Increase your vocabulary and the elegance of your English prose style by knowing a few brief Latin sayings
At the Wording Desk
The writer, whether of letters home or of weighty theses, who now and then blithely tosses a Latin tag into his otherwise workaday prose is no longer appreciated amidst the word-drab groves of Academe. For me however, the Roman spice of a peppery Latin phrase adds zing to the bland soup of plain English.
As a boy I was not taught to use the simplest word. My father taught his children to use the most unusual but apt word, especially when you are young, for that way, said Dad, the student increases his or her vocabulary and, when the teacher does not know the word, flummoxes ordained authority, always pleasing to the young.
The citing of a choice extract of Latinity displays for your reader possible acquaintance with the ancient authorities. Latin’s pleasingly terse structure adds variety to English sentences which are often too wordy and diffuse and abounding in prolix gobble.
Therefore, be bold! Append these Roman ornaments to the sometimes glum drapery of an English sentence. See if you like their sound and feel.
Canam mihi et musis
As a writer, I have been at times a little-read author and I have had more popular wordsmiths sneer at my low sales. At such times of potential dejection, I am defiant of low readership and find this Latin tag useful. It means “Then I shall sing for myself and for the Muses.”
Ubi apes, ibi mel
“Where there are bees, there is honey.” The wide applicability of these four Latin words is pleasing. If other busy little greedsters are buzzing and drooling over some gainful activity, there is perhaps a chance for you too to partake of the “honey.”
Aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus
“Sometimes even great Homer nods.”
The brightest genius can make a mistake or appear to be dull momentarily.
Amare simul et sapere ipsi Jovi non datur
Advice that might well appear in an online lonely-hearts website: “To be in love and to be smart at the same time is not granted even to Jupiter.”
Biblical quotations dressed up in their Latin version from Saint Jerome’s translation of the Bible (called The Vulgate) can lend a force to words that endless repetition in mere English lacks. This is the famous rebuke by Jesus “Get thee behind me, Satan” from the gospel of Matthew 4:10.
Memoria vitae bene actae iucunda est
“The memory of a life well-lived is pleasant.”
Acti labores jucundi sunt
Roman orators liked the sound of Latin words like iucundus, ending with the adjectival suffix of bounty -undus, -unda, -undum. It rolled off the tongue with a pleasing orotundity (to use the noun form of an adjective, orotund, with the same ending borrowed into English). The great Roman lawyer Cicero used such words frequently in his courtroom speeches. This one means “Work done abounds in joy.” Note that classical Latin for work was in the plural, labores. The Latin singular labor referred to a feat, a notable deed, a difficult task.
Qui omnes insidias timet in nullas incidit
“He who fears every ambush falls into none.”
In other words, in the long run of reasonable security surveillance, keeping one’s guard up is always worth it.
Difficile est modum tenēre in omnibus
This is Saint Jerome’s humane admission that we all slip up once in a while. “It is difficult to keep moderation in everything.”
Nulla dies sine linea
“Not a day without a line.”
This advice to every artist and writer throughout history comes down to us from the Roman encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder, who translates it from the Greek of Apelles, a Greek painter. It is quoted in Pliny’s Natural History 35.36. Don’t let a day pass without writing or reading a line of a language you love and use.
A Latin Tongue-Twister!
Is all classical Latin written in a mode of grim practicality or dour prophetic drivel? No indeed. Did ancient Roman writers ever cavort carefree and easy in phrases of sportive jest? Of course!
O Tite, tute, Tati, tibi tanta, tyranne, tulisti
“Oh Titus Tatius, you tyrant, you yourself have caused so many of your own afflictions and problems.”
This tongue-twisting bit of alliteration was written by the Latin poet Ennius in a playful mood. Titus Tatius was an imaginary Sabine king in fables who unwisely attacked Rome.
In Fine (Latin 'lastly')
We’ll conclude with three little tags all about the Latin language itself. The first is French but implies that a knowledge of Latin equals useful learning.
Au bout de son Latin
Literally “at the end of his Latin” that is, at the end of his knowledge, at his wits’ end.
Rident stolidi verba Latina
“Only fools laugh at the Latin language.”
Non tam praeclarum est scire Latine, quam turpe nescire
We’ll permit the great lawyer and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero to conclude: “It is not so much excellent to know Latin, as it is a shame not to know it.”
How does one say in Latin, “That’s all!”?
An ancient Roman might have said:
Ita concludat (an impersonal optative subjunctive whose sense, spun out to a pleasing amplitude, might be "Let it now therefore be finished.')
or, even, in a more literal frame of reference,
Omnia sunt, amici (That's all, friends!)
Bill Casselman, December 02, 2016
Text copyright 2016 William Gordon Casselman
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