Monday, March 26, 2012

Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina

Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina: everything sounds more impressive when said in Latin.

Lucius Caecilius Iucundus
I took Latin in 6th grade. It was one of the most important classes in all my years of school as it introduced me to a foundational language of science, the root of the romance languages, and a common denominator of the classically educated. Our first text (in the Cambridge Latin Course) followed the family of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, a Roman banker living in Pompeii in the 1st century. Caecilius, his wife Metella, and their son Quintus, lived in a fine home with their slaves Grumio, Clemens and Melissa. We learned about their daily lives, preparing meals, shopping and even dealing with the dangers of the versipellis (werewolf) during a full moon. In the course of a year we all became Caecilius (ego sum Caecilius), living as the Roman through his experiences.

Then one night Vesuvius erupts and everyone dies. Except Quintus who goes on to the next book. Seriously?

As much as the traumatic death of Caecilius by pyroclastic flow also scarred me forever, learning Latin left a far deeper impression. It helped me during my medical career (when you see "qid," or quater in die, it means four times a day), being far better at reading French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese than I would ever be speaking them, and understanding a key maxim: nihil novi sub sole - there is nothing new under the sun... because the Romans did it first.

Well actually, the Greeks did it first. Or, was it the Egyptians? Mesopotamians? Fred Flintstone. Learning Latin taught me that the roots of modern language are buried deeply in ancient cultures and the daily challenges people faced in life: birth, death, peace, war, peace, war, charity, greed, commerce... None of these are new to mankind, and it turns out there are plenty of words to describe today's "newer" human behaviors, even with a "dead" language like Latin. Collaboration? Collaboratus. Community? Communitas.

People have always known how to work together in groups, so it is curious that it seems to be such a new and difficult concept for some individuals and organizations to grasp. And often we turn to the old to validate the new. And so I'll list a few Latin phrases that seem especially apropos for technologists, social enterprises and collaborative communities today to make your arguments for anything social far more impressive:

Buid si ea non sunt - If you buid it, they will not come
Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis - All things change, and we change with them
Respice, adspice, prospice - Look to the past, the present, the future
Vox populi vox dei - The voice of the people is the voice of God
Ipsa scientia potestas est - Knowledge is power
Si vis pacem, para bellum - If you want peace, prepare for the war.
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis - The times change, and we change with them
Abusus non tollit usum - Wrong use does not preclude proper use
Bibere venenum in auro - Drink poison from a cup of gold
Brevior saltare cum deformibus viris est vita - Life is too short to dance with ugly men
Cave ab homine unius libri - Beware of anyone who has just one book
Damnant quod non intellegunt - They condemn what they do not understand
Deus ex machina - God from the machine
Exceptio probat regulam de rebus non exceptis - The exception establishes the rule
Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur - It is easier to understand the whole, piece by piece
Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi sed saepe cadendo - A drop hollows out a stone, not by force but by falling often
Machina improba! - Wicked machine!
Mihi cura futuri - My concern is the future
Ne auderis delere orbem rigidum meum! - Don't you dare erase my hard disk!
Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione - I do not care about your stupid superstition
Nihil est incertius volgo - Nothing is more uncertain than the crowd
Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis - Without belief, there is no understanding (especially useful for executives that just don't get it)
Non omne quod licet honestum est - Not everything that is permitted is honest
Non scholae sed vitae discimus - We do not learn for school, but for life
Nosce te ipsum - Know thyself
Probae esti in segetem sunt deteriorem datae fruges, tamen ipsae suaptae enitent - A good seed, planted even in poor soil, will bear rich fruit by its own nature
Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum - Garbage in, garbage out

Also useful:
Sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare - I think some people in togas are plotting against me
Si fallatis officium, quaestor infitias eat se quicquam scire de factis vestris - If you fail, the secretary will disavow all knowledge of your activities

So, in my best 6th grade Latin I will sign off with: Bonum commune communitatis collaboremus - collaborate for the good of the community.

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