Archive for the ‘Bad Latin’ Category


Bad Latin: Hayden-Harnett’s Veneficus Libri Bag

This does not say "magic book."

On the "spine" of the bag, the bad Latin "title."

I am always disappointed when I have to do a Bad Latin post, but this time is especially tough for me because I really like Brooklyn brand Hayden-Harnett.  They teamed up with Disney to produce a line of accessories inspired by the 70-year-old film Fantasia. Among these is the Veneficus Libri bag, a beautifully detailed design meant to look like a book. The name is an attempt at Latin, and is supposed to mean “magic book,” according to the description.  This phrase is printed on the bag itself, as if the title on the binding.

When I first saw the bag, I wanted to give Hayden-Harnett the benefit of the doubt, and assumed that the phrase veneficus libri was an attested term meaning “book[s] of the sorcerer.” This would be fitting for a bag inspired by Fantasia with its “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence.  A cursory Google search confirmed that the phrase veneficus libri appears a lot on the web.  I figured that veneficus was a fourth declension noun and libri was plural because there were several “books” in the tome in question.

When I looked it up, though, this idea was shot down.  Veneficus is a first/second declension adjective that can be used substantively to mean “sorcerer,” so it can only be nominative singular.  Realizing that the Latin was therefore “sorcerer of the book,” I looked further into that Google search, and found that the term only appears on websites devoted to magic and social networking games and the like, and doesn’t appear in a book or scholar search.

The source of this term is most likely our old friend, the online translator.  Put “magic book” into one, and you get veneficus libri.  I’d like to reiterate what Dennis said in his recent post, Good Psych, Bad Latin:  Those who would like to use Latin in their movie, jewelry, comic, or whatever, contact a Latinist– it only takes a moment longer to contact us than to input something into an online translator, but the payoff is not having something absurd printed on your commercial product.

A gracious and witty response from Hayden-Harnett.

We're blaming it on a 12th century scribal error: - ungrammatical Latin, but a beautiful bag -

The royal engagement ring and the ‘Historic Society’ that doesn’t understand Roman numerals

Kate Middleton's engagement ring is seen in this official engagement photo.

People who care about royalty and pageantry seem to be all wrapped up in the coming wedding of Prince William (as he’s called) and his fiancée, Kate Middleton. ‘News’ reports keep cropping up showing these people how they might obtain — from local markets — cheap pieces of costume jewelry bearing a slight, superficial resemblance to the engagement ring.

Now TELEbrands (the company behind many of your favorite infomercials) is selling a poor replica of Ms. Middleton’s ring (with ‘simulated diamonds’, &c.) through a recently registered trademark, the ‘British Historic Society.’ This is intended to lend the shoddy trinket an air of legitimacy and encourage the fools at home to throw their money away.

Inventing a “society”, however, wasn’t enough, nor was adopting the British Royal Coat of Arms. To make this seem really official they needed to throw in some Latin or something, and what could be easier than Roman numerals?

The “British Historic Society” seems to have been founded in the year XIXVIXIMMX:

The British Historic Society? More like Historic BS.

If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then you probably understand how Roman numerals work. Unlike TELEbrands.

You can see MMX at the end, and possibly XI at the beginning, and the name was registered in November of 2010, but beyond that it’s just a ridiculous mess. It almost seems to punctuate the company’s crass cynicism as it can’t be bothered to do anything remotely sensible with one of the tools of their deception.

‘Yeah … make it all British-y … put in some beefeaters or something. Ooh! Make the seal more, like, Latin-y. You know — like XIXVIXIMMX or whatever. Perfect!’

I hope that no one you know has been tricked. Whenever I see an ad like I imagine scores of well-meaning but naive grandmothers trying to do something nice, and scores of relatives too polite to say anything. So sad.


Good Psych, Bad Latin

Sarah and I love Psych, a comedic take on Sherlock Holmes, which appears on the USA network.

Gus and Shawn from USA's Psych.

Shawn Spencer, a slacker with daddy issues, pretends to be psychic so that he can do the detective work his father trained him to do from boyhood without having to fulfill his father’s dream of actually becoming a cop (and having a boss and responsibility, and all the rest).

His best friend Gus (Burton Guster) is his Watson and provides the transportation (his little car, affectionately called the Blueberry), the common sense, the awareness of the outside world, the credit card, etc., (as well as ‘the super-sniffer’: his superior sense of smell, which helps the duo from time to time).

Detective Lassiter is Lestrade, and you might stretch things to say that Shawn’s father (played by Corbin Bernsen) is a sort of Mycroft Holmes, whom Sherlock consults when he’s stuck, but that’s gone far enough. If you think the psychic detective bit sounds like CBS’s the Mentalist (also worth watching), Psych came first and never tires of making fun of the similarity.

I bring this up not only because we’re fans of the show but because the latest episode, set in a town eerily like Twin Peaks (and populated by its cast), features Latin used by a teenage girl as a kind of code to keep her last diary entries private. (You can watch the episode online.)

Here’s a bad photo of the diary page in question:

And here’s a transcription:

EGO sentio sit absens haeres non erit.

Coepi seeing R quod sum valde gavisus. Must non dico J ut is mos non exsisto gavisus. Volo EGO could dico quispiam.

R est sic populus EGO cannot puto sit interested in mihi, totus meus amicitia es jelus.

Hodie EGO sermo ut R quod is said nos postulo impetro

It’s not Latin, but a kind of cypher that can be frustrating for a Latinist. Actually, it’s not really a cypher either, which I’ll explain in a minute. [Read more →]


Bad Coaster Latin

We’re having lunch at the Ram at Univerity Village in Seattle, and came across a bit of bad coaster Latin:


This is supposed to say ‘Bigger, Better, Fresher’, but says ‘Big, of a better, unfermented wine.’

Without the commas that would say ‘a better person’s unfermented wine.’

I should prefer something like this:


(The pictures may or may not upload.)

But what is ‘bigger, better, fresher’? Why is it masculine?

If it’s a thing or a concept, then let’s use the neuter:


Or perhaps neuter plural:


Any suggestions for a better word for ‘fresher’? I’m at a loss as I blog from my phone.


Another “Bad Classics” Piece of Jewelry


Jami Rodriguez jewelry demonstrates bad numismatics (click to see larger)

It seems as though jewelry designers like using ancient coinage as inspiration for their pieces, but aren’t as concerned about the accuracy of the description on the websites that sell them.  In  Bad Jewelry Latin (well, History), I discussed a ring that was described as depicting Caesar, but was clearly actually a coin depicting Alexander the Great. In this instance, the sample sale website Billion Dollar Babes calls this item “Goddess Bangles” and describes them as “14k Gold Filled Bangles with Gold Goddess Coin.”

Unfortunately, though the coin is purported to depict a “goddess,” it is immediately recognizable to those who study numismatics as the obverse of the coinage of Rhodes, which was unique among the major producers of coinage for using a 3/4 face instead of the more common full profile for much of their coinage.  This face is of course no “goddess,” but the god Helios, a god so important to Rhodes that they commissioned a monumental statue of him, the Colossus of Rhodes,  to overlook the city.  Here is a nice image of the coin that is being recreated on the bracelet.  Note the reverse image, the distinctive Rhodian rose.

Those familiar with ancient iconography can probably tell that the image depicts a youthful god, even without knowing the Rhodian coin.  The CAMPVS’s own Dennis, who doesn’t have the same training in numismatics as I, guessed that the coin might depict Apollo, but hadn’t even considered a goddess.  If only the people that write these descriptions of coins had some sort of classical training, or consulted someone who does, when their pieces draw on ancient iconographical traditions, then perhaps this sort of error wouldn’t keep occuring.


Bad Jewelry Latin (well, History)

Caesar Is Not Just A Salad Ring

Alisa Michelle Designs demonstrates bad numismatics

This ring by Alisa Michelle Designs is called the “Caesar Is Not Just A Salad Ring.”  The description of the ring on the website that was selling it ( said, “Caesar was a powerful man that was named the dictator of Rome for life. This gold plated ring is detailed with an etched image of Caesar. This ring should be worn for strength and courage!”

Wow.  This image is of an ancient powerful man taken from a coin, but of course the image is that of Alexander the Great, not of Julius Caesar.  Alexander is depicted wearing the horn of Ammon, which no Roman could get away with in the Late Republic, not even Caesar (who, when he is depicted on coins in his lifetime, is usually depicted veiled or laureate).

Here is a very nice image of the type of coin being reproduced on the ring, the Alexander-as-Ammon type being a favorite of Lysimachos of Thrace.

The sad thing about this mix-up is that Alisa Michelle Designs could have used practically the same marketing slant if they had appropriately identified the image, since of course Alexander the Great had a pretty impressive track record himself, and his image could probably “be worn for strength and courage!” just as easily as that of Caesar.


“Is nothing sacred?” once more">Is nothing sacred?” once more

We’ve been over this ground before (see this post from 2004 and this one from 2006), but it remains the single most popular search term on the CAMPVS, so it’s worth revisiting. Max Fischer may have saved Latin (“What did you ever do?”), but Miss Cross has left an indelible stamp of bad Latin on film and, consequently, in the minds of many movie fans.

Briefly, “nihilo sanctum estne?” is bad Latin because:

  1. -ne should attach to the first word of a clause,
  2. nihilo is an ablative case form used in stock expressions (e.g., ex nihilo), and thus meaningless here, and
  3. “nothing” in the English question “Is nothing sacred?” is different in sense from from “nihil” in the Latin.

That last part may be the most confusing of the three because it seems so counter-intuitive. So let’s begin by correcting the phrase, and then figuring out what it should mean.

Because -ne attaches to the first word, why not move the whole thing around and start with estne? Then correct nihilo to nihil, and we’ve got a sensible Latin phrase:

estne nihil sanctum?

Superficially this is identical to the English phrase. Word-by-word we read the same thing: “is nothing sacred?”

Read that more carefully now. Is NOTHING sacred?

Is that what we mean in English? Are we asking whether nothingness — the void, the absence of being — is sacred? Certainly not. What we want to know, rather, is whether there is ANYTHING sacred — or not.

The question is asked when something that matters to the speaker is violated in some way. “Well, then, if this isn’t sacred, is nothing else? Is there not a thing in the world that is sacred, that is inviolable, if this isn’t?

Now, is that what the Latin asks? I don’t think so. Again, “estne nihil sanctum?” asks not “isn’t anything sacred?” but “is nothing sacred?” It seems subtle, but there’s a world of a difference.

To get at the heart of the phrase and to keep the idiom close to what people expect in a translation (a task more difficult than you’d think, and the cause of most examples of bad Latin), I’ve worked out a better Latin version. Here are two possibilities, one Plautine (which I consider more colloquial, and more likely to have been spoken), the other more classical (i.e., more literary), though the differences are relatively minor:

Plautine: non quicquam sanctumst?
Classical: nonne quicquam sanctum est?

NB: We have ended our partnership with Zazzle. Please visit our new store, Classical Geek.
Is Nothing Sacred? shirt
Is Nothing Sacred? by thecampvs

So Plautus might write the first, and Cicero the second, but then again Cicero would just as likely write O tempora! O mores!, and if you read ahead you’ll see why.

Authority for the expression can be found in Plautus’ Trinummus, 1043, where the slave Stasimus complains of the effects of mores mali, which sounds something like the moral decline that every age sees in the mirror of its own distant past. The problem, as Stasimus sees it, is that custom (mos) trumps the law:

Neque istis quicquam lege sanctumst: leges mori serviunt, mores autem rapere properant qua sacrum qua publicum.

Nothing’s sacred legally by these (morals). Laws follow morality, but morals are rushing off to plunder all things sacred and public.

Stasimus feels that things that should be sacred aren’t treated so, that people lack respect and reverence, and in his moralizing speech he essentially asks in many words what many ask in just a few: “Is nothing sacred?”

Not according to the mores of the time. (O tempora! O mores!)

A note on the difference in the two forms: Plautus only rarely used nonne, and apparently only before vowels. Elsewhere he uses non by itself, or -ne with non elsewhere in the sentence. Prodelision (the loss of the initial vowel in est) is seen orthographically, i.e., sanctum est is written as pronounced: sanctumst.


Bad jewelry Latin

Bad Latin really tries my patience.

Bad Latin really tries my patience.

I love finding Latin in unexpected places.  That being said, it spoils the effect if the Latin is incorrect!  While shopping today I saw this Jessica Kagan Cushman bracelet, original price: $125.   It says: QUOSQUE TANDEM ABUTERE PATIENTIA NOSTRA?, which is nonsense.  She was trying to quote Cicero’s First Catilinarian, which begins: Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?, or (roughly) “How long will you abuse our patience, Catiline?  The bracelet’s “quosque” is meaningless in the context, since abutere takes the ablative.  I would suggest, Ms. Cushman, next time you quote a Latin phrase, that you double-check your source before production.


Bad movie Latin!

This is one is really, really bad. I was browsing around at some well-known blogs to see what sorts of useful things I might include here, and as I scanned the rather spartan Instapundit I came across this unfamiliar and baffling line in the sidebar:

Sic gorgiamus [sic] allos [sic] subjectatos nunc!

I knew that gorgiare was not a Latin verb, and that allos must be a mistake for alios (others).

The source is apparently the 1991 film adaptation of the Addams Family, and it serves as the family motto (you can see it in the script here), and the translation at least sounds like a motto: “We gladly feast upon those who would subdue us.”

If gorgio, gorgiare meant anything it would mean to speak gutturally, possibly to growl. (I found a reference to DuCange that suggests some authority for this meaning in Late Latin.) What’s really interesting, however, is the meaning of allus: it’s your foot thumb, better known as the big toe.

I feel that gorgiare should take indirect discourse, and so we should understand elision of esse with subiectatos. So what does it sort of mean?

“Thus do we growl that (our) big toes have, at this moment, been thrown up from below!”

Will Hollywood never learn to consult a proper Latinist?

I might suggest something like this: “Laeti vescimur nos subacturis.”


Bad comic Latin

This came through on one of the listservs:


This is some of the worst bad Latin we’ve seen.

“My infancy … because … my traveling money … I seek … O Romus! … ???”

Try something like this:


UPDATE: I’ve touched a nerve. Something calling itself “Psy” had this to say:

um…who the hell cares…it’s a comic…you know…HUMOR? Latin is called a dead language for a reason. Cause no one gives a ****.

You can guess what I’ve censored, and why I rejected the comment.

Psy, I like my humor to be humorous and literate when appropriate. Take a look at Monty Python’s Life of Brian for a good example of Latin humor.

But this careless mess could just as well have been done with a conquistador on horseback with this nonsense slogan stitched to his pack: “mi infancia porque gastos de viajes pedo Spain universidaded.” Oh, ho, ho! What merry fun we have!

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