It’s Greeking to Me

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In the play Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius question Casca about the occasion on which Caesar reluctantly refused a crown offered him by Mark Antony. Casca is portrayed as a gruff, plain-speaking sort of man.

Did Cicero say any thing?

Ay, he spoke Greek.

To what effect?

Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’ the face 
again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me.

Like so many quotations from Shakespeare, “it’s Greek to me” has entered everyday speech. To say that something is “Greek to you” means that something written or spoken is incomprehensible, either because you lack the information to understand, or because the speaker or writer has failed to express the idea clearly.

A spin-off of Shakespeare’s quotation is the graphic design term greeking.

Greeking, from a typographic point of view, is the use of nonsense or dummy text, instead of the real body copy. This is done by designers to give the page an overall grey, or flat appearance, so as not to distract from the design layout. –Design: Talkboard

An example of greeking known to anyone who has ever browsed WordPress themes or looked through a computer manual is lorem ipsum. This block of nonsense Latin derives from an essay by–appropriately enough–Cicero.

Designers have good reason to use greeking. Comprehensible copy used to illustrate graphic design is distracting. A client will start reading the copy and be annoyed if it stops mid-sentence. The use of a greeking text ensures that attention remains focused on the design.

Messed-up Latin seems to be the most usual form of greeking, but other languages, including Greek, are used.

If you would like to generate your own passage of greeking, there’s a site for it. Your choices include Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Russian, Esperanto and Morse Code.

Here’s that last paragraph greeked–both figuratively and literally:

Δε χαρά συνάδελφος επιχειρηματίες δύο, ελέγχου περίπου νιρβάνα σε μας. Έτσι είχαν σφαλμάτων ως νέα, ναί μη ελέγχου γνωρίζει εισαγωγή. Νέα έργων τελικά περιμένουν με, έκδοση λοιπόν σίγουρος μια οι, μειώσει εκτελέσεις δημιουργήσεις σαν με. Σίγουρος λιγότερους της τι, οι φράση τελικών προσπάθεια όλη.

Everything about lorem ipsum

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26 thoughts on “It’s Greeking to Me”

  1. …and here’s the translation of the Greek text, which, of course, makes no sense:

    “But joy colleague businessmen two, of control about nirvana to us. So they had errors as new, yes non control knows introduction. New of deeds finally await me, publication then sure one the, to limit executions you to create like me. Certain of less them what, the phrase of the finals effort whole.”

    Almost poetic, no? :b

  2. surfmadpig,
    Wow! Thanks from me too. Those are not the words that I put in. Not even close.

    On this page I’m looking at, your name on item 3 is clickable. The names on items 1 and 2 are not. I’ll ask Daniel about it.

  3. @Mand, it is an anti-spam measure. The aim is to make the username clickable once the person reaches 10 comments.

    We still got tweak it apparently, though.

  4. Following on from the Greek (“it’s all Greek to me”), you featured Double Dutch. I am Dutch, am fluent in English and proficient in a number of other European languages. I have always found this expression offensive, particularly when uttered by a speaker of English who has no other languages (ie a large majority of the population of the UK, where I live). Unfortunately this expression is thought to be funny. I am fairly certain that Greek speakers feel the same way about their language being reduced to ‘gobbledygook’.

  5. Cora, i expect some Greeks are offended as you are. I probably would be though i don’t know of a language that uses English or British in a similar way. Otoh, consider how many names for peoples/languages derive from a different language’s word for ‘gobbledygook’, ‘enemy’ or simply ‘other’ (a country’s name meaning ‘that lot that aren’t us’!), including Welsh, Berber ( Etymology)), and plenty of others i can’t think of this morning. Not nice, but makes sense too.

  6. Now, this is weird. That’s a dead link – but there’s a link to it on this page: – and i didn’t type it wrong. Ah, it must be the second parenthesis. Grr. Try: Etymology) and this time no punctuation next to it! {oops}

  7. Thanks Mand. I agree with you that other languages will have similar expressions, but I am sensitive to this particular one as I have heard it so often. By the way, the Dutch equivalent for ‘foreigner’ (I believe this literally means stranger?) is ‘buitenlander’ which simply means someone from abroad. No connotations here.

  8. I can fully understand your being sensitive about it. I actually don’t hear it that often and you’ve made me think it could be a feature of generational dialect – ie it’s older people who use the phrase.

    It has always amused me that another word for ‘foreigner’ in English is ‘alien’. ;0)

  9. Yes, the ‘alien’ usage amuses me too. I think it’s used more in American English though. I was asked once at a US airport whether I was a ‘resident alien’. It was difficult to reply with a straight face!

    You are right, ‘double Dutch’ is not used that often. Journalists like it though. When the Dutch football (soccer) team does well, it’s ‘double Dutch’ if someone scores two goals, or a ‘Dutch treat’ when they do even better.

  10. I don’t follow football so maybe that’s why i’ve missed it! You have reminded me that ‘going Dutch’ is sharing costs equally, too. I suppose it’s human nature, and as the people referred to becomes more familiar and less ‘other’ (and object to the usage!) it gradually fades out of the language. If we ever live shoulder-to-shoulder with real aliens, the ‘little green men’ phrase wouldn’t last long! … especially if they were green and smaller than us. ;0)

  11. Thank you for the link. I did not realise that Berber was related to Barbarian so thank you for that. I am interested in etymology as it is tied up with history and geography, both of which I love.
    The Berber word, as you said, could be quite offensive also as the Berbers have an ancient culture that has allowed them to survive in very hostile conditions. Nothing uncivilised about that!

  12. I’d forgotten about Dutch cap!

    Of course there are many more hurdles even when the foreigner doesn’t officially speak a different language. George Bernard Shaw said ‘England and America are two countries divided by a common language’ with good reason.

    A friend once asked a morose-looking US colleague whether he’d got the hump. ‘Hump’ to him meant only one thing – though she was asking, sympathetically, if something had upset or annoyed him.

    The misunderstanding cheered him up, at least.

    I agree about the Berbers. I used to have a Berber friend.

    And i’m interested in history and geography, as they are tied up with etymology which I love. :0)

  13. On a slightly related topic, when I first came to the UK I imported my car and was given a new licence plate, which ended in CAP. I was completely mystified when people started joking about a Dutch Cap, until someone explained it to me:

    Oh the language hurdles faced by ‘aliens’!

  14. Another example…. when I worked for a US-owned company and attended a Christmas party, one of my lovely colleagues from across the pond asked my English colleague if he ‘wanted a shag’. She only innocently asked him out for a dance, and he accepted at face value, but in English slang this would have been something a little more involved…

  15. Woo! If an American man asked that of a British woman or girl…!

    Once a US colleague of mine, male, used ‘slut’ when he meant ‘slag’. While they both mean the same afaik, with ‘slut’ he offended her deeply whereas ‘slag’ was a term everyone at that place threw around as an ‘affectionate’ insult. (It was a construction company – rather lewder humour than in, say, a solicitors’ office.)

  16. Oh… girls! Ten years ago I was told by my US boss that to refer to ‘women’ as ‘girls’ was considered offensive. ‘Women’ was the preferred term.

    In the UK, ‘girls’ is affectionate, ‘ladies’ is probably better and certainly not offensive, but ‘women’ could be interpreted as ‘not very attractive and over the hill’. I know this topic was addressed recently, under the heading of ‘females’ as far as I recall.

    I would be offended to be called either a ‘slut’ or a ‘slag’ although I agree that ‘slag’ has a whiff of the slapper about it – enjoying life to the full – so not quite as bad as being a ‘slut’. UK teenage speak offers the word ‘sket’ these days. Pronounced through clenched teeth and with a curled upper lip.

  17. @Maeve: I’m very tempted to try to guess what your original input was, but I’ll do that tomorrow.

    @Cora: As a Greek, I don’t mind the whole “it’s all Greek to me” thing at all. I even find it a bit flattering, since I CAN actually understand it (therefore I am a genius, woohoo!). However, in my experience, Brits (at least) think it sounds like Spanish, probably because we (I?) talk rather fast. Then again, it’s very easy for Greek speakers to properly pronounce Spanish (especially as it is pronounced in most of Spain), so we obviously have some sounds in common.

    And, of course, we have a similar saying in Greek, which translates into “it sounds Chinese (to me)”

  18. @Cora: Also, re Double Dutch, I don’t speak Dutch at all, but I think it’s a really lazy thing for English people to say, as some Dutch words are rather similar (they both are Germanic languages after all). Written Dutch is NOT that difficult to understand if you speak English, I believe. I was actually able to tell what most of the Dutch signs/menus were referring to when I visited Amsterdam, and I don’t speak a word of Dutch.

  19. People are always going to be lazy when it comes to foreign words and languages. This whole thread has been reminding me of a over-simplified derivation i’d vaguely been told of the English word ‘Dutch’, which was that it came about by mistaking Dutch for Germans who of course call themselves ‘Deutsch’. I’m glad it’s not quite as ‘wrong’ as that: .

  20. Hi Mand, well the proper name of Netherlandic (see Wikipedia) is indeed a mouthful! The same applies to Holland vs. the Netherlands. As you probably know, Holland is only a small part of the Netherlands: the two Western provinces which were traditionally the most powerful. Again, ‘Holland’ rolls easier off the tongue which is why football fans chant ‘Holland’ and not ‘Nederland’.
    As to dialects, yes, there is an amazing variety for such a small country. I was brought up by parents who spoke dialect to one another and standard Dutch to me. There has been a dialect revival recently, with books and other publications (incl. Wikipedia!) published in dialect.

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