September 12, 2006

Dum spiramus, speramus.

In English: While we breathe, we hope.

Like yesterday's proverb about ferit-perit, today's saying depends on a lovely little play on words in Latin that is impossible to translate directly into English. The words spiramus and speramus differ only by a single vowel, and this similarity in sound reinforces the meaning of the proverb: to breathe, spirare, is to hope, sperare.

In a modified form, this proverb provides the state motto of South Carolina: Dum spiro, spero; While I breathe, I hope.

In English, we have many words which are derived from the Latin root spir-. Some of these are words related to physical breathing (respiration, aspirated, etc.), while other words are related to the breath as the mysterious force of life itself. The word "spirit," for example, comes from this root.

There are not so many English words which derive from the Latin word spes, meaning "hope," and sperare, "to hope." There are, however, two words which provide both sides of the hope-coin, so to speak. On the one hand, there is despair (desperation, etc.), which is from the Latin word desperare, to be "out of hope." Yet there is also prosper (prosperous, prosperity, etc.), which is from the Latin prosperare, to "make somebody happy, to bestow hope." This is not a very commonly used word in English, with the exception of the Vulcan greeting known to all Trekkies: Live long and prosper.

So if we wanted to come up with an English version of this saying that tried to echo the Latin word play, we could say: "With every respiration, we feel no desperation." Yeah, I know. Translation is a DOOMED enterprise. So instead of worrying too much about the English, just file the Latin away for future reference - it's easy to remember, precisely because of the word play: Dum spiramus, speramus.

And here is today's proverb read out loud:

1035. Dum spiramus, speramus.

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: Władysława Kopalińskiego Słownik wyrazów obcych i zwrotów obcojęzycznych (weblink). Note the GENIUS Polish rendering: póki tchu, póty otuchy. Nice!

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