Thursday, 6 November 2014

Latin as she is spoke

I don't, as I think I've said before (and probably at length), speak Latin. People believe that, as an archaeologist with some classical leanings that I ought to. Well I don't. Throw me a Roman inscription (well, pass me one with care so that I don't drop it and break a toe) and I'll make a passable stab at translating it, but that's a completely different ollam piscium. Inscriptions follow a set formula and they're (relatively) easy to disentangle and make sense of. Big swathes of Latin text: now that's far more tricky.

For some reason people confuse being a field archaeologist with being a classical scholar with a full understanding of all ancient languages. Usually that's not too much of a problem, for I can quickly (and privately) explain and diffuse the situation before anyone gets too embarrassed.

Not today, however.

No, today, in front of a (relatively) large crowd of students, ex students and parents, all gathered for a graduation ceremony, somebody innocently asked if anyone could possibly explain what the  university motto, emblazoned in ten-foot high golden letters above the main podium, actually meant. In the deafening silence that followed I could feel 54 pairs of eyes swivel slowly in my direction. I knew from experience that I couldn't get to the fire exit in time nor could I suddenly fall to the floor, feigning a no doubt very painful injury. These people knew I was an archaeologist; they knew that I dig Roman remains for a living.

The words were by this time glaring down at me contemptuously - daring me to make a translation: 

Discere Mutari Est  

I tried to look confident and cleared my throat:

"er....Carthage Must be Destroyed"

No one was all that convinced.


  1. To Learn is to Change - The Emperor's New Clothes

    1. Thank you, yes it has been pointed out to me that my (ahem) translation was slightly off and that the true meaning was a bit more academic (if rather vague - is all 'change' good?).

      I always liked the famous (apocryphal?) graffiti:

      “To be is to do”—Socrates.
      “To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
      “Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

      I think 'do be do be do' would make an excellent University motto, but I don't know how well it translates into Latin...

    2. If you want a pointless motto you can't beat the great pile of steaming do that is Coventry University's 'Excellence With Impact'. Not even saying it in a dead language can hide the fact that it's meaningless chud!

    3. U think that's funny try the University of Buckingham ALIS VOLANS PROPRILS - Flying on our own wings. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Seriously?

  2. I dread to get involved with strange university mottos.....far far too many of them out there. In the meantime, I'm taking my own corporate advice and going to Learn in the hope of Changing