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.


How to make sure that a Latin phrase is correct?

 
Friday, October 8, 2010, 17:10 - Legal Phrases and Expressions, Popular Latin Phrases, Mottos, Slogans
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It's been demonstrated many times that when an average person aspires to have a Latin tattoo, an engraved ring or simply a clever motto they likely to have the desired Latin phrase badly mangled, often to the point of complete nonsense. I do my best to verify the spelling of all the phrases that appear on my site, but I would recommend that people check twice every tiny bit of Latin that they want to use for any purposes, no matter where it comes from. The good news is that this is not so difficult!

First of all, unless you are relying on someone who is trained in Latin translation, never use a phrase that, in your personal opinion, aptly renders a phrase in your own language (English, French, German etc.). Without proper knowledge of Latin it is often impossible to translate even a single word by simply looking it up in a dictionary, never mind an actual phrase. So, if you have something unique in mind, go to a translator. You will be glad you did. However, there is a universe of Latin phrases out there. You are free to pick out of many well-known quotes and mottos. The trick here is to be aware of misspellings and OCR errors. You really want to verify your selected quote by using at least two printed sources. I do not suggest that you buy a book of Latin adages and try to find your favorite Latin phrase there (although your money could not be better spent if you, in fact, do so). Google Books has numerous scanned published resources. Many of them come from the glorious times when not only the writers and editors knew Latin, but even typesetters and book-binding workers! All you need to do is carefully copy your Latin phrase into the buffer and then paste it within quotation marks (otherwise the search will be too broad) into Google Books's search field. Then open the actual scanned pages and verify that the phrase you are intending to use is indeed spelled the way you thought it was spelled. Oftentimes, you will get a nice translation as a bonus!

If the phrase you are tracking is fairly common, you can probably go to a collection of Latin quotes. Here is one such collection on Google Books:

Latin quotations, proverbs and phrases

Now, what if you are not finding the Latin phrases you were hoping to verify? It is quite possible that they have been misspelled. If so, identify a few words within a phrase and run a search on those words only (remember to use quotation marks). This will very likely bring up the Latin phrase in its correct form.

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



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