Diction-Police! Don’t Archaize or Neologize!

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights 11.7

One Should Avoid Very Archaic Words That Have Become Antiquated and Fallen Out of Use

“Using words that are obsolete and worn down seems as affected as using uncustomary or new ones of harsh or unpleasant character. Personally, I find more annoying and offensive those words that are new, unknown, or previously unheard rather than those that are merely colloquial and vulgar. I do insist, however, that phrases seem new when they are unused and abandoned, even if they are really ancient. In truth, it is a common vice of learning late in life, what the Greeks call opsimathia, when there’s something you’ve never said and of which you were ignorant for a while, which, once you have begun to understand it, you manage to work it into any place or into any matter you’re discussing.

For example, at Rome we met an experienced man famous for his work as a public defender who had achieved a rapid and incomplete education. When he was speaking to the prefect of the city and wanted to say that a certain many lived on poor and miserable food—he ate bread made of bran and drank old, spoiled wine—he said “this Roman knight eats apluda and drinks flocces.” Everyone who was there looked at one another, at first rather severely and with confused, inquiring faces wondering what either word meant: then, as if he had spoken in Etruscan or Gallic, they all laughed together. That man had read that ancient farmers had called grain apluda—the word is used by Plautus in a comedy called Astraba, if that is a Plautine comedy. Similarly, “flocces” in ancient usage indicated the lees of a vine pressed from grapes, like the fruit from olives, a thing he read in Caecilius’ Polumeni. And he had saved these two words for decorating a speech!”


Verbis antiquissimis relictisque iam et desitis minime utendum.

Verbis uti aut nimis obsoletis exculcatisque aut insolentibus novitatisque durae et inlepidae par esse delictum videtur. Sed molestius equidem culpatiusque esse arbitror verba nova, incognita, inaudita dicere quam involgata et sordentia. Nova autem videri dico etiam ea, quae sunt inusitata et desita, tametsi sunt vetusta. Est adeo id vitium plerumque serae eruditionis, quam Graeci opsimathian appellant, ut, quod numquam didiceris, diu ignoraveris, cum id scire aliquando coeperis, magni facias quo in loco cumque et quacumque in re dicere. Veluti Romae nobis praesentibus vetus celebratusque homo in causis, sed repentina et quasi tumultuaria doctrina praeditus, cum apud praefectum urbi verba faceret et dicere vellet inopi quendam miseroque victu vivere et furfureum panem esitare vinumque eructum et fetidum potare, “hic” inquit “eques Romanus apludam edit et flocces bibit”.

Aspexerunt omnes, qui aderant, alius alium, primo tristiores turbato et requirente voltu, quidnam illud utriusque verbi foret; post deinde, quasi nescio quid Tusce aut Gallice dixisset, universi riserunt. Legerat autem ille “apludam” veteres rusticos frumenti furfurem dixisse idque a Plauto in comoedia, si ea Plauti est, quae Astraba inscripta est, positum esse. Item “flocces” audierat prisca voce significare vini faecem e vinaceis expressam, sicuti fraces oleis, idque aput Caecilium in Poltimenis legerat, eaque sibi duo verba ad orationum ornamenta servaverat.

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Cod. Guelf. 956 Helmst., 221v

Pickpockets of Words

Quintilian, 8.3 (29-31)

“Sallust is assailed by an epigram of no less repute: “Crispus, pickpocket of the words of Ancient Cato / and architect of Jugurtha’s history”. This is a pitifully minor concern—for it is easy for anyone and really poor because the composer will not fit words to facts but will introduce unrelated facts when the words are easier to use.

Neologism, as I said in the first book, is more a custom of the Greeks who are not reluctant to change words for certain sounds and feelings with a liberty little different from when early human beings first gave names to things. Our rare attempts in compounding or deriving new words have rarely been welcomed as sufficient.”

Nec minus noto Sallustius epigrammate incessitur et verba antiqui multum furate Catonis,: Crispe, Iugurthinae conditor historiae.

Odiosa cura: nam et cuilibet facilis et hoc pessima, quod eius studiosus non verba rebus aptabit, sed res extrinsecus arcesset quibus haec verba conveniant. Fingere, ut primo libro dixi, Graecis magis concessum est, qui sonis etiam quibusdam et adfectibus non dubitaverunt nomina aptare, non alia libertate quam qua illi primi homines rebus appellationes dederunt. Nostri aut in iungendo aut in derivando paulum aliquid ausi vix in hoc satis recipiuntur.

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 British Library MS Additional 49622 fol. 153r

The Lost De Imaginibus Verendorum

A pamphlet was recently discovered along with the fragments of Bellum Incivile, a text tentatively attributed to Caesar. De Imaginibus Verendorum was almost certainly not written by Caesar, but was very possibly distributed to his troops.*

“All people arrive into the world nude on the day of their birth, but many men as adults want to show off their unclothed private parts very often. They have a frightful custom of making images of their private parts, which can also be called dick pics, penis pictures, and members at mast, and sending them to women. These men are very different with respect to dignity and virtue from men who are in the habit of keeping their private parts covered unless someone says she wants to see them.

When the eyes of women are too far away or when there is a concern about breaking the law– for it is not OK to expose bystanders to penises when you are outside– inflamed by a desire to show his private parts, a man of this kind creates an image of them, which you would believe to be real, but would not in any way want to look at. He marvels at this, but it is not enough for him to see it. Even if women have already said they do not want to see any private parts, he thinks the image must be seen by as many women as possible.

For this reason the man sends this image to one woman, then to two women, then to five; then to another ten. “Careful,” he says to himself as he sends the picture through the ether. “Don’t send it to your mom or sisters by accident.” In this way, he believes he is operating with restraint and modesty.

At last, many women see the image of the private parts and seeing it, they are horrified, but the man, proud of his private parts and the picture of them, happily awaits the replies of the women. “How lucky these women are! How beautiful are my private parts!” But the women do not respond.

Although he is happy with himself, he lacks friends and dignity, but he does not want to change because he thinks he is the best.  Catullus once said, “Each of us has a flaw, but we cannot see what is in our own backpacks.”  

I will make this very clear to you. It is the greatest flaw to send pictures of your private parts to women who absolutely do not want to see them.

Men, having read these words, may you recognize this flaw and stop it!

Homines die natali nudi nati sunt, sed multi viri adulti verenda exerta saepissime ostendere volunt. His mos terribilis est imagines verendorum, quae appellari etiam pictura passeris, simulacrum siculae, vincens verpa possunt, facere ac ad feminas mittere.  Hi sunt dignitate et virtute disimiles viris qui verenda operire solent, nisi quis ea videre velle dicat.

Vir huius generis cum aut oculi feminarum longius absit aut leges violare timeat– nam verendis foris circumstantes obiecere est nefas– inflammato verendorum ostendendorum cupidine imaginem, quam vivere credas, sed haud spectare velis, facit. miratur, sed non est satis eam videre. etiamsi feminae se verenda videre nolle iam dixerunt, imaginem quam plurimis feminis videndam existimat.

Qua de causa vir hanc imaginem ad unam feminam mittit; deinde ad duas feminas; deinde ad quinque; dein ad decem alteras. “Cave,” mittenti per caelum imaginem sibi ait. “Noli ad matrem aut ad sorores peperam mittere.” ad hunc modum se caute et pudenter agere credit.

Tandem multae feminae imaginem verendam vident et videntes horrescunt; verum vir suis verendis ac imagine eorum superbiens responsa feminarum laete expectat. “Quam beatae hae feminae! Quam pulchra mea verenda!”  sed feminae nihil respondent.

quamvis se ipso contentus sit, amicae dignitasque ei desunt, sed mutari non vult, quia se optimum esse credit.  “Suus cuique attributus est error,” scripsit Catullus. “sed non videmus manticae quod in tergo est.”

Hoc vobis manifestissimum faciam. Est maximus error imagines verendorum ad feminas, quae ea videre minime velint, mittere.  

Viri, his verbis acceptis, videatis errorem et desinatis!



[*N.B. This is satire. This Latin is not from antiquity]

To Those in Power: Never Have Kids!

Historia Augusta, Septimius Severus:

“As I thought about it, Diocletian Augustus, it became clear enough to me that almost no one of the great men of history have left behind good sons. At the end, they died without children or, as happened in many cases, they had such children that it would have been better for humanity if they had died childless.

Let’s begin with Romulus. He left no children, nor did Numa Pompilius leave anything behind useful for the republic. What about Camillus? Were his sons similar to him? What about Scipio? What of the Catos, who were so great? Indeed, what of Homer, Demosthenes, Vergil, Crispus, Terence, Plautus, and others? What about Caesar? What about Tullius, to whom especially it had been better had he never begotten children? What about Augustus, who didn’t even have a good adopted son, when he could have selected one from everyone in the empire? Even Trajan was deceived in esteeming his own countryman and descendant.

But, omitting the adopted sons, lest Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius come to mind, let us come to those who were born to their fathers. What could have been better for Marcus Aurelius than if he had not made Commodus his heir? What could have been better than if Severus hadn’t begotten Caracalla, who killed his brother on the false charge of conspiracy against him, and who married his stepmother – nay, his actual mother! – in whose very embrace he killed his brother Geta? That same Caracalla killed Papinian, a safehouse of law and a treasury of legal learning, who had been made prefect lest dignity be lacking to a person who had become great from his own effort and study, because he was unwilling to excuse Caracalla’s fratricide.

Finally, omitting everything else, it was because of Caracalla’s character that it happened that Severus, a rather morose and cruel man, was considered pious and worthy of divine honors. Indeed, Severus, when he was laboring under illness, once sent to Caracalla that divine speech of Sallust, in which Micipsa urges his sons to peace – but this was in vain. Caracalla then lived for a long time amidst the hatred of the public, although he gave clothing to the people (from which he received the name Caracalla), and even gave them the most magnificent bathhouse.”

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Et reputanti mihi, Diocletiane Auguste, neminem prope magnorum virorum optimum et utilem filium reliquisse satis claret.Denique aut sine liberis viri interierunt aut tales habuerunt plerique, ut melius fuerit de rebus humanis sine posteritate discedere.

Et ut ordiamur a Romulo: hic nihil liberorum reliquit, nihil Numa Pompilius, quod utile posset esse rei p. Quid Camillus? Num sui similes liberos habuit? Quid Scipio? Quid Catones qui magni fuerunt? Iam vero quid de Homero, Demosthene, Vergilio, Crispo et Terentio, Plauto ceterisque aliis loquar? Quid de Caesare? Quid de Tullio, cui soli melius fuerat liberos non habere? Quid de Augusto, qui nec adoptivum bonum filium habuit, cum illi legendi potestas fuisset ex omnibus? Falsus est etiam ipse Traianus in suo municipe ac nepote diligendo. Sed ut omittamus adoptivos, ne nobis Antonini Pius et Marcus, numina rei publicae, occurrant, veniamus ad genitos. Quid Marco felicius fuisset, si Commodum non reliquisset heredem  Quid Severo Septimio, si Bassianum nec genuisset ? Qui statim insimulatum fratrem insidiarum contra se cogitatarum parricidali etiam figmento interemit; qui novercam suam- et quid novercam? matrem quin immo, in cuius sinu Getam filium eius occiderat, uxorem duxit; qui Papinianum, iuris asylum et doctrinae legatls thesaurum, quod parricidium excusare noluisset, occidit, et praefectumquidem, ne homini per se et per scientiam suam magno deesset et dignitas. Denique, ut alia omittam, ex huius moribus factum puto, <ut> Severus tristior vir ad omnia, immo etiam crudelior pius et dignus deorum altaribus duceretur. Qui quidem divinam Sallusti orationem, qua Micipsa filios ad pacem hortatur, ingravatus morbo misisse filio dicitur maiori. Idque frustra. Et — hominem tantum valetudine. Vixit denique in odio populi diu Antoninus, nomenque illud venerabile diu minus amatum est, quamvis et vestimenta populo dederit, unde Caracalus est dictus, et thermas magnificentissimas fecerit. Extat sane Romae Severi porticus gesta eius exprimens a filio, quantum plurimi docent, structa.

Classics, the Straight Road to Starvation

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. 3:

“On the 8th of April, 1777, he [F.A. Wolf] entered his name in the matriculation-book as Studiosus Philologiae. The Pro-Rector, a professor of Medicine, protested: ‘Philology was not one of the four Faculties; if he wanted to become a school-master, he ought to enter himself as a ‘student of Theology’. Wolf insisted that he proposed to study, not Theology, but Philology. He carried his point, and was the first student who was so entered in that university. The date of his matriculation has been deemed an epoch in the History of German Education, and also in the History of Scholarship. He next waited on the Rector, Heyne, to whom he had presented a letter of introduction a year before. Hastily glancing at this letter, Heyne had then asked him, who had been stupid enough to advise him to study ‘what he called philology’. Wolf replied that he preferred ‘the greater intellectual freedom’ of that study. Heyne assured him that ‘freedom’ could nowhere be found, that the study of the Classics was ‘the straight road to starvation’, and that there were hardly six good chairs of philology in all Germany. Wolf modestly suggested that he aspired to fill one of the six; Heyne could only laugh and bid farewell to the future ‘professor of philology’, adding that, when he entered at Gottingen, he would be welcome to attend Heyne’s lectures gratis. When he actually entered, Heyne, who was a busy man, treated him with a strange indifference. However, Wolf put down his name for Heyne’s private course on the Iliad, noted all the books cited in the introductory lecture, gathered all these books around him, and carefully prepared the subject of each lecture, but was so disappointed with the vague and superficial treatment of the subject, that, as soon as the professor had finished the first book, he ceased to attend. In the next semester, he found himself excluded from the course on Pindar. However, he went on working by himself; to save time, he spent only three minutes in dressing, and cut off every form of recreation. At the end of the first year, he had nearly killed himself, and, after a brief change of air, resolved never to work beyond midnight. By the end of the second, he had begun to give lectures on his own account, and, half a year later, was appointed, on Heyne’s recommendation, to a mastership at Ilfeld.”

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A Philologist, a Grammarian, and a Philosopher Go Into a Book…

Seneca, Epistles 108:

“When a philologist, a grammarian, and a philosopher read Cicero’s book On the Republic, each one applies his attention to something different. The philosopher marvels that so many things could be said against justice. When the philologist approaches the same reading, he notes this: that there were two Roman kings, of which one did not have a father and the other lacked a mother. (For there is doubt about Servius Tullius’ mother, and Ancus Martius is said to have been the grandon of Numa, but no father is remembered.) Further, the philologist notes that what we call a ‘dictator’ and read thus described in history was known among the ancients as the ‘magister populi’. That fact remains today in the Augural Books, and is proven by the fact that the one nominated by a dictator is called the ’magister equitum’. The philologist also notes that Romulus died during a disappearance of the sun; that there was a provocatio ad populum even from the kings – thus it is registered in the pontifical books and in Fenestella.

When the grammarian explains the same books, he first puts into his commentary that Cicero says ‘reapse’ for ‘re ipsa’ and is no less inclined to write ‘sepse’ for ‘se ipse’. He then moves on to those things which the custom of our time has changed, just as Cicero says, ‘since we were called from the chalk (calce) by his interruption’, for what we now call ‘chalk’ (creta) was called calce by the ancients.”

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Cum Ciceronis librum de re publica prendit hinc philologus aliquis, hinc grammaticus, hinc philosophiae deditus, alius alio curam suam mittit. Philosophus admiratur contra iustitiam dici tam multa potuisse. Cum adhanc eandem lectionem philologus accessit, hoc subnotat: duos Romanos regesesse quorum alter patrem non habet, alter matrem. Nam de Servi matre dubitatur; Anci pater nullus, Numae nepos dicitur. Praeterea notat eum quem nos dictatorem dicimus et in historiis ita nominari legimus apud antiquos magistrum populi vocatum. Hodieque id extat in auguralibus libris, et testimonium est quod qui ab illo nominatur ‘magister equitum’ est. Aeque notat Romulum perisse solis defectione; provocationem ad populum etiam a regibus fuisse; id ita in pontificalibus libris et Fenestella. Eosdem libros cum grammaticus explicuit, primum [verba expresse] ‘reapse’dici a Cicerone, id est ‘re ipsa’, in commentarium refert, nec minus ‘sepse’, id est ‘se ipse’. Deinde transit ad ea quae consuetudo saeculi mutavit, tamquam ait Cicero ‘quoniam sumus ab ipsa calce eius interpellatione revocati.’ Hanc quam nunc in circo

Drowning and a Puppy’s First Sight

Cicero, De finibus 3.15

“For, just as people who are drowning in water are no more capable of breathing if they are far from its surface than if they are just about to break free, or if they are already clinging to the bottom, and just as a puppy who is almost ready to open his eyes can see no more than one who was just born, so too a person who has made some progress in the pursuit of virtue is in no less misery than one who has made no process at all.”

Ut enim qui demersi sunt in aqua nihilo magis respirare possunt si non longe absunt a summo, ut iam iamque possint emergere, quam si etiam tum essent in profundo, nec catulus ille qui iam appropinquat ut videat plus cernit quam is qui modo est natus, item qui processit aliquantum ad virtutis habitum nihilo minus in miseria est quam ille qui nihil processit.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 12r