Latin and Greek


Latin and Greek (idiom)
also, all Greek to me


  • difficult to understand.
  • foreign or strange.
  • used to describe speech, writing, or information that is confusing, complex, or beyond one’s understanding.
  • referring to something that is unfamiliar or alien, as if it were in a completely foreign language.
  • pertaining to terminology or language specific to a particular field or group that is not easily understood by outsiders.

Example Sentences

  1. The technical manual was all Latin and Greek to me.
  2. The new software interface might as well be in Latin and Greek for all I can make of it.
  3. To anyone outside the legal profession, their discussions might as well be in Latin and Greek.
  4. When he started talking about quantum physics, it was like Latin and Greek to most of us.
  5. The medical report was filled with terms that were Latin and Greek to me.

Origin and History

People commonly use the idiom “it’s all Greek to me,” often understood as “Latin and Greek,” to describe things that are incomprehensible or difficult to understand. Historical and literary contexts trace its origins, evolving over centuries into its modern usage.

Historical Context

The phrase “It’s all Greek to me” has its earliest recorded origins in medieval Latin. Scholars and scribes in Western Europe did not widely understand Greek during the Middle Ages. When faced with Greek manuscripts they could not read, these scribes would often write “Graecum est; non legitur,” meaning “It is Greek; it cannot be read.”

Literary Roots

Early 17th-century playwrights Thomas Dekker and William Shakespeare prominently featured the idiom in their works, bringing it into the English lexicon. In Dekker’s 1603 play “Patient Grissel,” a character remarks, “I’ll be sworn he knows not so much as one character of the tongue… Why, then it’s Greek to him.” Shakespeare solidified its place in English literature with his play “Julius Caesar” (1599), where the character Casca, upon hearing Cicero speak Greek, says, “But, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.”

Theories and Beliefs

The use of Greek in the phrase may stem from many Western Europeans’ perception of Greek as a complex and unfamiliar language during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The idiom reflects the broader notion that foreign languages, particularly those less commonly studied, like Greek, symbolize complexity and obscurity.

Comparative Idioms

Interestingly, many cultures have similar idioms, using different languages to express the same idea of incomprehensibility. For instance, in Dutch, one might say “Dat is Chinees voor mij” (That’s Chinese to me), and in Hebrew, the equivalent is “זה סינית בשבילי” (This is Chinese to me). These variations highlight a universal tendency to attribute confusion to foreign languages.

Evolution of Usage

Initially used in a more literal sense to denote the inability to understand Greek, the idiom has broadened over time. Today, it is used metaphorically to describe any subject matter that is confusing or beyond one’s understanding, regardless of its actual complexity or language.

In summary, the idiom has a rich historical and literary heritage. Early modern playwrights popularized it in the English language from medieval scholarly practices, and it has since become a staple in describing the incomprehensible. Its variations across cultures underscore the universal challenge of grappling with the unknown.

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