Tag: Latin

Word of the week: sinister

Monday, 8 July, 2019

The adjective sinister, with its meaning of evil, entered the English vocabulary early in the 15th century. It came from the Old French senestre, sinistre “contrary, false; unfavourable; to the left”, and its origins are in the Latin sinister, meaning “left, on the left side”.

The Latin word was used in augury, the Roman religious practice of interpreting omens from the flights of birds. Flights of birds, seen on the left side, were regarded as bringing misfortune, and in this way sinister acquired a sense of “harmful, adverse.”

When the augur interpreted flights of birds, it was referred to “taking the auspices”. This comes from the Latin auspicium and auspex, literally “one who looks at birds”.

Flight of birds


Shrovetide

Monday, 4 March, 2019

“Shrove” is an interesting word. Has its origins in the Catholic practice of confessing one’s sins and being absolved or “shriven” of them. The word comes ultimately from the Latin scribere “to write”, which is the source of the English “scribe” and the Christian meaning evolved via the sense of “to prescribe penances”. The three days prior to Ash Wednesday are known as Shrovetide and, traditionally, it was a time of eating, drinking music making and card playing. Then came the fasting, one of those ancient rites in which food intake is limited and physical activities are reduced to the point where the person fasting enters a state of quiescence comparable, symbolically, to death. Today, it’s much less extreme, but if the “digital detox” trend ever gains traction in Lent, phone addicts who give up their addiction for the required 40 days and 40 nights may enter a state comparable, symbolically, to death.

Shrove Monday is an observance falling on the Monday before Ash Wednesday every year and it’s part of diverse Carnival celebrations that take place in many parts of the Christian world. Shrove Monday (Rosenmontag) is central to German, Swiss and Austrian Carnival calendar. In the Rhineland, as part of the pre-Lenten Fasching (Feast of Fools) festival , it’s a day of parades, marching, revelry and the display of satirical floats that poke fun at the political class.


Carpe diem for 2018

Monday, 31 December, 2018

The departing 2018 brings to mind Horace’s Ode 1.11, which contains that much-quoted Latin phrase — Carpe diem (“Seize the day!”). Writing to his friend Leuconoe, Horace tries to convince him to avoid thinking about tomorrow and to forget, too, about asking astrologers to peer into the future. Instead, he encourages Leuconoe to “seize the day!” — to make every day count and to stop relying on the hope that tomorrow will bring something better. Ode 1.11 admonishes us to remember that we are not promised tomorrow, and the related Latin expression memento mori (remember that you are mortal) carries some of the same connotation as carpe diem. For Horace, awareness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment. In other words: Remember that you are mortal, so make the most of today.

Ode 1.11

Ask not — we cannot know — what end the gods have set for you, for me;
nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings Leuconoe.
How much better to endure whatever comes,
whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last,
which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs.
Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes.
Even while we speak, envious time has passed:
Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow.

Horace (65 BC – 8 BC)

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum. Sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.


A Monster at Our Table

Sunday, 2 September, 2018

Derived from the Latin monstrum, the English word monster suggests something awful, evil, because a monster is generally physically or psychologically hideous and morally objectionable. Monsters are often hybrids of humans and animals, but the word can also be used figuratively to describe someone with similar characteristics, such as a person who does cruel or horrific things.

A Monster at Our Table

A monster sat down at our table
And ate up all of our bread
We watched his jaws crush the crusts
Immobilized by revulsion and dread

He talked about the weather and sport
But the topics withered under his breath
We nodded at convenient intervals
And silently prayed for his death

The monster got up from our table
And waddled away towards his lair
We sprinkled Holy Water behind him
To protect what we loved about there.

Eamonn Fizgerald

A Monster at our tabl


Rosalía: Pienso en tu mirá

Saturday, 28 July, 2018

A recurring motif in the video of Pienso en Tu Mirá, the latest single by Rosalía, is that of a man in a chequered suit dancing el baile flamenco at night on a pile of embers. It’s a vivid representation of her fusion of old and new Spanish influences because Rosalía was born in Baix Llobregat, a comarca on the coast of Catalonia, some 30km from Barcelona and some 1,000km from Seville, where the heart of flamenco beats.

Talking of beats, Rosalía’s music uses lots of traditional handclapping and those hoods worn by the dancers are a nod to the outfits worn by the Nazarenos and Fariseos brotherhoods during the Semana Santa (Holy Week) observances in Spain. All of this is combined with Latin Pop to create something new, something different.


DOMNICVS

Wednesday, 2 May, 2018 0 Comments

Etymology: from the Latin dominus (lord, master) + –icus (of, belonging to, connected with)

Meaning: imperial, the Lord’s, God’s, the Lord’s Day, Sunday, sun

Dominicus


The wolves among us and around us

Sunday, 3 September, 2017 0 Comments

Homo homini lupus est is a Latin proverb meaning “A man is a wolf to another man.” And this truth is a lesson that life teaches again and again. The proverb’s wisdom is incorporated in Wolves, one of Louis MacNeice’s best-known poems. He wrote it in 1934 and it’s often viewed as a meditation on that dark decade and an expectation of the horrors that were to come, but treating Wolves merely as a relic of those days doesn’t do it justice because the idea of wolves lurking on the edges of civilization goes far deeper than any specific historical period. “He’d remind you of a wolf,” my mother would say when viewing a particularly lupine individual prowling past her front window.

Louis MacNeice was a Northern Irish poet and a member of the lyrical generation of that included W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. Born in Belfast on 12 September 1907, he died in London on this day, 3 September, in 1963.

Wolves

I do not want to be reflective any more
Envying and despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
Join hands and make believe that joined
Hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.

Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

Wolf


Rhymin’ and rappin’ with Big Ben Jonson

Sunday, 6 August, 2017 0 Comments

Ben Jonson The great English playwright, poet and actor, Ben Jonson, died on this day in 1637. He wrote what is considered his first important work, Every Man in His Humour, in 1598 and in a 1616 production one William Shakespeare appeared in a leading role. Shortly after the play opened, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder. He pleaded “benefit of clergy”, which meant he was allowed to face a more lenient court by proving he could read and write Latin. Jonson spent only a few weeks in prison, but shortly after his release he was again arrested for failing to pay an actor — not Shakespeare. Life was turbulent for Ben and all those who knew him.

Were he alive today, Big Ben would be a successful rapper, no doubt. He’d love the bling, the booze and the booty and his rhymes would be golden, and platinum. See, the rhymin’ came easy to Big Ben J, which is why he had mixed feelings ’bout it. Yo!

A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme

Rhyme, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits
True conceit,
Spoiling senses of their treasure,
Cozening judgment with a measure,
But false weight;
Wresting words from their true calling,
Propping verse for fear of falling
To the ground;
Jointing syllabes, drowning letters,
Fast’ning vowels as with fetters
They were bound!
Soon as lazy thou wert known,
All good poetry hence was flown,
And art banish’d.
For a thousand years together
All Parnassus’ green did wither,
And wit vanish’d.
Pegasus did fly away,
At the wells no Muse did stay,
But bewail’d
So to see the fountain dry,
And Apollo’s music die,
All light failed!
Starveling rhymes did fill the stage;
Not a poet in an age
Worth crowning;
Not a work deserving bays,
Not a line deserving praise,
Pallas frowning;
Greek was free from rhyme’s infection,
Happy Greek by this protection
Was not spoiled.
Whilst the Latin, queen of tongues,
Is not yet free from rhyme’s wrongs,
But rests foiled.
Scarce the hill again doth flourish,
Scarce the world a wit doth nourish
To restore
Phoebus to his crown again,
And the Muses to their brain,
As before.
Vulgar languages that want
Words and sweetness, and be scant
Of true measure,
Tyrant rhyme hath so abused,
That they long since have refused
Other cæsure.
He that first invented thee,
May his joints tormented be,
Cramp’d forever.
Still may syllables jar with time,
Still may reason war with rhyme,
Resting never.
May his sense when it would meet
The cold tumour in his feet,
Grow unsounder;
And his title be long fool,
That in rearing such a school
Was the founder.

Ben Johnson (1572 – 1637)


Homo homini lupus

Sunday, 4 September, 2016 0 Comments

The Latin proverb Homo homini lupus, or in its complete form Homo homini lupus est, means “A man is a wolf to another man,” or more concisely: “Man is wolf to man.”

“What is a saint supposed to do, if not convert wolves?” asked Umberto Eco in How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays, and when Pope Francis canonises Mother Teresa today in St Peter’s Square in Rome, he will be making a saint a woman who epitomises his desire for a Church dedicated to the poor and acting as a shelter for the weak who are at the mercy of homo lupus. Cormac McCarthy described the human wolf thus in The Crossing: “that malignant lesser god come pale and naked and alien to slaughter all his clan and kin and rout them from their house. A god insatiable whom no ceding could appease nor any measure of blood.”

The company of wolves

“Wolves are not ruled by law. They are ruled by the alpha wolf’s policy. Individual wolves can do anything not prohibited by the alpha wolf. They can do anything they can get away with doing. To the wolf — breaking sheep law or the alpha wolf’s policy only becomes serious if caught.” The Wolf and the Sheep


Laelius de Amicitia

Friday, 8 January, 2016 0 Comments

“The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living.
Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero (3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC)

Lisvernane church

Cicero concluded his great treatise on Friendship, Laelius de Amicitia, thus:

“We had one house, one table, one style of living; and not only were we together on foreign service, but in our tours also and country sojourns. Why speak of our eagerness to be ever gaining some knowledge, to be ever learning something, on which we spent all our leisure hours far from the gaze of the world? If the recollection and memory of these things had perished with the person, I could not possibly have endured the regret for one so closely united with me in life and affection. But these things have not perished; they are rather fed and strengthened by reflection and memory. Even supposing me to have been entirely bereft of them, still my time of life of itself brings me no small consolation: for I cannot have much longer now to bear this regret; and everything that is brief ought to be endurable, however severe.

This is all I had to say on friendship. One piece of advice on parting. Make up your minds to this: Virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship.”


Dorothy Parker and the passionate Freudian

Sunday, 7 June, 2015 0 Comments

Dorothy Parker When times were more Hobbesian, poets appreciated the meaning of the Latin aphorism carpe diem (“seize the day”). They knew that life could be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” so they urged their readers to make the best of it. Christopher Marlowe’s carpe diem poem, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, inspired a famous response by Sir Walter Raleigh, The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd, and 400 years later Dorothy Parker wrote a parody titled The Passionate Freudian to His Love.

The delightfully acidic Parker, who said things like “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone,” and “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think,” died on this day in 1967.

The Passionate Freudian to His Love

Only name the day, and we’ll fly away
In the face of old traditions,
To a sheltered spot, by the world forgot,
Where we’ll park our inhibitions.
Come and gaze in eyes where the lovelight lies
As it psychoanalyzes,
And when once you glean what your fantasies mean
Life will hold no more surprises.
When you’ve told your love what you’re thinking of
Things will be much more informal;
Through a sunlit land we’ll go hand-in-hand,
Drifting gently back to normal.

While the pale moon gleams, we will dream sweet dreams,
And I’ll win your admiration,
For it’s only fair to admit I’m there
With a mean interpretation.
In the sunrise glow we will whisper low
Of the scenes our dreams have painted,
And when you’re advised what they symbolized
We’ll begin to feel acquainted.
So we’ll gaily float in a slumber boat
Where subconscious waves dash wildly;
In the stars’ soft light, we will say good-night—
And “good-night!” will put it mildly.

Our desires shall be from repressions free—
As it’s only right to treat them.
To your ego’s whims I will sing sweet hymns,
And ad libido repeat them.
With your hand in mine, idly we’ll recline
Amid bowers of neuroses,
While the sun seeks rest in the great red west
We will sit and match psychoses.
So come dwell a while on that distant isle
In the brilliant tropic weather;
Where a Freud in need is a Freud indeed,
We’ll always be Jung together.

Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)