Tout ça, c’est de l’hébreu pour moi.

Tout ça, c’est de l’hébreu pour moi.

too SAH say duh lay-BRUH poor mwah.

That’s all Greek to me!

We say Greek, you say Hebrew.

Everything is a foreign language for someone! So why do English speakers pick on  Greek? In French, we are saying All that is Hebrew to me! So why pick on Hebrew?

But wait! There’s more!

There’s a popular French variant to today’s phrase. Some French speakers pick on Chinese! C’est du chinois. (SAY dew shee-NWAH)

It’s Chinese to me! ( Of course, you can expand that, like the phrase above: Tout ça, c’est du chinois pour moi.)

Maybe there really is no logical explanation for any of this!

Of course, for the Western world, Chinese characters may seem completely impenetrable. There seems to be no way (for speakers of Western languages!) to even hazard a guess about the meaning of a character. The sounds are wildly different from many of those common to Western languages. Which makes Chinese a fascinating language, but still a mystery to many of us.

Thus it was that Montesquieu, in his Lettres persanes (Persian Letters, 1721, in which he pretended to be a Persian visiting France and writing letters home commenting on the oddities of French culture), posed his famous question: Comment peut-on être Persan? How can anyone be Persian?

KUH-mah puh-taw NET-truh pair-SAH?

Even today, in this global age, our languages reflect the history of our constant struggle with the provocative, dense mystery of what we are not familiar with….

(By the way, did you know that the alphabet used by a majority of Western languages is called the Latin alphabet? And that the numerals we use are called Arabic numerals?)


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