November 29, 2006

Via trita via tuta

In English: The well-worn way is the safe way.

In yesterday's proverb, we learned that innocence is one form of safe conduct. Today's proverb recommends another strategy for safety and security: follow the well-worn path.

In literal terms, this makes good sense. If you follow a path that many others have traveled, you can be confident that you will reach your destination. By going along a way that many others are traveling, you are more likely to find food and supplies along the way, bridges where you need to cross a river, and so on.

In metaphorical terms, by doing things the "tried and true" way, you can be confident about the outcome you will achieve. For example, for Thanksgiving last week, you probably relied on a traditional family recipe to end up with the best stuffing or the best cranberry relish. There are different ways to do things, but you can gain a real sense of security by doing something the traditional way.

At the same time, there is a strong impulse in our culture to reject traditional ways, to boldly go where no one has gone before, striking out on our own, taking risks, experimenting. Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken by is a poem that famously poses the choice between the well-traveled way and the road less traveled by.

You can see our preference for the road less traveled by in the fate of Latin tritus in the English language. The Latin word is a passive participle of the verb, terere, "to wear, wear down, rub," so tritus means "worn." Yet over time, the English word "trite" has taken on negative connotations, meaning something that has been "worn out," stripped of its meaning, emptied of importance. This meaning is also found in Latin, but in English, the word "trite" has come to have strictly negative connotations, without any neutral meaning, much less any positive connotations.

As someone who is very interested in traditional stories and sayings, I'm sad that our prejudice against the "trite" has contributed to the demise of so much of our folk tradition. Every time I publish a post about a Latin proverb in my blog, I am glad to be using a very modern "way" to try to keep some of the old ways alive in people's minds.

So, in praise of the "tried and true," here is today's proverb read out loud:

12. Via trita via tuta.

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

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Latin Audio Proverbs blog to listen to the audio. You can also hear this saying read aloud (in part: via trita) at a Polish website: Wladyslawa Kopalinskiego Slownik wyrazow obcych i zwrotw obcojezycznych (weblink).
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