Q From Florence C Goold: I am trying to find out who first uttered the phrase it’s Greek to me.
A It’s usually attributed to William Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar: “Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me”. But virtually the same phrase had been used the year before (1600) by another Elizabethan playwright, Thomas Dekker: “I’ll be sworn he knows not so much as one character of the tongue. Why, then it’s Greek to him”. Actually, the phrase is older than both of them: it comes from a Medieval Latin proverb “Graecum est; non potest legi” (It is Greek; it cannot be read). Both the Latin and the English meant then just what the phrase does now, to refer to something that is unintelligible. As an aside, the Spanish version of this proverb is “hablar en griego”, which is commonly said to be the origin of the word gringo, so somebody who is called a gringo is literally accused of speaking Greek and hence being unintelligible.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added pieces
Zoilism; Fish-faced; Poach; Immensikoff; Habiliments; The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; Agister; The Word at War; Not so green as you’re cabbage-looking; Peely-wally; Draw a line in the sand; Porphyrogeniture; Set one’s cap at; Epicaricacy; Furthest and farthest; Hide one’s light under a bushel; Jentacular.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!