Category: Vocabulary and Grammar


Permalink 11:21:37 am, by Chris Jones Email , 264 words, 4165 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture


I spent last week driving with the family thru the American south, and at our stop in Monticello I learned a bit about Latin horticultural terms.



Permalink 11:30:24 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 379 words, 5732 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

Quidam and Quasi

Last week I wrote a post on the Latin word silex where I featured this passage on personal grief (aegritudo here) from Cicero’s De Divinatione:

…Est natura in animis tenerum quiddam atque molle, quod aegritudine quasi tempestate quatiatur. (III.6.12)

Cicero is comparing the power of grief to a storm, but he qualifies the language in two ways:

1. He uses quiddam - “something” as an indefinite pronoun to tack down the adjectives tenerum and molle,
2. He plugs in the adverb quasi; this “something tender” is “shaken by grief as if by a tempest.”



Permalink 01:44:23 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 485 words, 6488 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar, Ovid's exile poetry

The Stone that the Builders Rejected

Via Appia
The Via Appia

Silex is the Latin word for a fieldstone, an annoying rock that a farmer would overturn in his field and curse for damaging his plow. Although the name may make you think of “silicates” like quartz or feldspar, the word referred to any large rock–the usual limestone and granite found in the foothills of the Appenines (silex is probably related to solidus , which also has an short first vowel).



Permalink 11:20:17 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 118 words, 1195 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Modern Latin

"Raw or lightly cooked"

A good op-ed in this Sunday’s NY Times on Google Translate, the latest version of machine-based language translation. Although past approaches (based on breaking every language into lexicon and grammar) have been laughable–anybody who’s used Babelfish knows that–I’d agree there’s some promise in the statistical approach outlined in the piece.

Spend time on any Latin Language message board and you’ll see more than a few threads dedicated to translating some short English phrase (usually for a tattoo). I usually treat these as interesting discussion ideas; the better ones inevitably become far more interesting than whatever “correct” translation they yield. Still, if you were wondering, Google Translate doesn’t support Latin yet, so there’s still plenty to discuss…


Permalink 10:20:26 am, by Chris Jones Email , 287 words, 4443 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Ovid's exile poetry

A vowel trick

While reading Ovid’s Tristia for the series I’m planning, I came to this couplet that highlights a peculiarity of Latin vowel quantity:

Omnia iam fient, fieri quae posse negabam,
   et nihil est, de quo non sit habenda fides.

“Everything will happen now, which I denied could happen,
   and there is nothing which cannot be believed.”

This is part of a long section where Ovid remarks how even the natural world has gone topsy-turvy since Augustus handed down his sentence of exile. What I want to highlight is the scansion of fient and fieri.

In fîent the i is long, as it is in all present-stem, finite forms of this verb. This is one of the principal exceptions to the general rule that a vowel before another vowel is short in Latin (the other exception is the long e in the 5th declension gen./dat. form diçi). However, the first i in the infinitve form fieri is short. It’s a quirk of the language that seems to fit with Ovid’s overall theme in this passage–and he does yank this infinitive out of its natural place in the relative clause to highlight this pun.

Incidentally, note the translation of fides in the second line. Many Latinists who learned the language in Catholic school will immediately think “faith” when they see this word, but that seems wrong here: “about which faith might not be had.” The idea here is belief in particular things, not a general trust, so non sit habenda fides is IMO a metrical periphrasis for non credantur. Just a friendly reminder that even the most “basic” words have shades of meaning that depend on context and author.


Permalink 11:22:57 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 544 words, 3240 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

Looking up arbor

When I studied Latin in college and struggled with the rapid pace of reading, I got a good piece of advice from Professor Theis. He recommended that every time I went for the dictionary to look up an unfamiliar word that I also write it down in a notebook. I can recall one difficult passage where I had to look up the vaguely familiar adipiscitur - “acquire, gain". It was familiar because I’d written down four times before, and I had the pages in my notebook to prove it. Personal embarassment is better than any mnemonic



Permalink 01:23:26 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 305 words, 2750 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture, Education

Interiectiones sunt quae nihil docibile habent

I never gave the interjection much thought until I stumbled across this interesting 2004 article by Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc first published in the Revue Roumaine de Linguistique.



Permalink 11:12:08 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 148 words, 1546 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

You say Calefacit, I say Calefacit

Thanks to Latinteach for turning me on to Cornell classics profesoor Michael Weiss’ blog for his book Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin. I haven’t seen his book, but the comments have piqued my curiosity.

Just to give one quick example, Weiss discusses evidence for the accent of the word calefacit. I’ve always pronounced this with an accent on the 1st and 3rd syllables, never noticing this technically violates the book rule that the accent should fall on the 2nd syllable (since the a in facit is short). Weiss’s citation from Priscian (supporting my pronunciation) was one I hadn’t seen before, and now I’m interested in learning more–that, my friends, is the kind of exploration the internet was made for (porn notwithstanding:-).

Anyway, I’m recommending that you take a look at his blog; I’m sure you’ll find a similar Latin detail to obsess over.


Permalink 01:09:51 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 384 words, 1603 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Negative thoughts (pt. 1)

Quick, what’s the difference between these two Latin sentences?

Marcus argentum operuit ne inveniretur.

Marcus argentum operuit ut non inveniretur.



Permalink 11:39:36 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 342 words, 2063 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Modern Latin

More Sub Tectum Meum

Following up on the controversy over the new Roman Missal translation, I found more on the translation from this 2006 Catholic Insight article regarding the changes.



Permalink 10:24:27 am, by Chris Jones Email , 253 words, 1440 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Modern Latin

Sub Tectum Meum

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is holding their general assembly in Baltimore this week, and while much of the media attention is focused on their opinions regarding healthcare in the US, the bishops will also be voting on the new English translation of the Roman Missal. This translation has been in the works for the past six years, and early reports are that it is far more literal than the current translation.

That doesn’t sit well with at least one attendee. Bishop Donald Trautman of the Erie PA diocese spoke out against it just a few weeks ago:

“What the new missal presents is a slavishly literal translation with Latin syntax and word order, infused with esoteric words and phrases.”

Bishop Trautman continued his protest yesterday as translations of the Missal were presented, citing what appears to be a point of order as to who holds authority over the translation. Jerry Filteau of the National Catholic Reporter is blogging the conference, in case you need some live updates.

I have been vaguely aware of this controversy for the past year. I think one example of an expected literal change comes from the prayer recited right before Communion: Dómine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum…. This has previously been translated as “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…” I have heard that the new translation will actually spell out the idiom as “enter under my roof". I’ll have to make a point of reviewing the proposed translations this evening…


Permalink 11:44:31 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 94 words, 1071 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture


Piling on to a post from David Meadows’ Rogue Classicism, someone should inform this reviewer that vomitorium doesn’t mean what she thinks it means:

…(W)hat we remember most about Rome, food-wise, is the period of its decadence, symbolized by disgustingly overwrought banquets and the vomitorium. We haven’t gone so far as to install vomitoria in the bathrooms of fast food restaurants (perhaps an idea whose time has come back?), but in many respects our society’s enslavement to the hyperpalatibility of junk food recalls the excesses of Rome in its self-destructive decline


Permalink 11:33:32 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 60 words, 670 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

A thousand soldiers

A lazy afternoon with the OLD piqued a vocabulary connection between the first-year word miles - “soldier” and the number mille - “thousand". From Varro:

In re militari…(dicti) Milites quod trium milium primo legio fiebat ac singulae tribus Titiensium, Ramnium, Lucerum milia militum mittebant. (De Ling. Lat. V.16)

The connection between centurio and centum is obvious; milia militum not so much…


Permalink 10:41:56 am, by Chris Jones Email , 218 words, 1640 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

Dis-creet matters (sorry about that pun)

Someone asked about the Latin phrase Creat Industria on the Straight Dope board yesterday. The OP noted the ubiquitous translation “Let industry be made", but this rests on a misreading of creat as a subjunctive. Creo looks like it should have the same forms as moneo, but it is actually a first conjugation noun.

As one poster observed, this would make the subjunctive creet, an odd-looking Latin word to be sure (other than deest and imported greek names, is there another Latin word with double e?). I was about to post that classical writers would probably avoid this form and use a cognate like cresco to form the subjunctive (e.g. crescat), but then I thought I’d check…sure enough the subjunctive creet appears in Lucretius:

nam tibi de summa caeli ratione deumque
disserere incipiam et rerum primordia pandam,
unde omnis natura creet res, auctet alatque

“For to you the supreme law of sky and Gods
I proceed to unlock, and lay bare the origin of things
From which Nature might create, grow, and feed all.”

A quick scan shows Lucretius uses the compound recreet two more times in his poem. I find no citation for these words in a classical author–another sign of the delicate pruning of the classical language by Cicero, Virgil et al…


Permalink 11:19:10 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 185 words, 1432 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Old and Vulgar

The spanish verb hablar has the Latin verb fabulari as its root. That’s interesting because this verb is quite rare among classical writers (Cicero, for example, never uses it), but quite frequent in the older Plautus. Considering that synonyms like dico and loquor were far more common, at first glance it seems odd that an archaic Latin verb would “win out” in a Romance language for the commonplace notion “to say/speak".



Permalink 10:16:06 am, by Chris Jones Email , 463 words, 1431 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Kukla, Fran, and...

Olli and ollis are older spellings of the demostrative Latin pronouns illi and illis. The antiquarian Varro will explain:



Permalink 10:18:09 am, by Chris Jones Email , 528 words, 3182 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

Compound Interest

It’s well known that the early Latin writers borrowed heavily from the Greeks in developing Roman literature. But this was a process of trail and error, and from their scant remains we see many false starts in these older writers. One example comes from their abortive attempts to imitate Greek compounds.

Ancient Greek writers made extensive use of compounds, a tactic that gave Greek a far richer vocabulary than Latin. The first line of the Odyssey provides a typical example (sorry, don’t know how to add accent marks on this blog):

Aíäñá ìïé, Ìïõóá, ðïëõôñïðïí

“Tell me, Muse, of the many-directions man…”

Odysseus’ epithet ðïëõôñïðïí combines ðïëõ - “many (poly)” with the verb ôñåðù - “turn, direct". The word plays on an abstract “double” meaning: Odysseus not only had many travels, but he also had “many turns” of the mind, i.e. he was “wily/crafty/ingenious". Latin, of course, follows a similar pattern in applying literal, concrete root terms in an abstract way (e.g. sto - “stand” also has the more abstract meanings “endure/persist") and then adding prefixes to clarify that meaning (e.g. insto is literally “stand on", but also means “harass, pursue, insist"). But Greek follows this pattern far more extensively; compare, for example the size of this list of Greek words beginning with ðïëõ versus an equivalent list for Latin mult-. The difference is even more staggering when you realize that the Romans began their literature with the Greek list and later created many of the mult- words based on Greek originals.

These compounded Greek forms became a hallmark of Greek literary style, so the early Roman writers tried to creatre similar compunds in their native language. Quintilian talks about the process in his Institutio:

(Voces) compositae aut praepositionibus subiunguntur, ut “innocens” (dum ne pugnantibus inter se duabus, quale est “inperterritus": alioqui possunt aliquando continuari duae, ut “incompositus” “reconditus” et quo Cicero utitur “subabsurdum"), aut e duobus quasi corporibus coalescunt, ut “maleficus". Nam ex tribus nostrae utique linguae non concesserim (I.V.65-6)

“Compound words are either joined with prepositions, like innocens (though not with two that clash with each other, like inperterritus: Otherwise two can be joined sometimes, like in incompositus, reconditus and subabsurdum, which Cicero uses), or formed as if from two separate parts, like maleficus. But I certainly wouldn’t allow it for our language from three parts”

Quntilian’s point is to recogize both the usual compounding with adverbial prepositions and a “restricted” Greek style where two nouns/verbs/adjectives are joined. It’s restricted because nostra lingua just isn’t equipped to handle triple compounds, and as always he has an example at the ready:

Ceterum etiam ex praepositione et duobus vocabulis dure videtur struxisse Pacuvius:

“Nerei repandirostrum incurvicervicum pecus.”

“Even still Pacuvius seems to have constructed (words) harshly out of a preposition and two words…”

That line from Pacuvius–an old Roman tragedian–deserves a deconstruction. Pecus Nerei is the “Nereid flock", i.e. animals that live in the ocean. Repandirostrum = re- (preposition for “back") + pandus - “bent” + rostrum “prow/nose” = “bent-back-nosed". incurvicervicum = in- (preposition “in") + curvus - “curved” + cervix - “neck” = “down-curve-backed". Even in English these sound awful–no wonder this is the only place you’ll find them in extant Latin.


Permalink 01:13:53 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 169 words, 681 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Time to -ern your keep (sorry for the pun)

As I’ve noed in previous posts, looking for patterns in Latin word formation is a great way to expand your vocabulary. Take a look at the following Latin adjectives:

diurnus, -a, -um - “daily”
hibernus, -a, -um - “wintery”
nocturnus, -a, -um - “nightly, nocturnal”

In all three a root of a “time” noun–dies, hiem(p)s, nox–adds -(e)rnus to become an adjective associated with that time. The -(e)rnus suffix finds its way into a number of similarly-styled adjectives:

aeternus - “eternal” (from aetas)
alternus - “alternately”
modernus - “modern” (from modo)
sempiternus - “for all time” (from semper)
vernus - “of spring, vernal”

Not all adjectives using this suffix are associated with time–fraternus, infernus, and supernus are obvious exceptions–but time words seem to follow this pattern more regularly than via the usual adjective formation in -eus (e.g. lignum - “wood” to ligneus - “wooden"; terra - “earth” to terreus - “earthen").

A small detail, but something to file away for future use, like when you stumble across a text with mensurnus or somnurnus).


Permalink 02:46:48 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 539 words, 1905 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Dicis "tomato", dico "tomato"

In a recent discussion of Latin pronunciation, I pointed out that–contrary to expectation–ancient authorities are less trustworthy in discussing their own language than one would expect. The reason for this is that they were beholden to the more sophisticated Greek literature and would often try to graft Greek principles onto their native Latin. The situation is something like the way 19th century grammarians would sometimes declare English grammar must conform to the rules of Latin (Split Infinitive, anyone?).



Permalink 10:41:00 am, by Chris Jones Email , 251 words, 5598 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Modern Latin

Quiddam or Alius?

Just spent some brief email-time consulting with a writer who was commenting on Pope Benedict XVi’s encyclical Spe Salvi. A point of grammar/vocabulary from that letter was essential for teasing out a correct theological meaning.



Permalink 03:54:15 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 432 words, 1628 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

There is Wisdom in Age...

Antiquus, -a, -um and vetus (veteris) both generally mean “old", but there is an important difference between the two.



Permalink 11:40:41 am, by Chris Jones Email , 449 words, 4283 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

He said/she said

A student recently commented that “Latin sure has a lot of words for ‘he’". She meant that, in the ecclesiastical text we were translating, the words hic, iste, ille, and is were all used at some point for the third-person pronoun. I suppose she could have added se to her list, but most students understand the reflexive nature of se and habitually translate it “he himself/she himself/etc.”



Permalink 03:10:59 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 97 words, 1527 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

No denying it

English words are derived from many other languages, Latin and Greek being chief among them. But Latin vocabulary is largely self-derived, so abstract terms often have an in-language derivation. Students often overlook these simple derivations in the rush to learn vocabulary. For example, who here has noticed the nec seen at the head of words like neglectus, nego, and negotium:

Neglegens/neglectus - “careless/disregarded” = nec + lego/lectus - “not gather/gathered”

Nego - “deny” = nec + aio - “not say/agree”

Negotium - “business, trouble” = nec + otium - “not leisure”

Small details like this can make the language a little easier to learn…


Permalink 04:51:11 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 72 words, 1537 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

"It is necessary to read in mass"

Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti has two wonderful excepts on “How to Read"–from Basil Gildersleeve (yes, of the indispensible Gildersleeve & Lodge Latin grammar) and Shackleton Bailey.

The mantra I give to all my Latin students–once they have a firm handle on basic grammar–is “READ READ READ"; there is no better way to learn the language, and (as I hope this blog proves) it can be quite fun.


Permalink 01:21:02 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 348 words, 857 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Words - A little at a time

A lot of Latin words starting in pau derive from the Greek verb ðáõþ (pauo) - “to stop, bring to an end". There’s an attendant sense then of “hindering” or “abating” something, so it’s not surprising to see it as the root of words like pauci, -ae, -a - “a few” and the archaic paulus - “little"–adjectives which imply that a thing/group is limited. Paulus is seen more frequently in classical times as the accusative-turned-adverb paulum - “a little” and the frozen ablative paulo - “by a little, somewhat", a word commonly used in comparisons.

More abstract is a word like pauper - “poor", which combines the form with the Latin verb pario - “I produce a limited amount” (recall the perfect for of pario is peperi, explaining the vowel change). There is also the verb parco - “spare” but less frequently “to refrain, desist” (sometimes even with an infinitive). An example comes from Livy: During the war with Etruria, the Roman general Camillus arrived at Sutrium–a city that had surrendered itself some days earlier to the Roman Senate–just as it was being looted by the Etruscans. As Camillus then attacked the city, he told the Sutrian envoys parcere lamentis Sutrinos iussit: Etruscis se luctum lacrimasque ferre. (there’s an implied verb of saying dixit in the second half of that sentence, a common omission for the historian Livy).

The root also explains why parco usually has what we perceive as a direct object in the dative case when that object is a person, e.g. parco tibi - “I spare you". Tibi here is really an ethical dative–"I refrain in your interest“–but it’s simpler for new students to simply be told “Parco means “spare” and it takes a direct object in the dative". Similar datives (nearly always, as with the ethical dative, reserved for persons) can be seen in verbs like faveo tibi - “I favor you” => “I am favorable in your interest” and noceo tibi - “I harm you” => “I am harmful as to your interest“. Something to consider the next time you’re puzzled by a weird dative in that sentence from Cicero…


Permalink 09:39:14 am, by Chris Jones Email , 186 words, 1145 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Always learning

Dubius - “doubtful” is probably one of the earliest Latin words I learned while sitting in Father McGurk’s Latin 1 class all those years ago. I never thought much about it until I happened to come across the L&S entry for the word at Perseus; note the following proposed etymology:

dŭbĭus , a, um, adj. [for duhibius, duohabeo, held as two or double, i. e. doubtful; cf. dubito, Corss. Ausspr. 2, 1027]

I had never connected this word with duo - “two” in the 20-plus years I’ve been studying the language, but it obviously makes perfect sense. My mind also immediately leapt to ambigo = ambo + ago, “go both (ways)", and thus is a new mental connection born.

L&S cites Corssen’s Ueber Aussprache (from 1869) to justify the etymology. I’m not a German speaker so I decided to check the latest OLD for confirmation. Alas Oxford doesn’t seem to agree, but I nevertheless found the connection enlightening (even if it is pure speculation). I thought it was worth sharing the experience as an example of how, even in the commonplace, we can always find something new to learn.


Permalink 09:46:06 am, by Chris Jones Email , 289 words, 2823 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games, Education

Felix dies gratiae agendae

Today is Thanksgiving day in the US, dies ad gallipavonem edendum spectandumque pedifollem consecratur. If you’re not familiar with the Latin words for “turkey” and “football", I recommend you pick up the latest edition of the excellent New College Latin and English Dictionary by John Traupmann. In my opinion this is the best pocket Latin dictionary around; cheap, thorough, and not nearly as heavy as the OLD (although you can keep a copy of the OLD on CD-ROM, for my Latin studies at least there’s no substitute for actual printed books, and that includes reference materials; it’s part of the connection to a long line of Latin scholars).

I got my first copy of Traupman’s dictionary in my freshman year of college, many many moons ago. From practical experience I can tell you they last about six years with moderate to heavy use. After a few years the page edges get dirty from excessive thumbing, eventually the glue-backed spine will crease at some well-worn page, and then pages become unglued.

At that point I usually trash it and buy a new one; my last such upgrade was in 2007, and I noticed some substantial changes in this latest edition:

  • The letter “J” is gone; all entries use the classical “I". I never really cared about this distinction, but some classicists are sticklers. U and V remain.
  • The English-to-Latin section has been extensively revised with quite a few modern terms (like gallipavo and pedifoliis). Given the enormous growth in spoken Latin, this change was a bit overdue.

I’m admittedly biased–I’ve literally marked my years with purchases of this dictionary–but it has been a faithful companion to my studies for the past 20-odd years. I couldn’t recommend it any higher.


Permalink 10:42:55 am, by Chris Jones Email , 33 words, 1723 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games, Education

Another silly Mnemonic rhyme...

..found this tucked away in Bradley’s Arnold; all the prepositions that exclusively take the ablative case:

a, ab, abs, with cum and de
coram, pro, with ex and e,
sine, palam, also prae.”


Permalink 10:30:18 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 225 words, 4465 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Passer deliciae meae puellae

A speculation from UK Independent columnist Michael McCarthy as to Lesbia’s famous sparrow. A professor of ornithology offers an alternate theory:

Now Professor Birkhead (he’s at Sheffield University), in a splendid old-fashioned academic footnote, ventures the possibility that the bird may not have been a sparrow at all, but a bullfinch, pictured above. He bases his theory on the fact that hand-reared bullfinches show more devotion to their human owners than any other bird, and also on the word Catullus uses to describe its voice – “pipiabat". Classicists will recognise at once that this is the third-person singular of the imperfect tense of the verb “pipiare", which may mean “to cheep” – in which case the bird probably was a sparrow after all – but may also mean “to pipe", in which case it was possibly a bullfinch, as only a bullfinch “pipes".

As I understand it, a bird that “pipes” produces a lower whistling sound rather than a sharp higher-pitched chirp. The verb pipio and its cousins pipo and pipito are clearly onomatopoeias, but a quick check of the OLD shows they are used to describe the sound made by a gallina, the mewling of infants, and the squeak of mice, so the English term “cheep” may not be exactly equivalent.

Obviously there’s not enough evidence to make a definitive claim, but it is an interesting idea…


Permalink 06:45:08 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 286 words, 7324 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Greek/Latin Medical Terms

This article from the UK version of Business Week talks about how the use of similar-sounding Greek and Latin-based terms (e.g. hyper-/hypo-, inter/intra) may contribute to potential medical errors (I’m surprised no one mentioned the easy-to-mishear ab-/ad-, but perhaps these prefixes don’t come up as often in medical parlance).



Permalink 03:04:31 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 164 words, 1554 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

More Beginner's Tips...

…to follow up on a previous post…a few tips I’ve picked up from students who struggled to remember all the bits of Latin foorm and syntax. Here are two of my favorites:

  • Verbs form the subjunctive in the present tense via vowel chage, e.g. amat - “He loves” (indicative) becaomes laudetamet - “let him love” (subjunctive). To remember the vowel changes, just remember the phrase “She wears a diamond tiara.” The bolded vowels match the subjunctive vowel changes for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd -io type, and 4th conjugations.
  • Look at the present indicative active of the 3rd conjugation verb mitto:


    A student once remarked to me that the bolded vowels in these stacked forms look like a fishing bobber with a line descending to the fishhook “u", a reminder that you shouldn’t get “caught” by the vowel change in the 3rd person plural.

Yes, that last one is silly, but I’ll bet you never forget it now…


Permalink 04:13:52 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 257 words, 2041 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Beginner's tip

With school starting in the fall, I thought I’d pass on a few beginner Latin tips over the coming weeks, things I’ve picked up from students over the years…

The first tip is one a student gave me some years ago: In a Latin sentence, you can be 99% sure a word ending in -at, -et, or -it is a verb, and 100% sure on a word ending in -nt. For students who naturally stat out with the “find the verb first” approach, that’s not a bad tip; since most sentences are written in the third person, you’re quite likely to “find the verb” much more quickly this way.

Of course, like all crutches it needs to be laid aside (along with the “find the verb” approach) as the student becomes more proficient. But the rubric does raise an interesting question: how many non-verbs can you name which end in -at, -et, or -it (I’ve yet to come across a non-verb ending in -nt). Think about it and click on the link below for my list; if you have any to add, that’s what comments are for…



Permalink 09:10:53 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 490 words, 3889 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

"In Spite Of"

Another problem in a series on English to Latin translation questions. How would you translate the phrase “in spite of", as in this (translated) quote from the Diary of Anne Frank:

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.



Permalink 12:28:04 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 223 words, 5943 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Vocabulary and Grammar

"How Few"

Continuing in a series of translation challenges, how would you translate the title of this thread in a sentence like “How few sometimes may know, when thousands err!” (Paradise Lost, book VI)?



Permalink 12:34:11 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 559 words, 4355 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Three Little Words

There are three Latin verbs whose similar spelling hides a divergence of meaning:

figo, figere, fixi, fixus - “to fix, attach; pierce",
findo findere, fidi, fissus - “to split, divide", and
fingo, fingere, finxi, fictus - “to handle, form, fashion".

Let’s look at how just one author (Vergil) handles these in the body of a single work (the Aeneid).



Permalink 01:28:32 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 308 words, 1412 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

"The Same As"

I’m learning firsthand it’s tough blogging in the summer; Latin education-related news is rather thin with school out, and sitting at the computer just can’t compete with a glorious summer’s day. So to jumpstart things around here, I’ve decided to look at a few translation challenges, expressions in English that require a bit of thought when transferred to Latin.

The first phrase is in the title; how would you translate a sentence like “Monkey does the same as you"?



Permalink 10:01:44 am, by Chris Jones Email , 368 words, 3182 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Money changes everything...

Several ancient authors remark on the obvious etymology of pecunia - “money", from Cicero’s description of ancient Rome’s origins in his De Republica (tunc erat res in pecore et locorum possessionibus, ex quo pecuniosi et locupletes vocabantur - II.16) to Ovid’s more poetic explanation:

cetera luxuriae nondum instrumenta vigebant;
   aut pecus aut latam dives habebat humum
(hinc etiam “locuples", hinc ipsa “pecunia” dicta est);

Fasti V.279-81

Cetera luxuriae…instrumenta refers to more familiar/modern forms of wealth like gold. In olden times, the dives only had pecus or latam…humum (careful…humus, -i is one of those rare feminines of the 2nd declension). Note how the hinc…hinc of the parenthetical final line–with locuples referring back to latam humum and pecunia to pecus–forms a chiasmus, a favorite figure of speech for classical poets in general and Naso in particular.

If you’re wondering about the adjective locuples - “wealthy", the word is more accurately derived from loci plenus–Ovid’s humum is metri gratia. Here is yet another example of how Latin grounds abstract terms in familiar, everyday concepts, many coming straight from nature and agriculture. A quick scan of familiar names provides easy examples: Cicero, Lentulus, and Fabius are related to the words cicer - “chick-pea", lens - “lentil", and faba - “bean"; perhaps each had an ancestor who cultivated these crops. Better yet there is the adjective laetus, -a, -um, a word often used of “lush” plants or “healthy” animals (not to mention the lesser-known noun laetamen - “manure"), while felix, felicis has an obvious cognate with the verb fello, -are - “suckle".

One of my favorite words in this tied-to-agriculture category is the verb deliro, -are - “to rave, be mad” (hence the English words “delirious” and “delirium"). The 2nd century grammarian Velius Longus explains:

Ita sicuti boues, cum se a recto actu operis detorserint, delirare dicuntur, sic qui a recta uia uitae ad prauam declinant, per similitudinem translationis item delirare existimantur. (De Orthographia; GL VII.73)

A raving man then is literally de lira - “off the row” (lira, -ae is the mound of earth between two plowed furrows) . I suppose today we’d say he’s “off his rocker"; perhaps a sign we spend more time today at leisure than our dirt-scratching ancestors…


Permalink 11:12:27 am, by Chris Jones Email , 355 words, 1592 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

The language speaks!

The defective verb for, fari, fatus is ofen used in poetry for dico, loquor, and the like. The word pops up in the term used to describe small children as “infants"–those who cannot speak, an etymology well known to the Romans:



Permalink 03:25:27 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 220 words, 797 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar


Quick, what does that word mean? Tory MP Eric Pickles knows; witness this exchange from a blurb in the Times OnLine. First, Ross Anderson:

What’s the Latin for Schadenfreude, then? You know: the feeling you get when some pompous politician tries to show off and falls flat on his vocabulary? Salve, Eric Pickles, the Tory MP who complained that 24-hour licensing had turned Britain’s streets into “a vomitorium”. Sorry, Eric, it doesn’t mean what you clearly think it means: it’s a passageway in a theatre, not a receptacle for regurgitated diced carrot.

Mr. Pickles used the comment box to air his defense online:

I hesitate as the mere author of the remarks to suggest an alternative theory. It might be that I was making a pun (admittedly a bad one) on vomitorium with youths ’spewing out’ to pubs and clubs engaging in brawling and bad behaviour. Like Pliny we witness drunks ‘through the midst of obscenities.’

The quote is from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. In this passage Pliny discusses gold, a precious metal which has prompted curious vices:

Didicit homo naturam provocare. Auxere et artem vitiorum inritamenta; in poculis libidines caelare iuvit ac per obscenitates bibere. (XXXIII.4)

The quote is more literal than Pickles’ interpretation: Pliny is referring to drinks taken from gold-plated wine cups engraved with obscene pictures.


Permalink 12:24:29 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 532 words, 1672 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Subjunctive pt. 1

Verbal “mood” refers to the speaker’s attitude about an action. “Indicative mood", like the name says, is used when the speaker indicates a fact: Speaker A points out objective fact X.



Permalink 09:27:55 am, by Chris Jones Email , 413 words, 1687 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

In the Mood...for the Subjunctive

One of the problems with the current conversational approach to Latin IMO is that it glosses over (sometimes completely ignores) a critical aspect of Latin grammar: The subjunctive mood. Contrary to English (which barely acknowledges the subjunctive, confining it mostly to archaic phrases or contrary-to-fact conditionals), the subjunctive is everywhere in Latin once you get beyond the simple subject-object-verb sentences of Latin I.



Permalink 04:37:46 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 607 words, 6440 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Darkness falls

Obscuritas, Tenebrae and Caligo are all rough synonyms for “darkness". A closer look at these words reveals interesting facets of the Roman mind.



Permalink 12:17:03 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 542 words, 2412 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

A Considerate Diversion

If you’re interested in words, the dictionary isn’t as much a reference as it is an opportunity to tour the language. Have you ever, for example, looked up one word but then noticed something that caused you to detour to another entry, and then another, and before you know it you’ve skipped thru a couple dozen pages? The OLD and L&S can sometimes get like that, with delicious etymologies and copious citations that occasionally lead you like stepping stones to some unusual corner of Latin you would have never reached otherwise.



Permalink 02:54:19 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 285 words, 696 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Too hot to handle

A question over at Akela’s Latin Forum reminded me of a translation problem I once struggled with: How exactly do you translate phrases like “Too A to B"?

Long ago, a college friend of mine was interested in a girl at the bar and jokingly asked me how to say “she’s too hot to handle". I gave him a pretty bad on-the-spot rendering–Illa est nimis calida tangendo, and while he plied his newfound knowledge with the object of his desire, I couldn’t help but be distracted over this particular English idiom, and pondered it on the walk home (alone) from the tavern. “Illa est tam calida ut non tangatur…propter calorem illa non tangenda…Vae illam calidam tangentibus…

Nothing felt right, so I broke out the Bradley’s Arnold for a little inspiration. The book recommends (496) for the idiom “Too A to B” a comparative clause of characteristic:

  1. Turn the adjective of the “too” part into a comparative: calidior
  2. Introduce the comparative word quam - “than”
  3. Complete the second part as a characteristic clause (in ut or a relative): Ut tangatur.

The result: Illa est calidior quam ut tangatur - “She’s too hot to handle.” Now we can probably argue about specific vocabulary here (Is calida really the right Latin metaphor here? Fervida might be better), but at least a small corner of Latin grammar was better organized in my mind.

Needless to say, my friend was unimpressed, as was the lady he chatted up that evening.

P.S.: Ah, the internet once again proves that there isn’t a question that hasn’t been asked previously. From the cache of alt.language.latin at Google groups…and here I thought for a moment I had an original idea…


Permalink 10:50:07 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 278 words, 6327 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

Interesting Textkit thread

There’s an interesting debate going on over at the Textkit Latin forum regarding the pronunciation of final -m in classical Latin; if you have some time, it’s worth reading thru the analysis.



Permalink 12:50:34 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 288 words, 758 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Cogitatio Iterum

I wrote some thoughts in an earlier post on problems I’ve seen with Latin teaching. Latin itself is of course very ancient, but I think there’s also some antiquity in the English lessons used to teach the language.

Here’s a simple example: What is the translation of Horace’s phrase carpe diem? Even non-Latinists will know this one: “seize the day". But that word “seize"–who other than a Bond villain talks that way anymore ("Guards! Seize him!")? And carpere more literally means “pluck, gather", and is often used in an agricultural context. That’s not to say “seize” is incorrect, but the English language and culture have changed substantially since this translation from (perhaps) the 18th century.

How about utinam and ne? These words are translated in some texts as “would that” and “lest", terms that survive only in stereotyped phrases, religious quotes, or legalese (more modern translations would be “if only” and “so that…not". The Gildersleeve and Lodge grammar (1895) is excellent, but it refers to purpose clauses as “final clauses", and many students just don’t see the connection (finis means both “limit” and “goal” in Latin). And while verbs like interest - “it is in the interest” and pudet - “it is shameful” were used impersonally in Latin, this is generally not the case in English: Magistrorum interest bene docere can be translated as “it is in the interest of teachers to teach well", but “Teachers are interested in teaching well” sounds a lot more modern.

There’s no harm in pointing out that “lest” was once a more common word in English–one that matches up pretty well with ne–but if you’re constantly using “lest” in your translations, there’s a good chance your translations sound stilted or forced.


Permalink 11:20:30 am, by Chris Jones Email , 186 words, 864 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar


Like all languages, Latin has it’s share of homographs–words spelled alike but with different pronunciation/meaning. I thought I’d share a few of the more common ones I’ve seen over years of reading.

Vowel quantity differences are critical for poetry, so keep this list in mind the next time you read…comment if you can think of others.

  • æra - “bronzes” and āera - “air”
  • cēdo - “move” and cedo - “yield”
  • cōlo - “filter, strain” and colo - “inhabit”
  • īmus - “deepest” and imus - “we go”
  • lābor - “I slide, sink” and labor - “toil”
  • lātus - “wide", pptl. of fero and latus - “side”
  • lēgo - “dispatch, appoint” and lego - “gather, read, pick out”
  • lēvis - “smooth” and levis - “light”
  • māne - “morning", māno - “flow, shed", and maneo - “warn”
  • sōlum - “only” and solum - “bottom, ground”
  • vērum - “true/truth” and verum - “steak, spit”

If you can’t see the macrons in the list, check that your browser is set for Unicode or auto-selected encoding (in IE, choose “View” -> “Encoding” and select “Auto-select").


Permalink 02:40:22 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 21 words, 605 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Be warned...

This brief “Word Watch” column from the Hartford, CT Courant shows how insidious Latin roots can be in the English language…

Permalink 08:37:40 am, by Chris Jones Email , 193 words, 647 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar


An interesting quewstion popped up in the Yahoo! LatinChat group (a good though sparse group for beginners). What is the difference between utrum…an and sive…sive?

Both are quickly translated “whether…or", but utrum…an is used exclusively in questions (grammars usually say these conjunctions head up noun clauses), while sive…sive is used to describe circumstances (i.e. adverbial clauses).

Here’s an example of each from Cicero’s De Senectute. In the first, Cato defends against a common criticism of old age as a time of lessened strength. He describes various feats-of-strength attributed to the Greek strongman Milo–a man much more powerful than most young men–and asks his interlocutors a rhetorical question:

Utrum igitur has corporis an Pythagorae tibi malis vires ingeni dari? - “So, would it please you more whether you are given the these strengths of body, or of Pythagorean talent?” (X.32)

Later in the essay he praises the superior power of the mind, regardless of its source:

Homini sive natura sive quis deus nihil mente praestabilius dedisset - “For man there is nothing more distinguished than the mind, whether it has been given by nature or some god.” (XII.40)


Permalink 07:08:50 am, by Chris Jones Email , 316 words, 752 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Modus verborum concipiendorum

I’ve mentioned before that I wish students were encouraged to look at vocabulary the way the Romans did, i.e. as words formed from more basic forms in the same language.

In English, we’re used to looking to other languages for the source of vocabulary; words like “separate", “judicial", and “exacerbate” are obviously connected to Latin separo, judex, and exacerbo. But though the Romans also derived words from other languages (primarily Greek, Oscan, and Umbrian), they formed a large part of their basic vocabluary by combination within their own language:

Separo = se - “(from) itself” (abl. of the reflexive pronoun) + paro - “place".
judex = jus - “right, law” + dico - “say, speak”
exacerbo = ex - “out, outward” + acer - “bitter, sharp".

A common tendency when studying Latin vocabulary is to emphasize similar derivative English words, i.e. by talking about derivatives like “exacerbate", the student is more likely to remember the meaning of exacerbo.

The problem with this approach is that exacerbo does not quite mean “exacerbate", which American Heritage defines as “To increase the severity, violence, or bitterness of; aggravate". To be specific, “exacerbate” is almost exclusively used with things, i.e. people aren’t usually “exacerbated” (though they can be “exasperated"). Contast this with Latin, where exacerbo is most often used with people; that’s why this verb is usually defined as “irritate, enrage, provoke". When it is used with things, it is almost always limited to judicial language, i.e. “to exacerbate a crime/puinishment".

I’ll admit this is a subtle criticism, but if you’re first reaction when seeing Latin words like officium, excedo, and occurro is to translate them as “office, exceed, occur", you’re relying too much on English-cognate shorthand (the words more accurately mean “duty, withdraw/move out, run to/meet"). That’s not to say occurro can’t on occasion mean “occur", but better translators “see” the root forms ob - “toward” and curro - “run” first, not the English cognate “occur".


Permalink 12:40:55 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 237 words, 2124 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Ancient Altar Unearthed

In my bouncing arount the internets, I somehow missed this news story about a Roman altar found on a dig near Manchester UK (h/t to ARTL). To make up, I thought the inscription in the photo was so good that it was worth briefly analyzing the Latin here.



Permalink 08:23:37 am, by Chris Jones Email , 340 words, 2051 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar

The case of Porta vs. Portus

If I decided to make a rather ironical ranking of things about which I am the most indifferent, the recently closed J. K. Rowling lawsuit to block publication of “The Harry Potter Lexicon” by Michigan-based publisher RDR books would be somewhere near the top. Nevertheless, I go where the Latin is, and believe it or not one small point of the lawsuit revolved around the Latin-language roots to names/terms Rowling invented for her imaginative book series.



Permalink 02:59:44 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 440 words, 1610 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Res duae non possunt effugere: Mors et Vectigales

April 15th is tax day in the U.S., and a couple of news items out today show how rendering unto Caesar can conceal legacies of the Latin Language and Roman Culture.



Permalink 03:51:28 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 593 words, 6839 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

ab, ex, de

A quick follow-up to my posts last week on prepositions.

When I was a young(er) Latin student, I always wondered just what the difference was between ab and de. Both prepositions mean “from” in the general sense, though the first is also used in the ablative of agency and the latter is used more abstractly (e.g. in the title of written works). But aside from these obvious cases, what would motivate a writer to prefer one over the other?

I found the answer some years later in a grammar book that, sadly, has passed into the great unknown (Translation: It might be jammed in one of those old, moldy cardboard boxes in the loft of my garage, but damned if I’m going to go thru all that junk to find it). The writer contrasted these two prepositions along with the more distinct ex, and I’ve remembered his explanation to this day.



Permalink 10:46:21 am, by Chris Jones Email , 346 words, 3204 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

More on Prepositions

The “prepositions” are so called because they are usually “placed before” whatever word they take as an object. But as noted in a previous post, the prepositions started their linguistic life as adverbs closely associated with a verb. They only became detatched over time because, e.g., most verbs prefixed with ad would also have an accusative noun in the sentence expressing the limit of motion, and in comparing several such ad- verbs it became natural to associate ad with the accusative case. The association became strong enough that the adverb itself changed its typical position in the sentence, and the preposition was born.

Remnants of the original positioning pop up on occasion in classical prose. All students are familiar with cum becoming an enclitic with pronouns–e.g. mecum, quibuscum, etc.–but other prepositions also show unusual position related to their original status as fixed adverbs. Sticking with ad, Cicero’s De Natura Deorum provides a good example. When the consul Gracchus was presiding over an election, one of the two vote-collectors (rogatores) dropped dead, and given the superstitious nature of the crowd Gracchus ad sentatus rettulit (II.10)

Senatus quos ad soleret, referendum censuit. Haruspices introducti responderunt non fuisse iustum comitiorum rogatorem.

(quos here anticipates Haruspices later, the folks “to whom” the senate was “accustomed” to refer such matters)

Another example comes from Tacitus, where Claudius responds favorably to an embassy from Parthia and orders his govenor in Syria to support the Parthian prince (iuvenum) in a coup (Annales XII.11):

datum posthac C. Cassio, qui Syriae praeerat, deducere iuvenem ripam ad Euphratis.

But it’s of course the poets who take full advantage of this positional ambiguity; the opening of Horace’s ode Lydia, dic, per omnes te deos oro is notorious, and Vergil has an unusual placement in Aeneid VIII.285:

tum Salii ad cantus incensa altaria circum
populeis adsunt evincti tempora ramis

(populeis here are poplar trees).

These are tiny details in the grand scheme of the language, but details are what this blog is all about. If you have any other examples, feel free to comment!


Permalink 01:44:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 500 words, 5603 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

Putting up with prepositions

Like all four-year-olds, my son makes quite a few grammatical mistakes in his spoken English. One of these that caught my ear the other day involves the use of a preposition with a verb, and illustrated for me something about the Latin relation between prepositions and adverbs.



Permalink 12:00:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 378 words, 3160 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Double Negatives

I got a question from a student this past week regarding nonnumquam, a combination-word that literally means “not never” but is usually translated as “sometimes".

She noted that in English, “not never” would describe an action that happened occasionally but rarely. But this doesn’t seem to be how it is used in Latin. Take a look for example at this passage from Caesar; here the general must use some of his troops to gather food and materials for fortifications, reducing the number of men available to defend the camp. This led to problems (B.G. VII.73):

Ac nonnumquam opera nostra Galli temptare atque eruptionem ex oppido pluribus portis summa vi facere conabantur. Quare ad haec rursus opera addendum Caesar putavit, quo minore numero militum munitiones defendi possent.

Opera here are defensive “works".

If nonnumquam meant something closer to “once in a while” or “not too often", one could argue Caesar is overreacting (later in the passage he details an elaborate series of trenches and staked pits constructed by the soldiers). Clearly the word isn’t simplying denying that something never happened, but is rather saying the event happened repeatedly, or perhaps a shade less frequently than saepe.

I find this heightened double-negative also at play in non nullus, -a, -um (often written as a single word). This combination doesn’t just mean “non-zero", it actually implies quite a bit more than just a few. Cicero, for example, calls out nonnulli senators who didn’t believe (or at least blithely ignored) Catiline’s conspiacy (In Cat. I.30):

Quamquam non nulli sunt in hoc ordine, qui aut ea, quae inminent non videant aut ea, quae vident, dissimulent; qui spem Catilinae mollibus sententiis aluerunt coniurationemque nascentem non credendo corroboraverunt

Throughout the speech Cicero has made the point that the danger is greater than conventional wisdom has thought, so it’s not hard to see why he would use nonnulli here rather than, say, pauci.

The example shows how Latin invests a greater strength in the rhetorical figure of Litotes than perhaps modern English does. It’s something a careful Latin student should file away for future reference. Recognizing the constituent parts of compounds like nonnumquam and non nulli is good, but interpreting the parts like the equivalent English combination can undo that good work. Something to ponder…


Permalink 04:23:10 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 10 words, 742 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar

Why Study Grammar?

James Kilpatrick, as always, has a funny yet insightful answer.


Permalink 12:26:14 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 391 words, 5305 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar


I ran across this sentence while researching some items on Cicero. Pliny in his Natural History has a passage discussing those Romans pre-eminent for their wisdom. Cicero of course ranks among the greats, and he concludes a rather short list of his major accomplishments with the following praise (VII.117; ignore the citation numbers at Perseus, I don’t think they’re correct):



Permalink 06:19:19 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 577 words, 6595 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

Syllables Lost - Thoughts on Elision

Elision is commonly described as the elimination of final syllables ending in vowel or vowel+m during poetic recitation if the next word starts with a vowel or h. Now if you revel in technicalities, elision properly refers only to the loss of a vowel. The loss of a consonant–in particular the m from the end of an elided syllable–is called Ecthlipsis. There is also Aphaeresis, which refers to the loss of a vowel sound at the start of a word (e.g. in English ’til for until). This word describes the exceptional Latin elision that occurs when a word ending in a vowel or vowel+m is followed by est. In this lone case, rather than dropping the end syllable, the e is eliminated instead. Thus timendum est and locuta est are spoken (and often written in manuscripts as) timendumst and locutast.



Permalink 10:50:28 am, by Chris Jones Email , 663 words, 6647 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

Creditores memoriam meliorem quam debitores habent - Ben Franklin

The mortgage crisis striking homeowners and the financial sector in the US is hardly a trivial matter, and I certainly don’t want to seem callous by appropriating the theme for a language study. Still, a few words from the ancient world show that problems with money and lending are universal, and in the hope there is some small value in comparing modern times with ancient, let’s take a look at a few interesting sources related to property transactions.



Permalink 03:56:21 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 173 words, 3584 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games


This feature article on language from a newspaper in Carson City, NVCanon City, CO takes a look at sesquipedalian words in the English language. Excluding chemical names or satirical words coined simply for their length, “Floccinaucinihilipilification” is at the top of the list.

Latinists of course will spot four Latin words embedded in this lexical leviathan: Flocci, nauci, nihili and pili. All of these are genitives of value derived from the following nouns;

Floccus - “tuft of wool”
naucum - “trifle”
nihil - “nothing”
pilus - “(strand of) hair”

The Romans routinely employed these genitives to refer to something of little significance (naucum in fact is only found as a genitive of value in classical times). Usually these words (except nihili) were paired with a negative to indicate something was not even worth this much, e.g. homo timidus nauci non erit (Plautus, Mostella V.1.1); (intellectum est) totam rem publicam flocci non facere (Cicero, Ad Atticum IV.15.4 , complaining to his friend about the latest bribed jury).

Knowing all this, the definition of floccinaucinihilipilification should not surprise you…


Permalink 02:16:39 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 308 words, 2151 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar


Early on i think students should be exposed to more of the basic theory behind Latin word formation as a boon to vocabulary building. An especially important one that eludes even advanced students is the phenomenon of Rhotacism; if you read Latin and don’t know what that word means, this post is for you.



Permalink 11:55:10 am, by Chris Jones Email , 559 words, 2932 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Qui/Quis compounds

Let’s round up our look at these pronouns with a few more etymological diversions…



Permalink 12:00:35 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 240 words, 1268 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

More on Quis and Qui

A number of compounds are formed from quis and qui by adding suffixes. In these cases the interrogative/relative distinction between the two pronouns breaks down.



Permalink 12:00:00 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 543 words, 3902 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Quis vs. qui

We all learn it in first-year Latin: Quis, quid is the interrogative pronoun “who?, what?", while qui, quae, quod is the relative pronoun “who, what, which". The first is used strictly for questions, the second for relative clauses.

But the forms for these two pronouns are identical except for the nominative and accusative singular, and while quis is the interrogative pronoun, qui is the interrogative adjective, e.g. Quis hoc ignorat? - “Who doesn’t know this", but Qui vir hos ignorat? - “What man doesn’t know this?”



Permalink 10:05:00 am, by Chris Jones Email , 127 words, 698 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar

New Edition of Kennedy in Print

Press release from London book publisher Tiger of the Stripe.

Kennedy’s primer was first published in 1875, and had been more-or-less the standard Latin textbook used in British schools until the CLC came along. It’s not as well-known in the US, but is notable because:

  • It’s ordering of cases in the declension table is N-V-Ac-G-D-Ab, which became the UK standard; American textbooks invariably use N-G-D-Ac-Ab, with the vocative an afterthought.
  • It contains a number of old mneumonics for remembering points of Latin vocabulary & grammar, e.g. “To nouns that cannot be declined/ The neuter gender is assigned.”

Finally, in researching I came across an old article by Mary Beard about whether these little rhymes of Kennedy’s are more than meets the eye. Well worth an amusing read.


Permalink 12:32:07 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 337 words, 4432 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

More on the Bisextile

As if the Roman calendar weren’t confusing enough, my recent post on the Bisextile may have muddied things up a bit more. Let’s clarify, just in case (like I did) you check a reference and find the erroneous claim that the bisextile day is Feb. 25th.

To recap, the “extra day” in a leap year looks like Feb. 29th in our calendar because that date only shows up once every four years. But in a Roman calendar the extra day was tagged a. d. bis VI Kal. Mar.–like “Feb. 29th", a wording that shows up only once every four years. So it’s fair to say that when the Julian calendar was enacted, this was the extra date.

But when, exactly, is that date? It is believed early on that the Romans did not legally consider the bisextile a separate day, but rather a tack-on to the previous a. d. VI Kal. Mar. to make it a long 48-hour day, i.e. the bis - “twice” means “twice as long", not “done twice". This is based on a reading from the text of the 1st century jurist Publius Iuventius Celsus (alas, I can’t find an actual text). In any event, the third century grammarian Censorius (De Die Natali XX) has the following:

Praeterea pro quadrante diei, qui annum verum suppleturus videbatur, instituit, ut peracto quadrienni circuitu dies unus, ubi mensis quondam solebat, post Terminalia intercalaretur, quod nunc bis sextum vocatur.

Ancient sources (e.g. Ovid Fasti 639-684) place the festival of the Terminalia on the 23rd, implying that the actual bisextile day occurred on the day before a. d. VI Kal. Mar. (Feb. 24th in non-leap years) Naturally, many folks today assume an extra a. d. VI Kal. Mar. would occur after the original day, but this, again, is a result of our “count up” thinking about dates.

Confused yet? I know I was…but I’m convinced Feb. 24th is the official bisextile day. One thing’s for sure; we won’t have to worry about it for another four years…


Permalink 01:47:48 am, by Chris Jones Email , 449 words, 7437 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Happy Bisextile!

Most folks know the 365.25-day calendar we use today (more or less; some modifications were made by Pope Gregory in the 16th century) was one of Julius Caesar’s reforms when he became dictator. But they are usually unaware that technically, the February “leap day” Caesar included once every four years was not February 29th, but February 24th. Here’s why.



Permalink 12:03:13 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 301 words, 1564 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Nam and Enim

Nam and Enim are words used to tag that the following main clause is the reason reason for some preceding thought. The words are usually translated as “for", but what exactly is the difference between the two?

The answer–in my experience–is not much. Nam almost always stands at the head of a sentence, while Enim is usually postpositive, but otherwise they’re fairly interchangeable.

Older grammars (like G&L) note that these particles in old Latin were asservative (from the Latin verb asservo - “guard, serve; furnish"), meaning they go beyond simply furnishing a reason (a role quod, quia, and quoniam already fill quite nicely) to give an explanation or example. The difference is subtle; quid enim agas? can be simply translated “For what can you do?", or (to make the assertion stronger) “What, for example, can you do?”

Cicero often uses nam when he wants to “pass over” some matter: Nam ut illa omittam, - “For to say nothing about those things…” (In Catilinam III.18) is a typical example, and even here it’s a rhetorical trick (he goes on to mention all the things he “doesn’t want to mention"). Enim on the other hand is used sincerely. In the same speech Cicero says ex urbe Catilinam eiciebam - “I have expelled Catiline from the city"–a legally-loaded phrase he then explains in a short aside non enim iam vereor huius verbi invidiam, cum illa magis sit timuenda, quod vivus exierit. - “For I don’t fear the public reaction to this word, when what is to be feared more is that he left alive.” (In Cat. III.3).

Bottom line: Other than placement in the sentence there’s not much difference between these two words. I also suspect the two words share a common ancestor lost in the mists of old old Latin/Oscan/Umbrian.


Permalink 12:00:34 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 762 words, 9621 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

Little Words Mean a Lot

Returning to our look at Latin’s “little words", let’s talk about iam and its compounds. I once inherited a student who had been told by another teacher that this word was one of those “throw-ins” that can usually be ignored (like “ah” or “um” in English). But there’s a lot more to these three letters than what first meets the eye.



Permalink 01:13:54 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 340 words, 2524 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

What's Latin for "Super Bowl"?

Today the American Nationalis Liga Pedifollis holds it’s final contest of the season, Super Bowl XLII, pitting the undefeated New England patrios against the underdog New York Giants.



Permalink 02:50:56 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 264 words, 5681 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

Buy a vowel

I came across the following passage in Ovid a few weeks ago, where he describes a ring he’d just given to a girlfriend:



Permalink 08:29:14 am, by Chris Jones Email , 158 words, 1998 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

"Relative Adjective"

A passage from Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis at the Latin Forum led to discussion of a point of Latin grammar called the “Relative Adjective".

In the Latin of Livy and earlier, you sometimes run across relative clauses where the antecedent is inside the clause itself, e.g. from Livy (I.1.3):

In quem primum egressi sunt locum Troia vocatur - (lit.) “In what first place they landed, it was called Troy.” -> “The place in which they landed first was called Troy.”

Locum–the word to which quem refers–is drawn into the relative clause (an alternate construction avoiding this would be Locus Troia vocatur in quem…). Older grammars lump this under rubics like “incorporation of the antecedent", “repetition of the antecedent", or “apposition with the relative pronoun".

An alternative interpretation is to define the “Relative Adjective": qui, quae, quod is a pronoun that can sometimes function as an adjective. It may not be completely legal, but it simplifies the grammar considerably.


Permalink 11:04:40 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 131 words, 2802 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar


This summer (7/24 - 10/26) the British Museum features an exhibition centering on Hadrian. For Latinists one of the more interesting items on display will be samples of the Vindolanda Tablets, a collection of ~1000 fragmentary notes, letters, and dispatches written by Roman soldiers and relatives stationed along Hadrian’s wall. Written in makeshift ink on thin shards of wood, they were first unearthed in the 1970’s; samples continue to be found today.

The tablets are a brief but invaluable glimpse into the Roman world. For Latin students they give us a chance to see more of the vulgar language, not to mention the cramped and sometimes barely legible handwriting on the Roman frontier. There is an online collection of the tablets; maybe when I get some time I’ll walk thru a few on this blog…


Permalink 01:38:43 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 408 words, 1182 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Review - Adverbs of Place

One of the tougher aspects in learning a language is all the “hard little words” that pop up. If you’re constantly looking up words like quamquam, aliquando, and inde, you know what I’m talking about.



Permalink 10:40:06 am, by Chris Jones Email , 232 words, 1348 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

They is right

Saw This discussion from the OED people about the use of “they” as a singular stand-in for “he/she".

It got me to thinking about how English as a living language is adaptable to change. A hundred years ago the use of “he” to refer to any generic person was completely acceptable. Now as society has become more sensitive to gender issues, native speakers feel their language should reflect this new sensitivity, and they don’t like the clumsy “he or she". The grammar adapts to meet a new social need (N.B.: As the Oxford site points out, even Shakespeare occasionally used “they” in this way–especially if the noun referred to implied a collective–but I think we can agree the modern usage is far more widespread).

Latin does not have this specific problem–eius and suus, -a, -um in isolation are not specific to he/she/it. But the lack of native speakers means the grammar has ossified. Modern Latin writing is routinely compared to an imagined “1st-century Roman” speaker’s ability to understand and appreciate the language. That paradigm can lead to difficulties in modern tranlation; there’s a good example at the Latin Forum of such a problem when translating the odd English expression “It is what it is".

I’m not advocating one way or another, but it’s probably an issue Latinists should ponder a bit more than they do.


Permalink 08:44:50 am, by Chris Jones Email , 422 words, 4940 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

If only all politicians were this thrifty...

Take a little time this New Year’s Eve to raise a toast to Gaius Caninius Rebilius, one of the shortest-tenured leaders in Roman history.



Permalink 07:25:45 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 415 words, 1605 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

A Subtle Point of Grammar

Students often find Latin grammar to be painfully exacting. Although there’s not much to be done about that, there is a slight comfort in knowing that even native speakers had an occasional problem with the language.



Permalink 11:48:17 am, by Chris Jones Email , 467 words, 5457 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

The great con- game

Spe Salvi, the recent Papal encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, contains an interesting passage that relies on a subtle point of Latin vocabulary.



Permalink 09:43:14 am, by Chris Jones Email , 267 words, 5274 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Adam Freedman has an op-ed in Sunday’s NY Times which hinges on a point of Latin Grammar.


Qui sciet quae quoque sint modo dicenda, nisi tamen in procinctu paratamque ad omnis casus habuerit eloquentiam, velut clausis thesauris incubabit.

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