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March 1, 2009

It’s not all Greek to them…

by quaesitor

Nice post from one of my favourite blogs: Strange Maps.

In English, if we don’t understand what someone has been saying, we tend to react by saying ‘It’s all Greek to me’. But what do the Greeks say? Or for that matter, anyone else? Well, someone has done some research, and come up with this nice little flowchart.

It’s seems that Chinese presents problems for the most languages; while the Chinese are the most spiritual, since they refer to the language of heaven. Is this an extraordinary Asian outbreak of glossolalia by any chance?  

Here are some of the other phrases in use:

  • In Italian, one can ask: “Parlo italiano o turco ottomano?” (”Do I speak Italian or Ottoman Turkish?” It has a nicer cadence in Italian)
  • One reported German expression for something incomprehensible: “Mesopotamisch”. Another one: “Kauderwelsch” (possibly referring to the Rhaeto-Romance language spoken in Switzerland)
  • Older Taiwanese refer to youthspeak, internet slang etc. as sounding “Martian” to them.
  • Even Esperanto-speakers have been endowed with their own expression, pointing the finger at another constructed language: “Estas Volapuk al mi!” (”It’s Volapük to me!”)
  • In Finnish, “Siansaksa” (”Pig German”) is the word for incomprehensible gibberish. Notice the similar English expression “Pig Latin”.
  • In Icelandic, one could say “Þetta er latína fyrir mér” (”This is Latin to me”) or “Þetta kemur mér spánskt fyrir sjónir” (”This looks Spanish to me”).
  • “Das ist mir Böhmischer Dörfer” (’That’s Bohemian villages to me”)  – this German reference to the incomprehension (or at least impronouncability) of Bohemian (i.e. Czech) village names is mirrored in the Slovak expression “Je pre mňa španielska dedina” (”(That) is for me a Spanish village”), and in the Slovenian one “To mi je španska vas” (”This is a Spanish village to me”) . Other related expressions, not just dealing with incomprehension so much as just plain chaos, are “Czeski film” (”Czech movie”) in Polish, for a kafkaesque situation, for example in dealing with bureaucracy. German has “polnische Wirtschaft” (”Polish economy”) for a chaotic situation and “Fachchinesisch” for technical jargon.

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