February 02, 2011

Scientia potentia

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Scientia potentia. In English: "Knowledge is power."

This is a Latin saying that has taken on new life in the KIPP schools movement, where KIPP is an acronym that stands for "Knowledge is Power Program." In English, however, the words "knowledge" and "power" do not resonate as nicely as the Latin words do. The word scientia, which is where we get the English word "science," is a noun derived from the verb scire, "to know." The word potentia, which is where we get the English words "potential" and "potent," is a noun derived the verb posse, "to be able." The parallel construction of the Latin words scientia and potentia creates a poetic resonance that is lacking in the English translation. To make it rhyme in English, we'd need to say "if you know, you can go!" or "if you know, you can grow!" - but I prefer the Latin rhyme: Scientia potentia, "Knowledge is power."

In terms of Latin grammar, you'll notice that - as often - the verb has been omitted. In this case, the verb is omitted not just in the interest of brevity, but also to focus all our attention on the great sound play between the subject and the predicate. The introduction of another word like est would just distract from the great resonance of the rhyme.

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons... except that it does not have macrons; all the vowels are short:

Scientia potentia.


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