Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's all Greek to me!

Ashley posted this list on her blog today, and it made me think of how many little commonplace phrases and "witticisms" we throw into our daily vocabulary, unaware of their origins.

"It's all Greek to me" is one such commonplace saying; everyone knows what it means when they hear it. The first time I read "But, for mine own part, it was Greek to me," from Julius Caesar, I thought "A-ha! So that's where that came from!" But other authors around Shakespeare's time -- Thomas Dekker, for one -- also used similar phrases.

The phrase had been around much earlier than Shakespeare, though. There is a Medieval Latin proverb, "Graecum est; non potest legi", that translates literally as "It is Greek; it cannot be read," attributed to monk scribes. I would think, though, that Shakespeare's use of the metaphor in Julius Caesar is what brought it into modern day usage. I like knowing that it meant the same thing in the Middle Ages as it did in Shakespeare's time and as it does today -- "I don't understand you; you might as well be speaking Greek."

I wonder what Greek-speakers say when they want to accuse someone of being unintelligible?


5 comments:

lisaschaos said...

lol, yeah, I wonder too. :) I like finding out the origins of sayings too. :)

Debbie said...

A lot of things are Greek to me but I guess our Mom's saying "I swanny" is Greek to folks who didn't grow up around here.

Martha (MM) said...

Hi Lori, long time no see (there is another one of those phrases)! Just popping in for a visit and to say thanks for stopping my new Missions blog and entering the CSN giveaway :-)

FrankandMary said...

It's Greek to Me is a favorite eating establishment of mine.

Now you have me thinking about your ending question ;-).~Mary

DB said...

Here's my offering from a recent Vagabopnd Journeys

Here are some other "old sayings" brought to us originally by good old Will. Some of them have been slightly changed over the years, but they're still solid.
A foregone conclusion
A sorry sight
All that (glisters) is not gold
As dead as a doornail
Brevity is the soul of wit
Discretion is the better part of valor
Eaten out of house and home
Fancy free
Fight fire with fire
Good men and true
Good riddance
High time
It was all Greek to me
Let slip the dogs of war
Make your hair stand on end
Mum's the word
Night owl
Primrose path
Send him packing
Set your teeth on edge
Short shrift
Too much of a good thing
Truth will out
Vanish into thin air, and yes
Wild goose chase.

It first appeared in Romeo and Juliet and still has the same meaning it did back then: a pointless endeavor, like forming into a flock just to fly across the river.

How many of those "grand old sayings" do you use often, without giving the old boy credit because you didn't know? Thanks to him we have a vast library of lively lessons to understand and use.

DB