January 15, 2007

Dat verba in ventos

In English: He's pouring words out on the winds.

This is hard to translate into English exactly. The Latin says simply "he gives words," dat verba, which is not exactly an English idiom. So, be warned that the Latin does not say "pour" - that's just something I used in the English. Luckily the word-play of Latin verba-ventos comes through with the similar pairing of "words-winds" in English!

I picked this saying today because I thought it would be a good contrast to yesterday's proverb, Tua verba gerrae sunt, "Your words are fiddle-sticks." In other words, yesterday's proverb referred to a person who was talking but communicating nothing of substance. Today's saying refers to the opposite situation, when someone has something important to say, but he is not acccomplising anything by speaking. Instead of his words being heard by the audience, the words are instead simply poured forth onto the heedless winds and swept away.

You can find this phrase in Ovid's Amores, in a poem where the poor poet is shut outside the door of his lover's home. There is even a technical term for this type of poem in the Greco-Roman tradition: "paraklausithyron," the "standing-outside-the-door" poem. Usually this sort of poem is addressed to the door itself, but Ovid instead is speaking to the doorkeeper, the ianitor. So Ovid complains, Lentus es: an somnus, qui te male perdat, amantis / verba dat in ventos aure repulsa tua?, "You are slow - are are you asleep? A curse open you by the one who pours forth on the winds his lover's words, driven away as they are from your ears."

Another related idiom in Latin is dare verba ventis, "to give words to the winds," using the dative case, ventis, instead of the prepositional phrase in ventos. The poet Lucretius says, Tu fac ne ventis verba profundam, "It's up to you to make sure that I am not pouring forth my words to the winds." Indeed, that is a feeling every blogger, like every poet, knows well!

So, hoping there is somebody out there to listen to the words poured forth onto the digital winds, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1053. Dat verba in ventos.

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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