Tag Archives: Latin

Meaning Behind The Proverb “In The Land of The Blind, The One Eyed Man is King.”

Main Piece:

Original Text (Latin): “In regione caecorum rex est luscus.”

Translation: “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.” 

Meaning as told by my informant:

“It means that if everything is bad, and one thing is less bad, then it’s automatically the best. It plays on the idea of ‘best’ being a relative term. So literally speaking, someone who has sight in one eye can see more than someone who is blind. Therefore, he’s the best. He rules. In life, if you’re better than people at something, even if you’re not even good at it, you’ll be the best. It’s winning by default. If you were playing a game and the other team forfeited, your team won just because it didn’t quit. You didn’t do anything, but you still did more than the other kids.” 

Background: 

My informant is my mother, who grew up hearing this phrase and doesn’t remember learning it. When I asked her if she knew the saying’s origin, she said “it must’ve come somewhere with a king, so it’s probably European.” She likes the saying because it puts things in perspective: “Once you enter the real world, nothing is perfect. A lot of life is just getting things done the best you can. It’s not like in school where there are grades. Many times, the things that are best aren’t even very good. That can be very comforting or very concerning, depending on your belief system. I think it’s kind of beautiful.” 

Context: 

I am currently in quarantine at my informant/mother’s house, and this piece was collected while we were eating dinner at the kitchen table. 

Thoughts: 

I had always heard this saying in the context of someone getting something by default; they didn’t work hard for it, but they worked harder than others. However, after some research, I learned this specific phrasing is taken from an Erasmus quote in Latin that dates back to 1500, which is likely based off of a Hebrew excerpt from Genesis in the Old Testament “בשוק סמייא צווחין לעווירא סגי נהור”, which translates to “In the street of the blind, the one eyed man is called the Guiding Light.” Once I saw that this proverb is Biblical, it gave me a new perspective on my mother’s idea that it’s “kind of beautiful.” In the Bible, Jesus always says people are perfectly imperfect. While the English proverb in particular is competitive, it also shows that sometimes, even the best people aren’t perfect. I think this saying is a good example of how a proverb can change over time. Biblically, it means that we are all human, and we shouldn’t be so hard on each other. But today, it generally means someone wasn’t good, they were just better. While I don’t imagine myself using this proverb in its original context, it does give me a new appreciation for the saying itself. 

For more information on the proverb’s origin:

Wiktionary. “In-the-Land-of-the-Blind-the-One-Eyed-Man-Is-King.” 

“Slow water runs deep”

The Virgin Islands are a nest for proverbial sayings. Each one bears a specific lesson that is passed down from generation to generation. A very common saying in the nature island of Dominica is “Slow water runs deep”. This is usually a phrase spoken by elders in a Caribbean community.

H: My mother used to say “slow water runs deep”

The original language and script is in Latin: altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi.

The transliterated proverb (word by word translation): depth each rivers minimum sound

The fully translated proverb: the deepest rivers flow with the least sound

The informant learned it from her grandmother when she was very young in Dominica. She remembers it because it taught her a lot about how to choose her friends wisely when she was in her formative years. From the informant’s perspective, she feels this is very telling of how our environment can deceive us. Her interpretation is to “never expect good from something that is stagnant” (H). It is normally thought that quiet people are less interesting but on the contrary, they are the ones who listen and observe. While some people may be quick to say what they’re thinking or reveal information about their life, others may feel more inclined to stay reserved. These tend to be individuals with the deepest stories to tell. When breaking down the mechanics of the proverb, we can begin to understand the analogy. Water that runs quickly would be like rivers and streams. Still or “slow” water is like lakes. The slower the current, the more shallow the waters. When we’re in streams or rivers, we can see what’s below the water (rocks, fish, etc…) but when we’re in a lake there’s no telling what we might find. There’s far more mystery in still waters.

Rubor, Dolor, and Calor — Signs of Infection

Text

The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: My mother had a very specific way of checking her children for infections. She would always say to us: Rubor, dolor, and calor. Signs of inflammation.”

Collector: “What do they mean?”

Informant: “They translate to mean redness, pain, and heat. Basically you would check a cut or some injury to see if it was was, if it was giving off heat, and if it was tender. If it did, you would know it was infected.”

Context

            The Informant learned this phrase from her Irish mother, she claims it is just something her mother always said to the children. The Informant believes it to be a simple procedure of people to check for infection and inflammation for people who are not well equipped to handle any ailments. She remembers it because of the frequency of which her mother would mutter it when looking over the Informant’s injuries when she was young.

Interpretation

I loved this new piece. I had never heard of this before, but I was familiar enough with the signs of infection. I was intrigued so I looked up the origin of the phrase. The original definition of inflammation, set forward by Roman encyclopedist Celus in the 1st century A.D. The original definition also included the fourth sign, tumor, meaning swelling. I found it interesting that even though the signs are taken as canon for inflammation, when they are repeated, they are still said in their original Latin. Keeping the phrase in Latin might preserve its credibility in the eyes of some, everything sounds more official when said in Latin.

Latin Proverb – Postquam vinum, lac Fac testamento tuo

Content: Latin Proverb
“Postquam vinum, lac. Fac testamento tuo.”

Transliteration –
“After the wine, milk. Make your will.”

Translation –
“If after wine, you drink milk, make your last will and testament.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it from my father. He was quite the linguist. I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but the idea is that if you drink wine then milk, the milk will curdle in your stomach and you’ll feel very sick.”

Analysis:
Wine will curdle milk, so the proverb is factual. The fact that informant’s father told him the proverb in Latin heightens the humor. It’s a pretty silly, intentionally humorous quote and Latin is usually a very ostentatious language.

Octopodes

In the following, my informant details an interesting fact he has heard regarding the plural pronunciation of the word “Octopus.”

So in the English language, the most common form of, the plural form, of “Octopus,” is like “Octopi,” people say a lot, or like “Octopuses,” um, or like “Octopodes,” [Ahct- oh – podes]  is actually what people say all the time, but if you actually like linguistically study it, the word “Octopus” is a Greek word, and “Octopi” is a like Latin rooted term I guess, I don’t know I’m not a linguist, but so that doesn’t… it’s actually not correct: The actual form is “Octopodes” [Ahct- oh – podes] because that’s Greek, but if you really think about it, it’s not pronounced Octopodes, [Ahct- oh – podes] because it’s Greek it’s pronounced Octopodes, [Ahct – tahp – ode – eis] which is the coolest thing ever, so if you ever happen to see multiple Octopus, Octopodes, [Ahct – tahp – ode – eis] just bring it up to all your friends, because it is the best news they will ever hear.

My informant said that he heard this from a friend in his dance company, who in turn claimed to have read it on Facebook. Interestingly, the pronunciation of the plural form of Octopus, can be found in several places on line, such as http://www.infoplease.com/askeds/plural-octopus.html or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plural_form_of_words_ending_in_-us and is interesting insofar as the linguistics behind the Greek word Octopus have become something of a limerick/riddle in english. 

“Journey to The Underworld” — JCL Initiation Rites

The “Journey to The Underworld” was an event organized by the JCL (Junior Classical League) at my informant’s high school, where the freshman Latin students were forced to undergo certain initiation rites to cement their entrance into the club. My informant went through this process as a freshman and later, as club vice-president and upperclassman, even organized the event.

The rites were, of course, heavily influenced by Latin mythology and pieces of Latin folklore.  The upperclassmen had somehow procured a toilet a few years earlier, and they filled this up with all manners of things (clam chowder, peppers, raw eggs, soy milk, cottage cheese, etc.), changing it up every year to make it as disgusting as possible. They then made blindfolded freshmen root around in the mess in search for a quarter that they always “forgot” to put in the toilet bowl–the quarter an obvious allusion to the coin needed to cross the River Styx in the Underworld. The upperclassmen would then draw on the freshmen with felt tip markers, saying, “Cerberus is licking you!” referring, of course, to the three-headed dog that guards Hades. Throughout the entire event, freshmen were to be remained blindfolded and upperclassmen led them around, oftentimes in circles, pointing out various spots in the “underworld” to dramatic music and sudden bursts of screams. Although the rites changed from year to year, they were generally light-hearted and humorous, and even the freshmen were happy to go through the experience, seeing it as a way to bond as a club and get to know the other members.

Afterwards, they would hold a banquet and a bonding movie session, where the newly initiated freshmen would sit as one and the same with the other members, and interact with them essentially as equals. The food at the banquet, my informant said, was usually store-bought or home-made by the upperclassmen, in this way allowing the freshmen the privilege of being served by the same people who had scared them not an hour prior. Perhaps in this way they restored balance, and brought cohesion to the club as a group.

These rites served the purpose of something like an initiation; all the non-freshmen had gone through that event at one point in their club career, and so the freshmen weren’t fully members until they had endured the same–the same mentality that pervades fraternity and sorority culture. It was also a way for freshman to bond with each other, through shared experiences, and with the upperclassmen, whose enjoyment in the teasing and scaring had more to do with the hopeful anticipation of the coming class more than anything else.