Weekend All Things Considered (NPR), “Is It All Greek To You? Thank Medieval Monks, And The Bard, For The Phrase”

July 5, 2015

Interview on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered about the expression “It’s all Greek to me.” (July 5, 2015)

Shakespeare lovers are well aware this phrase comes from the Bard — or, well, partly. Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, says that Shakespeare is probably responsible for the popularity of the phrase.

“It appears in his play Julius Caesar,” he says. “There’s a character who’s describing the speech of Cicero, who is a learned scholar; he actually knew Greek. But this character didn’t really understand what Cicero was saying, and he says, ‘For mine own part, it was Greek to me.’ ”

But Shakespeare didn’t actually come up with the phrase “it’s all Greek to me.” The phrase appeared in a translation of an Italian play decades earlier.

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)

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