January 25, 2007

Non ducor, duco.

In English: I am not led: I lead.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb: Tangor, non frangor, ab undis, "I am touched but not broken by the waves." That saying depended on two different passive verbs, tangor-frangor, while today's proverb depends on a play between the active duco and passive ducor.

As it happens, this saying is the motto of Sao Paulo, Brazil! You can see the Sao Paulo coat of arms at wikipedia, with the Latin saying clearly displayed. As often, the various visual elements of the coat of arms are also symbolic: the use of the color red symbolizes the blood poured out in defense of the city, while the arm wielding an axe shows the willingness of its citizens to fight in the city's defense. The cross on the banner flying from the axe is the cross of the Order of Christ, a Portuguese symbol, recalling the founding of the city by the Portuguese. Finally, there are coffee tree branches! That is because of the great importance of coffee for the city's economic well-being. You can see even see the little coffee berries on the branches if you look closely!

Probably the biggest problem in translating this saying into English is the nightmare spelling of the English verb: "I lead" (present active tense) versus "I am led" (passive). Since there is a perfectly respectable English word "lead," which is pronounced "led" - the metal used by plumbers, "lead" - it is extremely common for people to also spell the past tense and the passive forms of "lead" with the word "lead."

When people complain about how hard Latin is, they need to remember the years... literally: YEARS ... that they spent learning how to spell English words. Or, perhaps, the years they did not spend in learning to spell!

So, with no worries about English spelling, here is today's Latin proverb read out loud:

3030. Non ducor, duco.

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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10 comments:

Kyra said...

On Sao Paolo's coat of arms it says NON DVCOR DVCO. Any answer as to why there is a "V" instead of "U"? Would you happen to know why? I've taken a few years of latin.. but maybe that just wasn't in the syllabus.
Anyway, just curious. Great work!
- Kyra

Anonymous said...

"V" is the capital letter to "u". So NON DVCOR DVCO = Non ducor, duco. ;-)

Laura Gibbs said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody! There is a very useful article at wikipedia on the history of the letters "U" and "V" which are the "same" letter historically - as you can see from their similar shapes! (English "w" is also the same letter again, doubled, as you can tell from its name: double-u).
Letter "U" at wikipedia

nessa said...

my comment is this:
do i have to have a comma after "ducor"?
b/c i want this as a tattoo.
thanks.

Laura Gibbs said...

Hi Nessa, the comma is just there to help make the meaning more clear - but the Romans did not even have punctuation, so no comma is needed.

In fact, the Romans used no punctuation, and they only used capital letters - and for them, the letters u and v were the same! So, the ancient Roman version would be

NON DVCOR DVCO

:-)

Eric said...

Nice page, I was wondering if I changed it to Duco Non Ducor if the saying would be change to I lead I am not led. I like this better but want to check before I tattoo it on me forever. Thanks

Laura Gibbs said...

That sounds GREAT - I like the sound pattern that creates. Duco, Non Ducor definitely works.

Eric said...

Thanks Laura!

Josh Labaki said...

It's interesting that you posted this on a January 25th, which is São Paulo City's Birthday. hehheh On 2007, when you published this, it was the city's 453rd birthday. Was it just a coincidence or you did this on purpose? ;)

Laura Gibbs said...

Ha ha, only a coincidence, but a nice one! I guess the odds were 1 in 365!!! :-)