September 25, 2006

Quam felix vita transit sine negotiis

In English: How happily life passes by without business to do.

I am posting this proverb in honor of the joys of the weekend... and as a lament for the work week that stretches from Monday through Friday. Sigh. My weekend passed very happily - and all too swiftly - without any job duties to occupy my time.

The Latin word for "business" here is negotium, as in the English words "negotiate" and also the phrase "negotiable currency." The etymology of the word in Latin is really nifty: negotium is a compound of the word nec, meaning "not," and otium, meaning "leisure." (the final "c," which is a voiceless consonant, turns into its voiced counterpart "g" because of the following vowel).

So, in Latin "business" is literally "not-leisure." In other words: not-weekend. This is an etymology that the Romans themselves were aware of, as a grammarian explains: "negotium, quod non sit otium," "[it's called] negotium because it's not otium."

Even though the Romans were an admittedly hard-working people, I like the fact that their word for "business" constantly reminded them of that blissful alternative: every time they said negotium there was a hint of leisure, of otium, reminding them of how nice the weekend can be!

So here is today's proverb read out loud - and listen for the otium there in the phrase sine negotiis:

2236. Quam felix vita transit sine negotiis.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...


precious leisure time

after intensive study sessions for the june examinations


tomas (Argentina)