It's all Greek to me

This phrase is used to indicate that something is totally incomprehensible to you. According to World Wide Words, it comes the Medieval Latin phrase Graecum est; non potest legi (It is Greek; it cannot be read). Medieval scribes, who weren't familiar with Greek, apparently wrote this phrase next to any text they came across in that language.

The equivalent of this phrase in quite a few languages compares incomprehensible things to an unknown language, particularly Chinese or Greek, while many of the Slavic languages associate Spanish villages with incomprehsion. The Chinese themselves compare such things to a 'heavenly script'. The Japanese use a string of nonsense syllables which imitate the sounds of unknown languages, especially Chinese.

Language Idiom
Albanian Mos fol kinezce (Do not speak Chinese)
Afrikaans Dis Grieks vir my (It’s Greek to me)
Arabic (Modern Standard) (yataḥaddaṯ bil-luġah aṣ-Ṣīnīyah) يتحدث باللغة الصينية
He’s speaking Chinese
Arabic (Egyptian) (byatkallam bel-hendi) بيتكلم بالهندي
He’s speaking Hindi
Arabic (Syrian) (yaḥki Karšūni ) يحكي كرشوني
He’s speaking Syriac
Belarusian Гэта для мяне кітайская грамата (Geta dĺa m′ańe kіtajskaja gramata)
- It's Chinese writing to me
Bulgarian Говориш ми на патагонски (Govoriš mi na patagonski)
- You're speaking to me in Patagonian!
Това ми е тъмна Индия! (Tova mi e tãmna indija!)
- It's dark India to me
Catalan Això em sona a xinès (It sounds like Chinese)
Chinese (Cantonese) 呢個係咪鬼畫符呀? [呢个系咪鬼画符呀?] (li1 go3 hai6 mai6 gwai2 waak6 fu4 aa3) - Is it ghost script - refers to illegible handwriting
雞腸 (gāchèuhng) chicken intestines
Chinese (Mandarin) 看起来像天书 [看起來像天書] (kànqǐlái xiàng tiān shū) - It looks like a book from heaven - illegible/unknown writing
这是鬼画符吗? [這是鬼畫符嗎?] (zhè shì guǐhuàfú ma?) - Are these ghost-drawn marks - illegible/unknown writing
听起来像鸟语 [聽起來像鳥語] (tīngqǐlái xiàng niǎoyǔ.) - Sounds like bird language
Croatian Španska sela (Spanish village), kineski gradovi (Chinese cities)
To su za mene španska sela. (It's a Spanish village to me)
Czech Je to pro mne španĕlská vesnice (It's a Spanish village to me)
Mám ti to říct čínsky/mongolsky/japonsky?
(Should I translate this for you into Chinese/Mongolian/Japanese?) inf
Mám vám to říct čínsky/mongolsky/japonsky?
(Should I translate this for you into Chinese/Mongolian/Japanese?) frm
Mluvím s Číňanem/Mongolcem/Japoncem?
(Am I speaking with a Chinese/Mongolian/Japanese person?)
Danish Det er (det rene) volapyk (That is (pure) Volapük)
Det er en by i Rusland (This is a town in Russia)
Dutch Dat is Chinees voor mij (That's Chinese for me)
Dat is Latijn voor mij (That's Latin for me)
Daar kan ik geen chocola van maken (I can't make any chocolate from that)
Ik snap er geen jota van (I don’t understand one iota of it)
English It's (all) Greek to me
It's (all) Chinese to me
It sounds like double Dutch to me
Estonian See on nagu hiina keel (It's like Chinese)
Finnish Täyttä hepreaa (Complete Hebrew)
Kuulostaa siansaksalta (Sounds like pig’s German)
Harakanvarpaita (Magpie’s toes) - illegible writing
French C'est du chinois (It's Chinese)
C'est de l'hébreu (It's Hebrew)
C'est du javanais (It's Javanese)
C'est du russe (It's Russian)
C'est du haut allemand (It's High German)
German Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof (I understand only railway station)
Spreche ich etwa chinesisch? (Am I speaking Chinese?)
Böhmische Dörfer (Bohemian villages)
Das ist Chinesisch für mich (That's all Chinese to me)
Das kommt mir spanisch vor (That sounds Spanish to me)
Greek Εἶναι γιὰ μένα κινέζικα (Íne gia ména kinézika) - it's Chinese to me
Εἶναι ἀλαμπουρνέζικα (Íne alabournézika) - It's gobbledygook
Εν τούρτζικα που μιλάς; (En toúrtzika pou milás?) - Are you speaking Turkish?
Hebrew It's Chinese to me - (Ze sinit bishvili) זה סינית בשבילי
Hindi क्या मैं फ़ारसी बोल रहा हूँ? (Kyā maĩ fārsī bol rahā hū̃?) - Am I speaking Persian?
Hungarian Ez nekem kínai (This is Chinese to me)
Icelandic Þetta er hebreska fyrir mér (This is Hebrew to me)
Irish Ní thuigim focal de (I don’t understand a word of it)
Italian Questo per me è arabo (This is Arabic to me)
Questo per me è aramaico (This is Aramaic to me)
Questo per me è ostrogoto (This is Ostrogoth to me)
Questo per me è turco (This is Turkish to me)
Questo per me è cinese (This is Chinese to me)
Japanese 私にはちんぷんかんぷんだ (watashi ni wa chinpun kanpun da)
それは全くちんぷんかんぷんだ (sore wa mattaku chinpun kanpun da)
ちんぷんかんぷん is also written 珍紛漢紛, 珍糞漢糞 or チンプンカンプン.
It's an imitation of how Chinese sounds to Japanese people
Korean 횡설수설하고 있다 (hoengseolsuseolhago issda) - It’s gibberish (“horizontal and vertical”)
아무 말이나 한다 (amu mal-ina handa) - They’re speaking a random language
외계어를 한다 (oegyeeoleul handa) - They’re speaking an alien language
개소리를 한다 (gaesolileul handa) - They’re speaking like dogs
Latin Graecum est; non legitur (It’s Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read)
Latvian Tā ir ķīniešu ābece/alfabēts (It's the Chinese alphabet)
Lithuanian Tai man kaip kinų kalba (It's all Chinese to me)
Macedonian За мене тоа е шпанско село (Za mene toa e shpansko selo)
That's a Spanish village to me
Manx Cha nel mee toiggal fockle jeh (I don’t understand a word of it)
Norwegian Det er (helt) gresk for meg (It's (complete) Greek to me)
Persian I don't understand Greek - (Yunaani nemifahmam) یونانی نمی فهمم
Am I speaking Turkish? - (mage torki harf mizanam) مگه ترکی حرف میزنم؟
Polish Równie dobrze mogłoby to być po chińsku
(It could be in Chinese with the same effect -
I would understand the same if it was in Chinese
... a u mnie wszyscy zdrowi (casual)
(... yeah, everybody's healthy in my home)
- suggests that the thing said before is completely out of place and nonsense
Czy ja mówię po chińsku? (Do I speak Chinese?)
Portuguese É grego para mim (It's Greek to me)
É chinês para mim (It's Chinese to me)
Punjabi ਕੀ ਮੈਂ ਫਾਰਸੀ ਬੋਲ ਰਿਹੈਂ? (Ki main farsi bol rihain?) - Am I speaking Farsi?
Romanian Parcă e chineză = It’s like Chinese
Ești turc? = Are you Turkish?
Russian Это для меня китайская грамота (Eto dlya menya kitayskaya gramota) - That's Chinese writing to me
Serbian То су за мене шпанска села (To su za mene španska selaa) - These are a Spanish village to me
К'о да кинески причаш (K'o da kineski pričaš) - Like speaking in Chinese
Sinhala meka mata andara demala (this is Andhra Tamil, i.e. Telugu, to me)
Slovak Je to pre mňa španielska dedina (It's a Spanish village to me)
Slovenian Zame je to španska vas (this is a Spanish village to me)
Govorim kitajsko? (Am I speaking Chinese?)
Spanish Esto me suena a chino, no me hables en chino
(It sounds Chinese to me, I don't speak in Chinese)
Me suena como griego (It sounds Greek to me),
Para mí que es griego (It's Greek to me)
Eso es griego para mí (That's Greek to me)
Es chino básico (It's basic chinese)
Háblame en cristiano (Speak to me in Christian)
Swedish Det är rena grekiskan (It is pure Greek)
Turkish olaya fransız kaldım (I am French to the conversation/chat)
Welsh Nid wy'n deall yr un gair arno (I don’t understand a single word of it)
Mae y tu hwnt i mi (It’s beyond me)
Yiddish (s'iz targum-loshn tsu mir) ס'איז תּרגום־לשון צו מיר
It's Aramaic (the language of the targum) to me =

Constructed languages

Language Idiom
Esperanto Tio estas volapukaĵo (It's all Volapük)
Ĝi estas laŭ mi Volapukaĵo! (It's all Volapük to me)

books   Books of idioms, proverbs and sayings in many languages

People who have contributed to this section

If you would like to make any corrections or additions to this page, or if you can provide recordings, please contact me.

Links

Information about the Japanese version of this phrase (in Japanese)
http://gogen-allguide.com/ti/chinpunkanpun.html

Some of these translation come from:
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/It's_all_Greek_to_me
http://forum.wordreference.com/archive/index.php?t-112977.html

Greek To Me: Mapping Mutual Incomprehension
http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/362-greek-to-me-mapping-mutual-incomprehension/

More idioms

It's all Greek to me | It's raining cats and dogs | As easy as falling off a log | A sandwich short of a picnic | It's small world | When pigs fly | Out of sight, out of mind | Crystal-clear | Practice makes perfect

Idioms in individual languages

Czech | French | Greek | Icelandic | Lithuanian | Manx | Russian | Slovak | Spanish | Swedish | Welsh

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