December 14, 2006

Collecta dirige, electa age

Let's call this a "special edition" of Latin Audio Proverbs. This Latin saying, collecta dirige, electa age, is a Latin saying that I composed today at the request of one of my husband's colleagues. Curious? Here's the story!

Apparently there is a slogan in military circles: OODA, which stands for "observe - orient - decide - act." I was asked to render this into Latin, and since I have suggested in previous blog posts that people create their own Latin proverbs and mottoes, I thought I would quickly explain how I created this one.

First of all, I thought about the vocabulary. My goal in creating Latin sayings for modern use is to try to find Latin words that have a strong connection to existing English vocabulary, so that it's possible to make a meaningful connection to the word. In addition, it's important to use parallel vocabulary in order to promote some sound play in the resulting proverb.

The Latin verb observare has somewhat different connotations that English "observe" (it means something more like keeping watch over something, and is related to the same root in English "preserve," for example). So I thought about what we are doing when we observe, which is collecting information. So I decided on the Latin colligere, which gives us the English word "collect."

For "orient," I also had to avoid the Latin origin of this word. The Latin verb oriri means "rise" (and so the "Orient" is the land of the "rising sun"). We use the word "orient" (British "orientate") meaning to arrange, organize, set up in order. So for that I chose the Latin dirigere, meaning "to put in order, line up," which gives us the English word "direct."

English "decide" ultimately comes from a Latin word, decidere, but again that Latin word usually did not have the same meaning as "decide." Instead, I went with Latin eligere, "to choose, select," which is where we get the English word "elect."

For "act," the Latin word facere (as in the word "fact" or "factory") is a possibility, but so is agere (as in the word "act" itself!). I chose agere for reasons of sound play: agere is a good word to pair for dirigere.

So now I've got my four Latin words: colligere (collect), dirigere (order), eligere (choose), and agere (act). Now I need to decide how to put them together grammatically. The English suggests four imperatives in a row, or perhaps four infinitives. Latin, however, has many more possibilities, and in order to create the parallelism that is a hallmark of proverbs, I decide to go with a 2-2 structure, breaking the sequence into two pairs. Each pair can then contain a participle and an imperative. Here's how it came out: collecta dirige, electa age.

Literally, then, in English it means: "the-things-that-are-gathered, arrange them" (collecta dirige), "the-things-that-are-chosen, do them" (electa age).

I'm happy with how this came out, since there is a double pattern of sound play, with collecta-electa making one very nice pair, and dirige-age making another nice pair. Parallel structures and sound play are hallmarks of Latin proverbs, and I am glad to have found a way to render the "OODA" (observe - orient - decide - act) into a pseudo-proverb that really does sound like a Latin proverb, I think!

So here is the neo-proverb read out loud:

Collecta dirige, electa age.

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CoolCat said...

Wow! This is fascinating! I have invented a neo-proverb, too:
Latina nutrix Anglicis est.
Latin is the nurse/foster-mother of English.
Because English was originally a Germanic language, but it has so many Latinate words, it seems like proto-Germanic abandoned English, which was adopted by Latin.
I like personifying languages.

Laura Gibbs said...

Hi Aurelia, and you have caught the gender there exactly right: since nutrix is feminine, you would want to use latina (lingua), rather than sermo latinus - in proverbs like this, catching the gender is really important! So for feminine nouns you can say they are the nutrix, mater, soror, etc. of something else (MATER artium est NECESSITAS, for example) - but for masculine nouns you would say they are the magister, pater, frater, etc. (LABOR bonae famae PATER est, for example).

With Anglicis here, you have a dative plural "English people" (rather than Anglicae, English language) - "The Latin language is a nurse to the English people" - and I like that, too: it makes latina linguae into a kind of nanny surrounded by all her little English children, with the Latin language feeding and nourishing us (nutrix has the same root as English "nourish" and "nurse").

Making up new proverbs is a lot of fun. It is actually my favorite kind of Latin composition, because you can go slow and ponder each word and then when you are done you have a "thing," something that you can use in the future, since proverbs help you understand things and express your ideas in an important new way. Euge!!!

You are getting me really inspired to write this workbook over the summer with lessons and models for making up new proverbs. It's a project I have been thinking about a lot over the past year. People can even do that in the very first day of Latin class, since some mottoes are just a single word long. Even some of the most famous Latin mottoes, like the Marines' "Semper fi(delis)" are very simple grammatically, and you can use them as the basis for other mottoes: Semper Fortis could be a motto, or Semper Bonus (or Semper Bona for a woman!).