March 20, 2007

Cito maturum, cito putridum

In English: Quickly ripe, quickly rotten.

After the previous saying in praise of getting an early start on things, I thought it would be a good idea to include a proverb that warns of the dangers of being too hasty about things! I'm not sure if today's saying is really true of fruit (is a piece of fruit that is quickly ripe really quickly rotten?), but it is certainly true of many kinds of human endeavour, where something peaks quickly, and then falls off just as quickly. We all need to pace ourselves!

The Latin word maturus gives us the English word "mature," which we tend to use much more narrowly to refer to psychological and spiritual conditions rather than to physical ones, as when we praise someone for acting "maturely," i.e., wisely, prudently, and so on. There's also that great euphemism, of course, where pornography is considered "adult video" for "mature audiences," where mature does not have any of those positive connotations. Yet we also still use "mature" for some agricultural products, like wine or cheese that mature as part of their aging process.

In Latin, however, the word maturus was still strongly connected with the world of nature and agriculture, as you can see from today's saying. The translation "ripe" is entirely appropriate, given that "ripe" is a word still strongly associated with the world of agriculture, although we also apply this to the human sphere in that wonderful saying, "a ripe old age." Of course, English "ripe" can also mean "stinky," as in the Latin word putridus from today's saying, showing that there is a fine line indeed between maturus and putridus, given that the English word "ripe" encompasses both meanings!

The Latin maturus is commonly encountered in its adverbial form, mature, meaning "in season, at the right time, opportunely." Yet there is a secondary meaning of this adverb as well: "quickly, speedily, soon." In fact, this sense of "quickly, speedily, soon" can even start to mean "too quickly, too soon," so that the word mature can actually mean "untimely, prematurely." In other words, just as there is a fine line between ripe-nice and ripe-stinky in English, there is also a fine line between mature as quickly and too-quickly in Latin!

In sum, I think this conglomeration of sayings and metaphorical meanings all provide a good lesson for language learners: do not worry about being in a hurry when it comes to learning languages! Learning a language comes in time, and you cannot force it; trying to do it quickly may become a case of too-quickly. Soon ripe, soon rotten.

So, hoping you will take your time pondering your Latin language adventures today, here is today's proverb read out loud:

57. Cito maturum, cito putridum.

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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Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this post...actually looking for a word or phrase in Latin that would translate to our English term "coming of age" referencing the season of a young boy or girls "graduation" out of elementary school age for a new church ministry we are starting. Any suggestions?

Laura Gibbs said...

About coming of age, you might find some useful material here in the wikipedia article about the Roman festival called Liberalia.

You can find additional remarks about clothing and the toga virilis here: