Here at Igloo U., we want to be internationally recognized for excellence in some crap or other. And one thing we’re keen on demonstrating is our relevance to those skin-flinty taxpayers who resent the high life us academics enjoy at their expense. I remember that some semi-literate father of one of the Young Keyserlings once had a “column” in the local community rag and he wrote about us academics that we were “grossly overpaid and outrageously underworked” (or perhaps the adverbs went the other way around). At the time, I remember thinking, “How the fuck does he know what I get paid, what it’s worth, or how much I work?” For some reason, people who have not the least idea what an academic actually does think they know all about it. Truth be told, I think I work a lot hard and a lot longer hours than most “regular” people, and from my experience of work in the “real world”, I’d say claims of how much people work there are grossly overrated. At any rate, most of what I saw was people wasting a lot of time doing things that could be done a lot quicker and more efficiently if the people involved used their brains. “Face time” is outrageously overpaid and grossly overvalue a lot of the time, if you ask me.
Anyway, enough of recriminations, and back to the topic at hand, namely “relevance”. As you all know, your buddy Keyser has a degree in Late Medieval Scholasticism (with a minor in Biological Anthropology because the classes were mainly full of nubile babes) from good old Medio-Oriental Hungary State U. (Debrecen), and went on to get an advanced degree in Daemonology (with a speciality in Witchcraft, because that’s were all the nubile babes are) from Harvard. So, conjuring up daemons to help with Latin composition is one of Keyser’s fortes, and this can come in handy with helping out the local constabulary. Seems they not infrequently need Latin mottos for heraldic purposes, and sometimes they enlist Keyser’s assistance. (Just to be clear, it’s just the texts that I provide. The design is all theirs.)
Here’s one example:
That one’s for the Domestic Violence Service of the police department here in Hoth, City of Ice. The motto is simply “investigate, protect, assist”. Sounds better in the Latin!
Here’s another one from a few years ago. This one’s for the provincial Forest Fire Watcher’s Squad (or something like that).
The motto is “vigilant and careful”, though the implication is something like “diligent in vigilance”. Again, sounds better in the Latin, which is the point.
You might think that it’s easy to come up with a motto, but it’s actually not at all straightforward. The folks often say, “We want to translate X into Latin,” X being some sort of buzz word or trendy expression in English. So you have to say, “Well, actually that can’t be said in Latin.” Sometimes, the next step is to ask what they really mean by their English phrase. Or sometimes, it’s clear enough what the general sense is, so you come back with, “Okay, how’s about this…”
Sometimes, people try to do it themselves. They stick their expression in “Babel Fish” or whatever, and it comes back with drivel. Or sometimes you can find a site that provides information on “how do you say, ‘you rock, dude’ in any language?”. I dunno about the Khmer expressions they give, but the Latin is often pretty dubious. Here at Igloo U., the local office that welcomes foreign students wanted the phrase “bon voyage” in lots of languages, so they asked me about “bonum cursum”, which you can find all over the interwebz. I dunno where it came from originally, but it seems to be a pretty ham-fisted way of translating the French phrase (i.e, “[I wish you] a good journey”) mechanically into other languages. At any rate, the Latin is the accusative of “good course (or running)”, which is not in the least bit idiomatic Latin. As it turns out, good ways of expressing the desired sense in Latin are “feliciter” (“successfully”, as in “may you complete your journey” that way) or “pede dextro” (“with the right foot”, which was an injunction about how to start a journey auspiciously). I suggested both to them, explaining what they mean, and they picked one (the latter I think).
Here are two diastrous examples of DIYS Latin.
The origin of the design is clear enough. The Latin is supposed to mean “trust the dog”. But the verb in question takes the dative case, so it should be “cani”, not “canem” (accusative). So, the general sense is clear enough, but the Latin is defective.
This one’s far worse:
The Latin is supposed to mean “We speak for the silent”, but it’s actually “we I-speak for silence”. Somebody apparently looked up the relevant words in a dictionary and slung them together without any regard for (or presumably knowledge of) Latin grammar (and got the last word wrong into the bargain). I won’t embarrass the people whose shield this is, but it actually involves trying to speak for the dead (in the way that Grisham claims to on CSI). Well, it’s a little bit ironic if you claim to speak for the dead when the words you use to express that concept are basically gibberish!
So, one of Keyser’s little functions in life is making sure that if people use Latin in their mottos, the words would express the meaning elegantly and (more importantly) grammatically.
So, how’s that for “community service” for you, Igloo U.?
Posted February 3, 2012 by Keyser Söze under Be All You Can Be, Demonology, Dogs, Education, Hard Way to Make a Living, Harvard, How Dumb Can You Be?, Keyser, Keyser man of Mystery, Keyser's Pleasures, Language, Obsessions, office equipment, Oral Hygiene, Show Off, Snobbery, Some People Never Learn