May 16, 2007

Absque sanitate nemo felix

In English: Without good health, no one is happy.

Like yesterday's proverb, today's saying is based on the Latin nemo. The word I really want to focus on today, though, is sanitas, "health, good health, sanity."

As you can see, the Latin noun sanitas is based on the adjectival root, sanus, meaning "healthy." We have both the words "sanity" and "sane" in English, yet these have pretty much become limited to the field of mental health. When you say that someone is sane, you are referring to their soundness of mind, and if you say they are insane, they are suffering from some kind of mental problem, rather than any other form of ill health.

Yet the sense of "health" can be seen in other English words that ultimately derive from Latin sanus, such as "sanitary," "sanitize," and "sanatorium." These are all terms that pertain to general physical health, rather than mental health.

Originally, the word "sanity" conveyed the sense of good physical health in English, too. For example, Thomas Browne, writing in 1646, could say that "Therapeuticke or curative Physicke, we tearm that which restoreth the Patient unto sanity." The Oxford English Dictionary also provides 18th-century citations, such as this one: "A raging wind clears the country of all the Flies and Fleas it meets with, and restores sanity to the air."

As for the English meaning of "sanity" referring to mental health, it seems appropriate that the first citation provided by the OED is from Shakespeare's play devoted to that melancholy madman, Hamlet: "A happinesse, That often Madnesse hits on, Which Reason and Sanitie could not So prosperously be deliuer'd of."

In Latin, sanitas could also refer to mental health, of course, but it is very interesting how this has become pretty much the exclusive meaning of the word in English. I'm guessing that this has to do with the fact that the Germanic word "health" occupied the space devoted to physical healthiness in English, so the word "sanity" had to specialize if it wanted to play a vital part in English vocabulary.

So, hoping you are enjoying "sanity" in both its physical and mental varieties, here is today's proverb read out loud:

441. Absque sanitate nemo felix.

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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1 comment:

yoxx said...

thank you... ;)