Some of us like to throw in some Latin from time to time.

But, how good is your Latin? Take the test !

And … it woult help if we rote in corect Latin odderwaais it loocks laaik zees Engliesh.

So, and please forgive this didactic intermission, here is a minilesson based on errors noticed. I put the errors at the end (but don’t look at them for obvious pedagogical reasons).

Ab absurdo = from the absurd, senseless (not ad absurdo)
Ab initio = from the beginning, from the start (not ad initio)
Ad infinitum = to infinity, going on forever (not ad infinito)
Ad nauseam = to the point of vomiting, repeatedly (not ad nauseum)
Ad hominem = to the man, attacking the person instead of his ideas (not ad hominum)
Bona fide = in good faith (not bone fide)
Conditio sine qua non = condition without which not, essential (not conditia sine quanon)
Ex animo = from the heart, sincerely (not ex anima)
Incredibile dictu = incredible to say (not incredibile dicto)
In illo tempore = at that time, long ago (not in ille tempore)
In medias res = in the middle of things, after other things have taken place (not in media res)**
Modus vivendi = way of living, acceptable agreement so we can move on (not modus vivendo)
Non sequitur = it does not follow, a conclusion based on faulty logic (not non sequiter)
Prima facie = at first sight, not conclusive (not primo facie)
Reductio ad absurdum = reduction to absurdity, proving a statement by showing that the opposite is absurd (not reductio ad absurdo or ab absurdo).
Stricto sensu = in the strict sense (not strictu sensu)

But… why would we use Latin anyway? Except for some converts, Mormons don’t have Catholic nostalgia. Perhaps a rash of scholastic jargonitis? Or are Latin expressions helpful? Which ones do you like to use? Which ones would you like to add?

Vale, amici!

** The original version of this post showed this item in reverse. Shame on me! To avoid errors to be perpetuated if this list would be copied, it was corrected. But it explains some of the comments. Thanks to all!

64 comments for “Latin

  1. February 9, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    In media res = in the middle of things, after other things have taken place (not in medias res)”

    Are you certain about that, Wilfried? I didn’t receive an education in Latin, but I’ve seen “in medias res” perhaps 50 times for every time I’ve seen “in media res”. The Encylopedia Britannica, the American Heritage Dictionary, and several educational resources (see here for example) all say “in medias res” is correct. I won’t put it past them all to be wrong, but I’d like to know if there’s any grammatical ambiguity here, because if “in media res” is definitely correct, then (obsessive-compulsive that I am), I’ll have to change the name of my blog.

  2. February 9, 2005 at 12:12 pm

    E pluribus unum!

  3. February 9, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    Res ipsa loquitur

    Oh, my! The lawyer juices are starting to flow. Where’s Adam?

  4. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 12:16 pm

    Oh oh, In media res or In medias res… Where is the difference, if any?

  5. Kaimi
    February 9, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    If even the uncouth lawyers around here know a little Latin, then a fortiori, our learned linguist must know some as well.

  6. Bryce I
    February 9, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    ceteris paribus

  7. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    No panic, “in medias res” is correct, if taken as in + accusative = towards the middle things. Apologies for the confusion. Mea culpa!

  8. danithew
    February 9, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    The one all moviegoers knoew and love:

    Carpe diem


    as Robin Williams says in Mrs. Doubtfire (as he fishes dentures out of a glass): Carpe dentum

  9. Adam Greenwood
    February 9, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    “Except for some converts, Mormons don’t have Catholic nostalgia.”

    I cannot say rem acu tetigisti because you are dead wrong. Ecce me. But I can forgive you this minor lapse, since it’s you. Licet jovi non licet bovi.

  10. Bryce I
    February 9, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    igpay atinlay isway ymay avoritefay

  11. danithew
    February 9, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    Often when one starts throwing around latin phrases I start to feel a little uncomfortable … probably because I have to look these things up to be exactly sure what they mean. I looked up “latin phrases” with a google search and was surprised to see that some latin words/phrases are so commonly used I didn’t even know they were latin or feel any discomfort or insecurity when hearing them:

    plus, minus, percent, addendum, id, ego, subpoena, persona, genius, habitat, memento, per capita, post mortem, post partum, tabula rasa

    Some of these are obviously Latin but they feel like native English to me.

    I never new RIP was an acronym for requiescat en pace. I thought it was just plain “rest in peace.”

  12. danithew
    February 9, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    Of course I meant “I never knew” and not “I never new”. Heh.

  13. MDS
    February 9, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    “Except for some converts, Mormons don’t have Catholic nostalgia.”

    Another factor that may contribute is the strong music tradition within the church, and its bleedover into the public school system. I was exposed to much Catholic Latin in high school choir as a result of singing liturgical pieces. For me, that was my introduction to Latin, and I would bet that this is true of many others, depending on the relative sophisitication of the choral music program at any given school. I have colleagues whose children are enrolled in the Madeleine Choir School, and they get lots of Latin experience as a result.

  14. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    In which Mormon hymns do we sing Latin? Yes, we do…

  15. Adam Greenwood
    February 9, 2005 at 12:47 pm

    Also, for sufferers of Anglo-Catholic Fiction Disorder, not only is there nostalgia for the Catholic middle ages and all that, but there is also a nostalgia for the educated British world of yesteryear, in which Latin tags played no small part.

  16. Adam Greenwood
    February 9, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    May I note that it is incredibly silly to take Latin tags and try to change their case to fit their place in English sentences (Kaimi. I’m talking to you).

  17. Christian Cardall
    February 9, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    I’ve used several on the list, getting some right and a couple wrong!

    Perhaps a rash of scholastic jargonitis? Or are Latin expressions helpful?

    I think both of these are reasons that play into my usage. They can be as stylish as a well-placed “damn” or “hell” (when aiming at a colorfully intellectual as opposed to colorfully colloquial style). Also, they concisely convey certain standard concepts that would be more cumbersome to say in English.

    But the summum bonum of Mormons’ usage is a desire to emulate Joseph Smith :) , who seemed to use them occasionally in the Nauvoo period (this may have rubbed off on him from John C. Bennett, who loved to make a show of erudition)!

  18. Keith
    February 9, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    A friend of mine was teaching primary (would have been a class somewhere between five and eight year-olds). When the children were asked “Who is Jesus Christ,” one energetic boy (the son of the then chair of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature at BYU), leaped from his chair, with arms raised to the air in superman style and said “Jesus Christ . . . optimus maximus.”

  19. Jonathan Green
    February 9, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    Wilfried, how dare you ask “what is the difference, if any?” on a question of Latin grammar? Have you no sense of the sacred?

    In medias res is the only possible correct form, with the plural feminine accusative adjective medias modifying and in agreement with the plural feminine accusative noun res. So in medias res would be “into middle things.”

    In Latin, the preposition in can be either accusative or ablative, but res can only be construed as either a nominative or an accusative, so the ablative reading is out. As for media, it can be construed as an an accusative, but only in the neuter plural. There is no way for *in media res to be correct. Noun-adjective agreement, I tell you!

    Two notes:
    1. This shows how cool Latin is, because it lets me rant about grammatical case on a T&S thread.
    2. I actually hope I’m completely wrong on my explanation, so a lurking classicist can crawl out of the woodwork and correct me. If there’s one thing lacking here, it’s a good classicist.

  20. Kevin Barney
    February 9, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    1. I took the quiz, and although my Latin is rusty, I got 9 of 10 right. I whiffed on ante meridiem, and now I’m feeling like an idiot.

    2. In medias res is correct, not in media res. But I have to admit that I can never keep those two straight myself (although, having now gone through the exercise I’ll walk you through below, maybe it will stick better in my mind). I first learned the expression in the context of studying Vergil’s Aeneid, which like much epic begins *in medias res* “in the middle of things.”

    If you google this, you’ll see massive confusion on this score, with numerous occurrences of *in media res*. Why is that? I have a theory.

    First, in medias res is correct because it consists of the following:

    in [preposition]

    medias [feminine plural accusative of the adjective medius, which means “in the middle”, modifying]

    res [feminine plural accusative noun, “things”]

    My theory is that people come up with in media res because in English “middle” sounds more like a noun than an adjective, and so they want to think about the second Latin word as a noun, and “in the middle” would take the ablative case, not accusative. And *media* could be an ablative form (if the word were feminine).

    You could actually say it that way, but the substantive form of the adjective medius would be the neuter form, *medium* (which of course has come into English). So if you really wanted to say it that way, you would say *in medio rerum* “in the middle of things”

    in [preposition]

    medio [ablative of neuter substantive adjective medium]

    rerum [plural genitive of res]

    Ergo, *in medias res* is correct.

    3. Remember when the lead singer used to go by “Bono Vox,” corrupt Latin for “good voice”? Someone must have told him the cases didn’t agree, so he shortened it to just Bono.

  21. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    Admirabilis, Jonathan!
    You’re absolutely right that in medias res in correct. Mea maxima culpa.
    As to the ablative of res, well then we get into rebus…
    Now we need a classicist to explain us why the expression is not in the ablative instead of the accusative.

  22. Bryce I
    February 9, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    Quidquid latine dictum sit, profundum viditur

  23. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    Tu quoque, admirabilis, Kevine!
    (remember the vocative, we always missed out on that one)

  24. Kevin Barney
    February 9, 2005 at 1:31 pm

    The reason it is in the accusative is that “in the middle of” is all inherent in the adjective itself. As I explain in my prior post, in English this is counterintuitive and it *looks* as though it should be in the ablative, which I suspect accounts for the massive misunderstanding and use of *in media res*. (As I said, in the past I too have had a hard time keeping that straight.)

    On the plus side, Russell doesn’t have to change the name of his blog. (grin)

  25. Keith
    February 9, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    “Mormon hymns do we sing Latin? Yes, we do… ”

    A Christmas hymn comes to mind.

    And isn’t “Kolob” Latin? :)

  26. Kevin Barney
    February 9, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Wilfried, I’ll tell you briefly how it came to be that I majored in Latin (and minored in Greek) at BYU (I graduated in 1982).

    My first year at BYU I had no idea what I wanted to study, so I concentrated on GE requirements. Then I went on my mission to Colorado in 77-79. I became something of a Nibleyophile on my mission, and I had an idea that maybe I should major in history.

    After my mission, I worked for a few months moving a factory from one town to another. It was backbreaking work, long hours, and the times were recessionary. I thought, “I don’t want to end up doing *this* for the rest of my life!” So when I went back to BYU I decided to major in Economics, with the idea of going on to law school. And so my first semester back I took the basic economics classes, math, accounting, that sort of stuff.

    But I still needed an extra major skill for my GE, which I hoped to get out of the way that summer. I wanted to take Greek so that I could read the NT, a skill I had come to admire on my mission. But my father, who was a professor of education, convinced me to take Latin instead, reasoning that if I liked it I could always take Greek later.

    So I signed up for the accelerated Latin course, which was doubly accelerated since it was in Spring term. I really struggled at first, because it seemed as though everyone in the class was an RM fluent in French or some other romance language, and all I had had was a semester of Spanish in high school. The professor kept talking about genitive this and genitive that, and I had no idea what he was talking about.

    But I rolled up my sleeves and went to work, and kept at it. By the end of the class I got one of the highest grades.

    Then, summer term, I took the next class, in which we would begin to read Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic Wars. The textbook was published by Oxford, all in Latin, with not a lick of English anywhere. And I was hooked. I thought it was so cool to read Caesar’s actual words, and not someone else’s representation of what he said.

    So I changed my program to classics (Latin and Greek). For awhile I was going to go on and do a PhD, but then my daughter was born, and it was the recession, and so I chickened out and went to law school. But I wouldn’t trade my undergraduate education in classics for anything in the world, and it has actually opened a lot of doors for me. I probably got my first job out of law school in part because of my classics background (the senior partner had studied classics in college and belonged to the classics honor society I belonged to, and was Greek to boot). In a stack of resumes of political science majors, a classics background really sticks out.

  27. Nate Oman
    February 9, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    Don’t forget the Appendix A to Black’s Law Dictionary that provides 85 pages of Latin maxims ranging from:

    Ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia. (“A conclusion about the use of a thing from its abuse is invalid”)


    Vox emissa volat; litera scripta manet (“The uttered voice flies; the written letter remains”)

    It includes such gems as:

    Rex non potest peccare. (“The king can do no wrong”)

    and the counter

    Legis constructio non facit injuriam. (“The construction of law does not do wrong.”)

    As well as such bits of wisdom as:

    Aqua currit et debet currere ut currere solebat. (“Water runs and ought to run as it was wont to run.”)

    As well as the feminist favorite:

    Vir et usor censentur in lege una persona. (“Husband and wife are considered one persson in law.”)

    and my all-time favorite:

    A piratis et latroninbus capta dominium non mutant. (“Things captured by pirates or robbers do not change ownership.”)

  28. Nate Oman
    February 9, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    uxor not usor. apologies.

  29. Kaimi
    February 9, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    “Some of us like to throw in some Latin from time to time.”

    Exactly, Wilfried — Latin has been creeping, sub silentio, into our blogging lexicon.

  30. Kaimi
    February 9, 2005 at 1:56 pm


    I must protest your ad hominem critique. Let me ask, are you just bugged by the ad hoc nature of my prior comment, or is your objection to my comment’s lack of gravitas?

  31. Kevin Barney
    February 9, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    Nate, I can’t vouch for the truth of this story, but my civil procedure professor when I was a 1L told us that a few years before a male student had gone streaking through one of the big lecture halls while a class was in session, wearing nothing but a ski mask and tennis shoes.

    As the streaker ran out of the room, the professor calmly picked up the chalk (I know, I’m showing my age!) and wrote on the board: “De minimis lex non curat.”

    [Which of course means something like “the law is not concerned with trifles (literally “the smallest things”)]

  32. Nate Oman
    February 9, 2005 at 2:10 pm

    Kevin, consider the following ditty that appeared in the most recent issue of the Greenbag:

    An unfortunate fellow named Rex
    Had dimmunitive organs of sex
    When charged with exposure
    He replied with composure
    De minimis non curat lex

  33. February 9, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    Sorry to say, but this is a lame excuse for a T&S posting. It’s great fun for all the lawyers, but the “Mormons don’t have Catholic nostalgia” doesn’t seem to be enough of a bridge. Hence, the reason I am continually reading less and less of this blog and more and more of other ones.

  34. Jonathan Green
    February 9, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    Hah, Kevin, beat you by six minutes! I always seem to lose the bibliographical trivia hunts, so I might as well win a grammatical one. Plus it’s nice to see that we already have a classicist around here.

  35. February 9, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    Rusty’s right — pay more attention to your readership. After all, vox populi, vox dei

  36. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 2:50 pm

    Sorry for the topic, Rusty! But… I noticed that on T&S some (and certainly not only lawyers) use Latin expressions, which tend to degenerate sometimes. So, for the sake of correctness… And you noticed how needed it is.

    But there is more to Latin than Catholic nostalgia. Latin was the intermediate language for large parts of Scriptures coming from Hebrew and Greek. And therefore the source of many interesting considerations in relation to correct meaning.

    As Joseph Smith said in the King Follet Sermon (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 302-317)

    “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years. It tells about Jacobus, the son of Zebedee. It means Jacob. In the English New Testament it is translated James. Now, if Jacob had the keys, you might talk about James through all eternity and never get the keys. In the 21st. of the fourth chapter of Matthew, my old German edition gives the word Jacob instead of James.

    The doctors (I mean doctors of law, not physic) say, “If you preach anything not according to the Bible, we will cry treason.” How can we escape the damnation of hell, except God be with us and reveal to us? Men bind us with chains. The Latin says Jacobus, which means Jacob; the Hebrew says Jacob, the Greek says Jacob and the German says Jacob, here we have the testimony of four against one. I thank God that I have got this old book; but I thank him more for the gift of the Holy Ghost. (…) I have now preached a little Latin, a little Hebrew, Greek, and German; and I have fulfilled all.”

    And Latin sometimes comes at the rescue in our apologetics

  37. Dan Richards
    February 9, 2005 at 2:51 pm


    illegitimi non carborundum

  38. Kevin Barney
    February 9, 2005 at 3:01 pm

    There is an article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, written by Stephen Robinson (you can find the article by going to the author’s index), in which he is talking about how Mormons believe in the concept of a “fortunate fall.” He then gives the term for this as *mea culpa*. But this is a goof; mea culpa means something like “my mistake”; what he meant to write is *felix culpa*.

    So even in a peer reviewed print publication, Wilfried’s observation as to the corruption of Latin expressions is borne out.

  39. Kevin Barney
    February 9, 2005 at 3:07 pm

    There are all sorts of ways in which Latin is relevant to Mormonism. Consider my surprise when reading Horace and coming upon the word *lucifer* “lightbringer” (a Latin expression for Venus, the Morning Star); when one studies why Jerome used the word Lucifer in his translation of Isaiah (which comes into the KJV), this all of a sudden makes sense.

    Here is a note I recently wrote for another list on the etymology of that word we Mormons love so much, “testimony”:

    I always thought that “testimony” was derived from Latin *testis* “testicle,” which came from the practice of swearing by that which is most sacred to a man, his power of conceiving life. (Cf. Genesis, where Abraham makes Eliezer swear to him by putting his hand on his thigh, either because it is close to his genitalia, or thigh standing as a euphemism for the genitalia themselves–note, the JST in a further euphemizing change emended “thigh” to “hand,” sort of a cultural translation to a shaking of hands concept.) I have to admit that I got a kick out of the idea that Mormons would be terribly scandalized if they realized the origins of their “testimony” meetings.

    While still possible, it now seems to me that that etymology is not correct. The words are still related, but in a different way than I had supposed. The Latin word *testis* “witness” derives from Indo-European roots *tre-* “three” and *sta-* “to stand,” because a witness was a “third person standing by” in litigation (the plaintiff and defendant being the first two). So *testis* means “witness,” *testimonium* means “evidence,” *testificare* means “to bear witness,” *testari* means “to be a witness,” and *testament* means “covenant.”

    Now, it is true that *testis* also bore the meaning “testicle.” Our Engl. word derives from the Latin diminutive form *testiculus*, about the 14th century. How did that come about?

    Well, a word for “witness” in Greek was *parastates*, lit. “one who stands alongside.” As it so happens, when used in the dual number (many languages in addition to a singular and a plural number have a dual, usually used for things that normally come in pairs, like hands and feet) that word meant “testicles,” apparently from the sense of two glands standing alongside each other. It appears that *both* senses of the word (the original sense of “witness” and the developed sense of “testicles”) were represented in Latin by the same word, *testis*.

    So, while our “testimony” meeting is indeed related to the word testes, it is probably in a less direct way than I once supposed.

  40. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    Yes, indeed, Latin is important to understand some aspects of Mormonism. For example, the need for the Inspired Version of the Scriptures. The preface to the first edition details quite a few sources to show the problems of translation with the passage through Latin.

  41. February 9, 2005 at 3:30 pm

    I’m not suggesting Latin isn’t relevant to Mormonism. But that’s not what this post is really about. It’s about correcting everyone else’s Latin, which I still consider to be lame. But it’s probably because my vocabulary includes few (none) of the regularly used phrases that you’re correcting. I attribute this to the fact that I have never studied law, but admit it’s mostly because I’m dumb.

    So in response to Dan’s illegitimi non carborundum remark, imagine me saying “That’s funny!” in Latin.

  42. February 9, 2005 at 3:38 pm


    Some of the people here studied Latin as part of their graduate (NON-LAW) studies. We do have some bona fide historical linguists (and those who purport to be by having completed a lesser graduate degree) here who probably learned Latin as part of their quest to understand the history and development of language.

    And “legal latin” ain’t.

  43. Wilfried
    February 9, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    Rusty, we appreciate your participation! Indeed, the purpose of the post was to draw the attention to the fact that our use of Latin is far from perfect… But, since Latin is being used a lot in expressions, also on T&S, we can as well learn to improve.

    With a little irony in the introductory questions: Why would we use Latin anyway? Perhaps a rash of scholastic jargonitis? As Bryce I. said: Quidquid latine dictum sit, profundum viditur. Whatever is said in Latin appears profound…

  44. Bill
    February 9, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    As was hinted above, the beginning of the Gloria appears in the hymn, Angels we have heard on high. In Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains, we have the continuation (et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis) but in translation which, while it follows the King James, isn’t really what the latin says (“peace on earth, good will to men” vs. “and on earth peace to men of good will”)

  45. February 9, 2005 at 4:30 pm

    Wilfried, you are very sweet. And for that I wish to retract me calling your post lame. Like I said, it’s probably more of a “me” problem than T&S. I am just increasingly finding myself unable to relate to anything here anymore (which could be attributed to what Bryce I said). No biggie. I’m sorry to derail your initial momentum of this post.

    It’s also ironic that since I made my original comment I’ve followed this “lame” post closer than any other one on T&S in a long time. :)

  46. Kevin Barney
    February 9, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    Bill, here is a little web article I wrote once that explains the difference in the translation you mention in post 44:

    Footnotes: Good will toward men

    Many a Christmas card or carol contains the words of the angels from KJV Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Virtually all modern translations offer a different rendering, however. Consider, for instance, the following:

    RSV and NASB: “and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

    NIV: “and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

    NET: “and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”

    Why the difference? Which rendering most likely reflects the original?

    Let us begin by considering the structure of the song. In the modern versions (which I will represent here with the RSV) the angelic hymn is a couplet:

    Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!

    The parallel elements are glory//peace, God//men and highest [heaven]//earth, although the second line is longer than the first due to the words “with whom he is pleased.” This structure can be symbolically represented as follows:


    Note the partial chiasm effected by the reversal of the A and C elements:

    in the highest
    on earth

    In contrast, the structure of the KJV puts the song in three lines, as follows:

    Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace,
    good will toward men.

    Symbolically, this can be represented as


    This structure breaks up the parallelism and is really based on the anchoring presence of a nominative noun (see below), designated A, in each line. The knowledge of parallelism waned over time, until eventually it was lost and had to be rediscovered. It would certainly be odd if the original song were incomplete in its parallelism and then restored to completeness by later scribes.

    Textually, the difference between these two renderings hangs on a single letter (and a small one at that). In English we represent the function of nouns in a sentence by word order and prepositions. But in Greek, nouns were “declined” into “cases” that defined their function; therefore word order was much less significant. The four principal cases in Greek (ignoring for this purpose the vocative) were the nominative (what we call in English the subjective), which served as the subject of a verb; the accusative (what we call the objective), which served as the object of a verb; the genitive, which we represent in English with “of” or “‘s”; and the dative, which we represent with “to/for.” The word “good will” in the KJV is the nominative form eudokia; in the other translations it is the genitive form eudokias, meaning “of good will.” With such a small difference between the two forms of text, it is certainly possible that the variation arose accidentally. But this possibility does not necessarily answer which form was original and which the likely variant; the change could have gone in either direction.

    When we look at the substance of the two versions, it seems apparent that the genitive is what textual critics call the lectio difficilior, or “more difficult reading.” At least Metzger sees it that way, and since I prefer the KJV rendering as a sentiment I must say that I agree with him. What we Latter-day Saints sometimes fail to realize is that scribes generally tried to smooth out difficult readings rather than intentionally create them. Thus, to the extent that the change either arose intentionally or arose accidentally but was sustained intentionally, the probabilities favor the modern rendering as the earlier one.

    In the abstract this would be a weak argument. But we need not rely on this argument alone; the textual evidence strongly favors the genitive, which is attested both widely and early, over the nominative, which is found mostly in the late Byzantine manuscript tradition.

    Once we decide that the text read “peace on earth to men of good will” rather than “good will toward men,” we next have to ask what those words mean. “Men of good will” could be a reference to those who are an object of esteem by their fellows, as it was taken in the Syriac. Or, it could refer to men who have good will towards their fellow humans, which is the traditional Catholic position. Most scholars today, based on the Semitic background to this usage (in particular the use of the Hebrew retson in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the way that word was interpreted in the Septuagint), see the word good will here as referring not to men having good will towards one another, but the favor or good pleasure God has towards men.

    If we follow the majority view, the implication is that God’s pleasure did not extend to all people (the term “men” here should be understand generically of humankind). Why not? This becomes a theological question that we cannot answer based on the text itself. The most common reading (apparently deriving from the lack of an answer in the text itself) is that God’s favor is just a matter of his inscrutable predilection; there is no reason for it, at least not in human terms that we could understand. This sounds very much like Calvinist election. Evangelicals would argue that the elect are those that have accepted Jesus and been born again. Perhaps. Mormons generally do not face the issue, since it does not arise in the KJV; presumably they would see God’s favor as falling upon the righteous and those that keep his commandments. Dummelow makes an interesting suggestion; he reads this as a reference to all men who happened to be alive at the time Jesus was born. That is, those were favored by God to participate in this important event (rather like our Saturday’s Warrior ethic that posits certain elect spirits have been preserved to come forth in these last days).

    Although I think the modern translations probably capture the original sentiment of the canticle, I must confess that I prefer the universalism that was created by the scribes and found its way into the KJV. There is a strong strand of universalism in Mormonism, perhaps reflecting the influence of the universalist beliefs of the Prophet Joseph’s paternal grandfather, Asael Smith. I cannot help but wonder whether, had the KJV read as the modern translations do, the JST would have emended the text to read something like the KJV does today. I still envision the angels singing

    Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace,
    good will toward men.

  47. Bill
    February 9, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks, Kevin

    I was hoping someone would share some more knowledge on the subject. I prefer the sentiment and language of the King James too.

  48. Julie in Austin
    February 9, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    Latin just might make its comeback among classically educated homeschoolers.

    My 6yo figured out how to put two Latin words together and said, “vale magistra” and then . . .

    . . . he left.

  49. Mark B.
    February 10, 2005 at 10:08 am

    Kyrie eleison.

  50. Wilfried
    February 10, 2005 at 10:11 am

    Appreciate the input, Mark! But that one, as you probably know, is Greek, though we heard it so much in the Latin mass it started to sound Latin.

    By the way, we lost a number of comments, on this and other threads since last night. I presume server problems.

  51. February 10, 2005 at 10:27 am

    Wilfried: “I presume server problems”

    Hah! You’re new around here, and doubtlessly unacquainted with the heavy handed administration. Last night was of course one of T&S’ many anti-left pogroms where liberal thought is deleted and burned in e-effigy!

  52. Mark Martin
    February 10, 2005 at 11:19 am

    I’ll repost a lost thought and see whether it’s liberal enought to get deleted a 2nd time. :)

    Gotta love silly little multiple choice quizzes! My self esteem is inflated, due to scoring 7 out of 10 on the Latin quiz. That’s pretty close to Kevin’s 9/10, and he has a degree in the Classics (Latin/Greek). I haven’t studied a lick of Latin! (Does Kevin have editing acess, one wonders?) Of course, my self esteem will soon be deflated to its natural level when you folks keep throwing around Latin phrases and I’m clueless.

  53. Bryce I
    February 10, 2005 at 11:28 am

    What, is the Steve Evans comment filter broken? How did #51 get through?

  54. Kevin Barney
    February 10, 2005 at 11:31 am

    Hi, Mark, I saw your comment before it mysteriously disappeared. (T’wasn’t me, I swear!) If you never studied Latin but got 7 of 10 on the quiz, I think you should be quite pleased.

    When I got married it was at the end of the summer that I first started taking Latin, so I made up a little Latin saying for our wedding announcement. As I recall, it was something like:

    Amor obsignatus in domu Domini aeternus est.

    Love is eternal when it is sealed in the House of the Lord.

    Also, for a while I kept my journal in Latin, until I decided that was too hard and went back to English. But I was still doing that when my daughter was born, and I recall composing a Latin poem in her honor for my journal on the occasion of her birth.

  55. Mark Martin
    February 10, 2005 at 11:42 am

    Okay, Kevin, I’ll share my secret. Knowing Spanish helped me make educated guesses when choosing between 3 options on each quiz question.

  56. MDS
    February 10, 2005 at 11:50 am

    I got 9 out of 10, with no formal Latin training. My Latin experience consists solely of law school and choral music. (I was hoping that “Ecce Ancilla Domini” or something like it would appear on the quiz) I’m not going to complain about 9 out of 10, although this implies to me that the test wasn’t really very hard.

    The most useful Latin phrase for my legal career has been “expressio unius est exclusio alterius.” It has won me many a contract interpretation case.

    The Latin word that bugged me the most in law school was “qua.” My Con-law professor, who was in all other respects a phenomenal teacher, just couldn’t help using qua in at least 4-5 sentences per class. It made him sound like a crow: “qua, qua, qua.”

  57. Bill
    February 10, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    I could also do without the overuse in scholarly writing of “mutatis mutandis”, “primus inter pares”, and, worst of all, “pace.”

  58. Wilfried
    February 10, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    In a few recent comments on other threads I noticed the use of a link to explain a Latin expression. That seems a nice way to clarify the meaning for those unfamiliar with a Latin idiom, and it has pedagogical merit. After all, quite a few Latin idioms belong to our cultural corpus.

    Helpful ressources are all over the internet. Here is one and here.

  59. David King Landrith
    February 13, 2005 at 1:33 am

    Nobody here has mentioned a Latin phrase that is of great historical importance to the United States for at least two reasons: Sic Semper Tyarus, meaning “Thus always to tyrants.”

  60. Wilfried
    February 13, 2005 at 10:08 am

    DKL, it’s “Sic Semper Tyrannis”.
    I couldn’t resist correcting!

    But thanks for pointing it out! Here is some more for those who want the background.

  61. David King Landrith
    February 13, 2005 at 10:14 am

    Thanks for the correction. I had meant to type Sic Semper Tyranus, which is phonetically closer, but wrong still. Can anyone recommend a good Latin spell checker?

  62. Jonathan Green
    February 13, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    DKL, there’s a program called “Words” ( that will run in a DOS box. You type a Latin word, it parses it for you. One of the greatest bits of software ever created. Best of all, it’s free. “Words” is for me what the Obliviate spell is for Gilderoy Lockhart.

  63. Nate Oman
    February 22, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Spekaing of Latin: In doing some research, I just came across the following gem from Arthur Cobin (one of the two great treatise writers on the law of contracts):

    “In spite of the long tradition that ‘justice’ is absolute and eternal, the tradition has always been incorrect. Fiat justitia ruat coelum is a phrase impressive mainly because of its being in Latin and not understandable. When the skies begin to fall, Justice removes the blindfold from her eyes and tilts the scales.”

    And there you have, in a nutshell, the movement of American jurisprudence from natural law and formalism to pragmatism and functionalism.

  64. john fowles
    March 3, 2005 at 6:50 pm

    Beautiful, Nate (# 63). Just today, I thought of this thread because, in researching an extremely important rule of law that could change the course of life for all of us (sorry, just a sarcastic bite at my own job), I came across the smoking-gun case that I was hoping for: Haddock v. Salt Lake City, 65 P. 491 (Utah 1901). (Practicing law in Utah is great because, due to the lack of developed caselaw, occasionally you still find yourself in a position where you actually need to cite cases from the 1800s or early 1900s.)

    This case is great for two reasons: (1) the entire majority opinion is one absurdly long paragraph; (2) the majority opinion contains no less than five Latin maxims as the rules of law on which the decision is based (without translation). Thus, I scrambled for my Black’s Law Dictionary–whose Latin appendix provided me much entertainment as a law student when, before I was engaged in the bloggernacle, I was desperately looking for anything I could possible waste my time with besides actually studying for exams–and looked up these rules of law, hoping all the while that my opponent wouldn’t have access to this appendix.

    From the case, a logical argument:

    1. “This rule is expressed in the maxim, ‘Ex turpi causa oritur actio.'” [=no action arises out of a wrongful consideration];
    2. “The principle of public policy is this: ‘Ex dolo malo non oritur actio.'” [=an action does not arise from a fraud]; ergo
    3. “[. . .] where both are equally in fault, ‘Potior est conditio defendentis.'” [=stronger is the condition of the defendant]

    So, naturally, my side wins!

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