In English: A man of five letters: thief.
I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's post, where I mentioned some Latin word rebuses. Today's saying from Plautus is a word game that cannot be translated directly into English. The Latin says trium litterarum homo, "a man of three letters," and those letters, in Latin, are F-U-R, fur, the word for thief. In trying to render the saying in English, I opted for making the English version about a man of "five letters," T-H-I-E-F.
I have to confess to a personal predilection for these kinds of words games where you become suddenly self-aware of the word as a word, instead of or in addition to its meaning. For example, I love the little riddle in English, "What's round on both ends and high in the middle?" The answer is... OHIO.
Yes, I even like such riddles as "What word is usually spelled incorrectly?" The answer... "Incorrectly." Or this one: "From what word can you take the whole and still leave some?" The answer.... "Wholesome." Or: "How do you make 'one' disappear?" The answer... "Add a 'g' and it's gone."
There are similar kinds of riddles in Latin, too. For example, there is the riddling salutation: mitto tibi navem prora puppique carentem, "I send you a ship lacking stern and bow." The clue is Latin navem, the word for "ship." Take away the prow and the stern of the word, i.e., the first and last letters, and you are left with the traditional Latin salution, ave. This works for "ship" in English, too - take away stern and bow and you get "hi" (thanks to Mike Howard for that one!).
Here's another one! Ego sum principium mundi et finis saeculorum attamen non sum deus, "I am the beginning of the world and the end of the ages, but I am not God." What is the answer? The letter M. It is the beginning of the Latin world, mundi, the end of the Latin ages saeculorum.
Any other favorite riddles about words and letters and spellings? Please feel free to share them here in the comments section!
Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud:
320. Trium litterarum homo: fur.
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 this saying read aloud at a Polish website: Wladyslawa Kopalinskiego Slownik wyraz?w obcych i zwrot?w obcojezycznych (weblink).
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