Popular Latin Quotes, Sayings, 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.


Don't Tread On Me! -- Origin of the phrase

 
Sunday, August 29, 2010, 18:33 - Heraldry, Symbols and Emblems, Popular Latin Phrases, Mottos, Slogans
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Don't Tread on Me!
Noli me calcare!


If what one's hearing in the news is true, the old slogan "Don't tread on me!" is gaining popularity once more. It should be noted that this motto has a somewhat lesser known Latin counterpart "Noli me calcare!" Although I cannot immediately locate an adequate proof, it appears as if the origin of the phrase, as accompanied with a picture of a snake may be somewhere in those numerous volumes of pictorial devices and symbols, so popular in the 16-18 centuries. There are similar devices "Noli me tangere", "Do not touch me" accompanied with depictions of a rather fierce looking dog or bush of nettles (a common Europian weed that causes severe burns). There is also an emblem of an elephant stepping on a snake. The motto that goes with this device is "Non impune feres" - "You won't go unpunished." Everything points to the fact that when the phrase "Don't tread on me!" was first used as a symbol of the Colonies' independent spirit it most likely came from some collection of pictorial mottos.

But here is somethine else that I find quite interesting. "Noli me calcare" can also be found in Augustine. He uses it in a very witty way, suggesting that sometimes those who intend to honor us by embraces and osculations are at the same time stepping on our feet. It seems that the exact phrase Augustine uses "Nolo honorem tuum, noli me calcare" (basically, "I do not wish to be honored by you if you step on me") is a much more suitable expression of one's dissatisfaction with a duly elected government, as opposed to warding off a foreign power (wich is the case with the snake symbol).

Of course, Augustine's own point has more to do with theology. Here is the entire passage in a rather loose 19th century translation:

Carry your charity through the whole earth if you wish to love Christ, because the members of Christ are spread abroad on the face of the earth. If you care for a party you are divided, and if you are divided you do not belong to the Body; if you belong not to the Body neither are you under the one Head. What does it profit you to believe and blaspheme? You adore Him in His Head and blaspheme Him in His Body. He loves His Body. If you have cut yourself off from His Body the Head remains united to its Body. That Head cries to you from above, In vain you honour Me, in vain you honour Me. It is as if somebody were to kiss you on your cheek and to stamp upon your feet, and perhaps to make you feel his heavy boot whilst he was holding you in his embrace. Would you not cry out at his words of flattery, and say, " What are you doing, man? you are treading on me." You would not say, " You are treading on my head," for he was embracing your cheek. The head would cry out for its wounded members more than for itself, because it was being honoured whilst they were being ill treated. . . .

Tempus fugit

 
Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 19:18 - Legal Phrases and Expressions, Popular Latin Phrases, Mottos, Slogans
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Tempus fugit
Translation: Time flies



I already knew that Latin mottos were very common on sundials. As it turns out, clocks at one time also featured Latin phrases. Obviously, you can still custom engrave a quality mantle clock. But this particular masterpiece replicates Wedgwood's original designs from the 1880s and is already ornamented with a Tempus Fugit inscription. As for the price, it is unapproachable, alas!

By the way, the origin of the phrase probably can be found in a line from Viril's Georgics:

Set fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus,
singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.

(G. 3.284-5)

Fairclough translates beautifully: "But time meanwhile is flying, flying beyond recall, while we, charmed with love of our theme, linger around each detail!"

Semper fidelis and beyond. Latin phrases that contain the word "semper"

 
A classic 20th century Russian novel by Ilf and Petrov entitled "The Twelve Chairs" contains a verbal exchange, highly humorous, in my opinion, between a con artist trying to raise money, supposedly for the needs of the anti-Bolshevik underground, and a small town fellow, sympathetic to the cause:

"What's your political credo?"
"Always!" repliied Polesov delightedly.

I do not remember if this scene is present in Mel Brooks 1970 adaptation of the novel. Regardless, the point is that the word "always" (semper in Latin) possesses a very high level of appeal when it comes to indicating one's allegiance to something.

Acceptissima semper // munera sunt, auctor quae pretiosa facit - Those gifts are always the most acceptable which our love for the donor makes precious (Ovid)

Conlige suspectos semper habitos - Round up the usual suspects

Cotidie damnatur qui semper timet - The man who is constantly in fear is every day condemned. (Syrus)

Credula vitam spes fovet et melius cras fore semper dicit - Credulous hope supports our life, and always says that tomorrow will be better. (Tibullus)

Crudelius est quam mori semper timere mortem - It is more cruel to always fear death than to die. (Seneca)

De duobus malis, minus est semper eligendum - Of two evils, the lesser must always be chosen (Thomas a Kempis)

Fama semper vivat - May his/her fame last forever

Hoc natura est insitum, ut quem timueris, hunc semper oderis - It's an innate thing to always hate the one we've learnt to fear

Non semper erit aestas - It will not always be summer (be prepared for hard times)

Rosa rubicundior, lilio candidior, omnibus formosior, semper in te glorior - Redder than the rose, whiter than the lilies, fairer than everything, I will always have glory in thee

Semper fidelis - Always faithful

Semper idem - Always the same thing. (Cicero)

Semper inops quicumque cupit - Whoever desires is always poor. (Claudian)

Semper letteris mandate - Always get it in writing!

Semper paratus - Always prepared

Semper superne nitens - Always striving upwards


Cuil search - first results lack lustre

 
Monday, July 28, 2008, 13:04 - Popular Latin Phrases, Mottos, Slogans, Reviews
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A bunch of folks that quit Google started their own search engine, Cuil (pronounced "kool"). A very poor choice of company name, but whatever. Google is not exactly an ear pleaser. It was launched today. I searched for Latin Motto Generator, because, to my knowledge, I have a unique page that offers this kind of service. My site came up on the second page of the search results. And the pages were not even relevant! Just a few of my pages with Latin phrases and links. And they claimed that their index is three times the size of Google. I think I will wait a while before changing my default page.

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