October 26, 2007

Canis sine dentibus vehementius latrat

In English: A dog without teeth barks more viciously.

Of course, this proverb has a familiar English form: "his bark is worse than his bite." The Latin conveys basically the same idea, because of course the bite of a dog who has no teeth is not really something you have to be afraid of.

At the same time, though, the Latin proverb is somewhat different from the English saying. The English saying insists that the bark is worse than the bite - but it doesn't make any claims about the bite at all (it could still be a pretty nasty bite, after all!). In the Latin saying, however, the situation is that this is a dog with no bite at all (no teeth), and precisely for that reason, his bark is all the worse!

I like this kind of saying because the "barking dog" is such a great way to characterize the meaningless "yelp yelp yelp" of people who are complaining about something, but who don't have the "teeth," so to speak, to enforce their point of view. To compensate for their lack of bite, they have to keep on barking, over and over again (one of the hallmarks of the dog's bark, of course, is that it goes on and on, as anyone knows who has had a neighbor with a dog that barks!). In that regard, there's another English saying worth noting here: "Don't bark if you cannot bite!"

And what about the silent dog, the dog who does not bark? There's a Latin saying that warns us about that dangerous situation: cave tibi a cane muto et aqua silenti, "keep an eye out for the silent dog and the quiet water." The second part of that saying is a variation on the famous saying Aqua profunda est quieta, "still waters run deep," which I have blogged about previously.

So, hoping you are managing to avoid canine hostility of any kind, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1182. Canis sine dentibus vehementius latrat.

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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