Latin Quotes, Sayings, Tattoos, Phrases & Mottos

Most texts and materials on this site have to do with the Latin language, including its perception in popular culture: movies, tattoos, inscriptions, engravings, bits of ancient philosophy, online Latin resources and company names. There is also information about learning Latin and Greek: textbooks, dictionaries, DVDs and software that can be used in a homeschooling environment.

Her-story strikes back

Monday, September 22, 2014, 22:47 - Ancient Greek Language, Etymology and word roots
Posted by Administrator
There is a well-known and obviously playful etymological explanation of the word "history" -- "his story," naturally opposed by the seemingly underrepresented "her story." I am completely disinterested in tracing the origins of this smashingly clever jab at traditional historiography. However, there seems to be a more amusing correlation that occurs in the language from which the term 'history' actually comes from, Greek. The roots of ἱστορία (historia) and ὑστέρα (hystera) are very close. (Different systems of reading Ancient Greek words result in slight variations in pronunciation, but the similarity is undeniable.) Now, what does 'hystera' mean? You may recognize the root 'hystera' in words such as 'hysteria' and 'hysterical'. This term is, however, a much later development and will not be discussed here. In Ancient Greek, the word ὑστέρα ('hystera') meant 'womb'. The "his story/her story" opposition is strangely mocked by this proximity of "woman" and "history" in the very language in which historic works first appeared (or so we were taught). The point of this exercise is simple. False etymologies, puns and clever word-plays are not a good source of objective knowledge. At best, they may be used as mnemonic devices.

Names for Businesses: Never Boring!

As I sat down to ponder what Latin words can be used for naming a business it did not take long before an actual company name came to my attention as a good example of, let's say, dubious appropriateness of a business name...

I decided to come up with a few ideas for companies that take pride in delivering goods or services very promptly. Some good suggestions would be to use such words as celer, velox, rapidus (fast). Then there is a nice verb "festinare". A sonorous name. There is even something festive about it:) Lo and behold, there is a company that is called "Festina" ("make haste!", an imperative). Well, the problem is that this company manufactures watches. Would you really want to have a watch that is fast? The only appropriate way of using this word in this context would be in the slogan "Festina lente" (make haste slowly). Now, that would be a clever way to describe what a good mechanism for keeping time is supposed to do! Also, this was a motto used by the famed Aldus Manutius, one of the greatest Renaissance book publishers.

In general, it seems that all good Latin names for businesses are already taken (and not used wisely, I must add). My advice would be to have a good look at Greek words. In fact, I may do some research in this area myself.

See also:
Restaurant Name Suggestions

Meaning of "Sasha"

Friday, February 8, 2008, 05:06 - Etymology and word roots, Latin Words - Meanings and Definitions
Posted by Administrator
Speaking of meanings... There is one area of popular etymology where results have been absolutely horrifying and disturbing. I am taking about the etymology of proper names, most often featured on numerous 'baby names' sites. It is absolutely unbelievable what these people come up with. What's worse, that not only you will be likely to find erroneous etymologies and explanations for certain names - I once found a site that claimed to have the largest collection of boys' and girl's names in existence. What they actually did was collect data from online chats around the world and then presented people's nicknames and usernames as actual proper names. This process created a mishmash of names that were wrongly attributed as originating from languages that had nothing to do with them! Also, there were a lot of 'baby names' that were made-up nicknames, quite often obscene! No doubt, some of them were rather melodious and exotic sounding... So, I would advise everyone to at least stick with the names they have heard. But as far as interpretation goes, you should probably consult with printed books, although I have seen a good amount of errors in 'baby name books', as well.

Anyway, I got thinking about all this after I saw this entry on some big-time new baby naming website:

The boy's and girl's name Sasha \s(a)-sha\ is pronounced SAH-shah. It is of Russian origin. Short form of Alexander (Greek) "man's defender". The -sha ending may not be feminine in Russia, though it is in the US.

Yes, the true origin of this name is Greek. It should probably be taken to mean 'the defender of men'. And it is entirely incorrect that Sasha cannot be feminine in Russia. It is short for Alexandra, the female version of Alexander. More importantly, the article does not attempt to explain how Alexander and Sasha can be etymologically related. I should probably clarify this. 19th century Russian literature has some examples of another short version of Alexander - Aleksasha (the Russian suffix used here is probably cognate to the German diminutive suffix '-chen'). This is were 'Sasha' comes from! And, as if things were not complicated enough, 'Sasha', in its turn, produced yet another form: Shura. This one stems from a diminutive form of 'Sasha' - 'Sashura'.

Slogan - a battle cry

To me, 'slogan' is a funny word with an almost non-Indoeuropean ring to it. My thirst for etymological illumination brought me to the steps of the monument that is OED (Oxford English Dictionary):

ad. Gael. sluagh-ghairm, f. sluagh host + gairm cry, shout.

1. a. A war-cry or battle cry; spec. one of those formerly employed by Scottish Highlanders or Borderers, or by the native Irish, usually consisting of a personal surname or the name of a gathering-place.

b. transf. The distinctive note, phrase, cry, etc. of any person or body of persons.

So, it's Celtic... What I find particularly interesting is that both 'slogan' and 'motto' refer to something that originally was a battle-cry. The etymology of 'motto' may not be all that different. The post-Classical 'muttum' is taken by Lewis & Short to mean 'a mutter', 'a grunt'. Niermeyer gives for 'muctum', (muttum, mutum) the meanings 'grumbling', 'squeak', 'cry'. In essense, a 'muttum' is something that defied comprehension, which is what war cries are all about, I believe.

It is rather strange that 'slogan', it my opinion, is becoming more and more a term for a trademarked catch-phrase, even though the definition found in OED is not that dissimilar from the definition of 'motto' ( hence my Latin motto generator is just as easily a Latin slogan generator):

Originally: a word, sentence, or phrase attached to an impresa or emblematical design to explain or emphasize its significance. Later also: a short sentence or phrase inscribed on an object, expressing a reflection or sentiment considered appropriate to its purpose or destination; a maxim or saying adopted by a person, family, institution, etc., expressing a rule of conduct or philosophy of life.

I guess, the use of 'motto' is simply more widely spread, with more secondary meanings and derivatives. The OED article features a derivative adjective 'mottoless'. As I can gather from the examples, it is a bad quality. One ought to have a motto or a slogan!

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