point of contact between Japan and foreigners (Chinese included).


    Senior Member
    español - España & català
    Here you have related expressions in Spanish. Although, I know they have not strictly the same meaning of "it's all Greek to me":

    In Madrid, they say "No me hables en polaco" -> "Don't speak to me Polish" to address rudely a Catalan speaker visitor specially from Catalonia. :rolleyes:

    "Háblame en cristiano" -> "Speak to me Christian" meaning "speak to me properly so that I can understand you".
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    Senior Member
    Argentina (Castellano)
    (Escribo en español, y aunque lo entiendo perfectamente, no me atrevo a escribir ni una palabra en inglés...
    Si alguien quisiera traducir sucintamente mi pregunta al inglés, se lo agradecería ya que me gustaría que ésta fuera leída por la mayor cantidad de foreros posible).

    Recuerdo que hace mucho leí no sé dónde que no en todos los países el chino es sinónimo de idioma incomprensible (Casi aseguraría que en la China no lo es...:D)

    Encontré estas definiciones en el Diccionario de la Academia :

    5. m. coloq. Lenguaje incomprensible. No sé a qué te refieres, porque me estás hablando en chino

    Chino básico:
    1. loc. verb. coloq. Arg. Resultar incomprensible o difícil de desentrañar. La electrónica es chino básico para él

    Si alguien conoce una lista de países/idiomas que contemple este asunto, y/o quiere contarnos qué lengua se usa en su país, o en su idioma, para aludir a un lenguaje incomprensible, se lo agradezco desde ya. Especialmente a los chinos...
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    Senior Member
    European Spanish
    Te parecerá curioso pero ese "it's all greek to me" es originario de España, hacia principios de 1500 se produjo una llegada masiva de artistas y sirvientes a la corte.
    Y el griego pasó a ser sinónimo de lengua extranjera e incomprensible.

    No tardó mucho en llegar y asentarse en las Américas, donde por un lado y con el tiempo lo tomaron los holandeses rubicundos que eran como "el queso de Juan" (Jankee) y por el otro cambió la forma para designar a los hablantes de otra lengua incomprensible, "grigos" primero y gringos después.


    New Member
    In Finnish, we similarly say 'täyttä hepreaa' when something is incomprehensible. In English it would translate to "utter/pure/absolute Hebrew".

    "Ohjeet olivat täyttä hepreaa" - "The instructions were utter Hebrew"

    Wonder how many other languages have the same metaphor?


    Thanks for posting the link, Egmont - very interesting!
    As I was browing through several Wikipedia pages, I also stumbled across the English: "It's (all) Hebrew to me". Is that expression commonly used?


    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    In England there is the rather annoying habit that men who know not a word of French will say something like "He"s a fucking prick, pardon my French". Intending the last bit to me (a woman) implying that women being gently brought up will not know what he is talking about.


    Senior Member
    français Clodoaldien
    I guess "it's all Hebrew to me" in English is a translation from the French (see above) : "c'est de l'hébreu pour moi". French refers to Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Chinese as synonyms for things hard to understand.
    As for "pardon my French", that relates to vulgarity, not difficulty. It is a kind of joke ...


    Senior Member
    Chinese - Taiwan 中文 Taiwanese Hokkien 臺語
    cameo~ is the phrase "it's spanish to me" is realli used in taiwan? lol. so it would be 跟西班牙語一樣? andd, is the phrase 跟天書一樣 (like a heavenly script/book) used a lot?
    1. As you can see I'm from Taiwan.
    2. We say "It's all Spanish to me."
    3. I don't know why. Maybe my fellow Taiwanese can give us a reason.
    I've personally never heard the "Spanish thing". Maybe that's just something between you and your friend; it's probably not a common phrase in Taiwan.
    天書 is used, but I wouldn't say a lot. Another possible word for it is 鬼畫符(runes written by ghosts), which sounds a little negative. They are definitely not used as much as "It's Greek to me":

    We usually just say "我完全看不懂 I don't understand at all." Straightforward, nothing metaphoric.


    Senior Member
    天书 (a heavenly script/book) and 鬼画符 (runes written by ghosts) are also common sayings in Mainland China.

    A heavenly script/book: often refers to verbal languages or terminologies.
    Runes written by ghosts: refers to written languages or signs.

    Sometimes, when two Chinese are talking, A was using all the hard terminologies that B could not understand, B may say: "please speak Chinese".
    This is like saying "please speak English" among English speakers.
    There is also:
    To dla mnie chińszczyzna = It's Chinese to me, but it's refered to sth difficult while learning, not to the understanding.
    When you want to say, that you don't understand, and again the context is narrowed to plot / situation you could say
    To jest czeski film = It's a Czech film.

    I thought there was some more relation to Greek through letter jota, but
    ni joty means nothing at all, so you could say:
    Nie rozumiem ni joty = I don't understand at all, but you can use that phrase to beer as well:
    W lodówce nie ma ni joty piwa - there is no beer (at all) in the fridge
    So it's all based on context ;)

    Why? do you ask:
    Chinese, because it seems very difficult to learn
    Czech film has an exact meaning: nobody knows anything.
    From my memory I can say, this saying appeared in Poland around 70s due to the Czech productions. I don't know exactly which film was most influencial, but it came into live speach, and survived to modern times.


    I think the expression : to jest czeski film ( It'a Czech film ) it's quite popular in Poland ! :rolleyes:
    It is in another context , but in relation to Greek , in polish language we use the expression : nie udawaj Greka , udawać Greka /uˈdavaʥ̑ ˈɡrɛka/ : ( play possum , play dumb) udawać, że nie ma się pojęcia, wiedzy na jakiś temat; zachowywać się jak ktoś niezorientowany, nierozumiejący określonej kwestii, mimo że w rzeczywistości jest inaczej . ( pretend that you have no idea or knowledge about something; behave like someone who is confused and does not understand a certain issue, although in reality it is not ..) :D


    Senior Member
    When you want to say, that you don't understand, and again the context is narrowed to plot / situation:
    To jest czeski film = It's a Czech film.

    Czech film has an exact meaning: nobody knows anything.
    From my memory I can say, this saying appeared in Poland around 70s due to the Czech productions. I don't know exactly which film was most influencial, but it came into live speach, and survived to modern times.


    By the way, this expression (to jest czeski film: nikt nic nie wie) is much older than 1970s: in 1947 the Poles could see a Czech detective comedy directed by Josef Mach "Nikdo nic neví " (in Polish version "Nikt nic nie wie" - Nobody knows anything) with a very complicated plot and then this saying was coined.