April 28, 2007

Ab ovo usque ad mala

In English: From the egg all the way to the apples.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, which also featured an egg. But be careful: yesterday's proverb was about a malum ovum, a "bad egg," but today's proverb is about the ovum and the malum, Latin "apple," plural mala, "apples." The phrase ab ovo usque ad mala, "from egg to apples," is like the English saying, "from soup to nuts," meaning from the start of the meal to the finish. Metaphorically, it means from the start to the finish of anything in general, the whole thing.

By itself, the saying ab ovo, "from the egg," means from the beginning of something, right from the start.

The similar spelling of malus, "bad," and malus, "apple tree" (malum, "apple") can definitely cause some problems for Latin students! Even worse, there is also the word malus, meaning "ship's mast, pole."

Of course, English-speakers have no right to complain about such things. Every time I go into a car wash and see where it says "WAX AND POLISH," I wonder why they would ever want to give you a wax along with something from Poland! So, in English, we have "polish" (shine) and "Polish" (from Poland), just as Latin has malus and malus and malus. The technical term for this phenomenon is a "homograph," two words that are written the same way. A homograph may or may not be a homonym (a word pronounced the same way as another, although not necessarily spelled the same way - like English "to," "too" and "two").

English actually abounds in homographs, such as bow (and arrow) and bow (kneel), close (near) and close (shut), does (plural of doe) and does (what they do), dove (a bird) and dove (when you dive), lead (the chemical element) and lead (what a leader does), number (as in more numb) and number (for counting), sewer (for plumbing) and sewer (who makes dresses), tear (when you cry) and tear (when you rip something), wind (that blows) and wind (like winding a watch), and wound (after you wind something) and wound (hurt).

So, if you have learned to live with all these crazy-making English homographs, you can definitely learn to live with Latin malus (bad), malus (apple-tree) and malus (mast).

So, with apples in mind, here is today's proverb read out loud:

100. Ab ovo usque ad mala.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Latin Audio Proverbs blog to listen to the audio. You can also hear the saying ab ovo aloud at a Polish website: Wladyslawa Kopalinskiego Slownik wyraz?w obcych i zwrot?w obcojezycznych (weblink).
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LAMP said...

Ab ovo usque ad mala

Sounds more like, "from the seed all the way to the apple tree", using seed rather than egg, and apple tree rather than just apple.

Laura Gibbs said...

The apple TREE is a second declension noun:
malus - apple tree
mali - apple trees

So the accusative plural mala in the phrase ad mala means that it must be not malus, but malum, the word for the fruit of the apple tree.


Anonymous said...

IN my Latin 1 class we are ight now learing about different phrases and ab ovo usque ad mala was one of them..thanks 4 the helpful info. =]

Laura Gibbs said...

I am glad it was useful! I've got a website at LatinViaProverbs.com with the proverbs arranged in order, starting with just simple noun-only phrases, first declension only, then second declension and so on - if you are a beginning Latin student, I think you will be excited at how many phrases you can read right from the start! :-)

Anonymous said...

thanks again =) i am going to sjow my latin teacher this website

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Laura. I used this one in the title of a recent blog I wrote.

Laura Gibbs said...

Super! Thanks for your comment. Google is so cool, because by Googling a Latin proverb, especially one that is widely used, I can find my way to all kinds of interesting things - blog posts, images, and so on. Even if Latin is a dead language, the proverbs still serve a real purpose, I think! :-)