March 07, 2007

Tempus est optimus iudex

In English: Time is the best judge.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, showing how proverbs can follow familiar patterns, allowing entirely different sayings to be generated from the same underlying model. Yesterday's saying was Fames optimus est coquus, "Hunger is the best cook." Today's saying obviously follows the same basic pattern: Tempus est optimus iudex, "Time is the best judge." You can make up all kinds of sayings based on the basic idea that "blank (is) the best blank." A fuller form of today's saying is Tempus est optimus iudex rerum omnium, "Time is the best judge of all things."

When I started to write this post tonight, I was going to say that the English equivalent to this sentence is "Time will tell" (one of my favorite English sayings), because I did not think that "Time is the best judge" had entered into widespread English usage. Yet when I Googled "Time is the best judge," a large number of pages showed up!

This proverb is a good example of the special effort it takes as an English-speaker to read through a Latin sentence using all the little Latin word-ending clues to help organize the sentence. As you start reading this sentence Tempus est looks pretty good, and then comes the word optimus. Even though both tempus and optimus end in -us, they come from totally different gender planets!

So as soon as you reach the word optimus you have to create a space in your head for a new noun phrase, a masculine noun phrase, nominative case. There is no way, no way at all, for tempus and optimus to be part of the same noun phrase. But that optimus looks kind of lonely. So far you've got only the adjective, so you could be dealing with "the best man" but you're probably waiting for a noun to go with the adjective. So, with that mental space ready to go, kind of hoping for a masculine noun, you move on to the next word: iudex - bingo! A masculine noun: just what you wanted!

A great example of my Latin reading philosophy, no matter what the Rolling Stones might say: you CAN always get what you want... when you read Latin!

So here is today's proverb read out loud:

185. Tempus est optimus iudex.

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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