October 15, 2006

In tenebris salto

In English: I take a leap in the shadows.

Roughly speaking, this Latin saying is something like the English saying, "a shot in the dark."

The English version is much more limited: "a shot in the dark" imagines someone standing in the dark, firing a weapon (a gun is what people would think of today, although it could be an arrow shot, of course). Metaphorically, it has come to mean taking a guess, especially a wild guess, something that has little likelihood of hitting the mark and being correct. This phrase has made it into the American Heritage Dictionary, which it is glossed as follows: "shot in the dark Informal 1. A wild unsubstantiated guess. 2. An attempt that has little chance of succeeding."

The Latin has a broader meaning. Instead of taking a shot, I "leap" in the dark. That "leap" can stand metaphorically for any kind of action. Here we are in the darkness, and we have two choices: to stand still, or to make our leap. I think the idea of making that leap in the darkness is a very optimistic one! So, the connotations of the Latin saying are rather different than the English. The English "shot in the dark" is just a potshot, with nothing heroic about it, but that Latin "leap in the dark" can be a feat of bravery, acting because you must act even though you cannot be sure of where you will end up there in the shadows.

There's a specific meaning of the Latin verb "saltare," meaning to dance. if you take this saying to refer specifically to dancing, then it is less inspiring: if you dance in the dark, you are more likely to step on your partner's feet or get the steps wrong yourself.

In my case, when it comes to dancing, I'm likely to step on my partner's feet whether the lights are on or not! So I prefer to take the Latin to refer to the more general sense of "leaping" rather than "dancing." I very much like the idea of taking that leap into the shadows, that plunge into the unknown.

And here is today's proverb read out loud:

1030. In tenebris salto.

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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