May 01, 2007

Ex labore dulcedo

In English: From labor, sweetness.

I thought I would post this proverb today, in honor of May Day, International Worker's Day. Today's saying is the motto of the city Americana in Sao Paulo, Brazil. You can see a nice image of the city's shield on this page, with the Latin motto clearly visible.

I'll also confess that Latin dulcedo is one of my favorite Latin words, because I really like this suffix -edo which is used to form the word, based on the root dulc- as seen in the Latin adjective dulcis, meaning "sweet." There are not too many Latin words with this suffix, but now that Perseus is back online again (glory hallelujah!), I'm able to quickly write up a list of other words formed in this way:

albedo: whiteness
nigredo: blackness
rubedo: redness
livedo: blueness, lividness
frigedo: coldness
gravedo: heaviness, used especially for bodily heaviness - including the heavy-headedness of a hangover, and the heaviness of pregnancy
salsedo: saltiness
pinguedo: fatness, richness
putredo: rottenness
raucedo: hoarseness
scabredo: roughness, scabbiness
pigredo: laziness
torpedo: stiffness, numbness
tussedo: cough
uredo: burning, burning itch
unguedo: ointment
mulcedo: pleasanteness
intercapedo: interruption

Admittedly, these words have not had a great survival in English... with one conspicuous exception: torpedo.

From the root torp-, Latin gets all kinds of words, in addition to torpedo, such as torpere, "to be sluggish," torpescere, "to become sluggish," torpidus, "sluggish," torpor, "sluggishness," etc.

The Latin torpedo was a noun meaning "sluggishness," much like the Latin word torpor, but it also had another meaning: Latin torpedo was the name for the electric ray fish, so named because of the effect produced by its sting. The English word "torpedo," meaning an explosive weapon used to destroy ships was first used in 1776, when floating mines were first used. The torpedo that has a propeller and swims through the water on its own dates to 1873. Over time, the word took on a life of its own, so we get the verb "torpedo," meaning "to destroy," without any sense of sluggishness at all.

Yet even before torpedoes were used in warfare, the word was part of the English language, with its Latin meaning, as in this lovely statement Oliver Goldsmith in The Life of Richard Nash in 1762: "He used to call a pen his torpedo whenever he grasped it; it numbed all his faculties."

So, hoping nothing has torpedoed your endeavors today, here is today's proverb read out loud:

362. Ex labore dulcedo.

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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