Chinese to me: mapping mutual incomprehension

Dit is chinees voor mij

Last week I was working on an article about how we all should use correct Chinese terms over misleading English translations of those terms. As I was researching, I stumbled upon this really interesting map here. Although the design is very basic it really got my attention.

I know from living in Hong Kong that most English speaking people say: ‘It sounds like Greek to me’ when they don’t understand something. When we Dutch speakers encounter a language problem, we say ‘it’s Chinese to me’. And apparently we’re not the only ones using Chinese as an equivalent of ‘this is something way beyond understanding’. Chinese is used most often in this international phrase phenomenon, Greek comes second and Spanish third. (Original source of the map can be found here)

Chinese are the only ones who don’t refer to another earthly language to indicate that they can’t comprehend something. They say ‘This must be heavenly script’.  I admire the self-confidence of Asians;-).


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