Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Verbum Hodiernum: TAMEN

Today's word is TAMEN, which is a Latin adverbial particle. In general, Latin particles get little or no attention in Latin textbooks, which is a shame because the range of particles commonly used in Latin is a really powerful means of expression. Students are usually taught to render these Latin particles with hyperliterary English words - tamen might emerge as "notwithstanding" or "nevertheless" - but these English words are simply not part of people's everyday spoken vocabulary. In Latin, however, these particles are common in both written and spoken language, being used to verbally punctuate where ideas stop and start and how they relate to each other.

The word tamen, for example, is generally used to indicate something that comes as a surprise. It lets your listeners know to brace themselves because something unexpected is coming up! In that sense, it is something like the word sed ("but"). There is an important difference, though/ The word sed is a conjunction and has an actual grammatical role in the sentence, coordinating two independent verbs. If you take sed out of a sentence, the sentence collapses and turns into two separate sentences. Tamen, on the other hand, is a particle. It is playing an expressive role in the sentence, not a grammatical one. In that sense, it is much like the extensive use we make of punctuation in written English. Punctuation is not part of the grammar of the sentence, but it helps us to understand the meaning of what is being expressed. So, if you take tamen out of the sentence, it does not change the grammar of the sentence; it just alters the meaning, removing one of the clues being given to the audience about the overall message of the sentence. It is something like removing the exclamation mark from the end of an English sentence. If you remove the exclamation mark, it does not change the grammar of the sentence - but it would alter the meaning in a subtle way.

So, if you don't believe me, just give that a try the next time you run into tamen. Take it out of the sentence and see what happens; you will see that the sentence is still, grammatically, in perfect shape. Then, instead of trying to translate it into English (which often has awkward results at best), use tamen as a clue to find out what is the SURPRISE in the sentence. If you can figure out what was the surprise, then you have figured out why the author included tamen in the Latin sentence, giving you a clue about what to find.

Here are some sayings with tamen for you to consider:

Omnia deficiunt; animus tamen omnia vincet.

Auctor abit operis, sed tamen extat opus.

Mutans locum, mores tamen mutat nihil.

Nimium dixit, nec tamen totum.

Idem duo cum faciunt, non tamen est idem.

Bona vincula nuptiarum, sed tamen vincula.

Nec iuga taurus amat; quae tamen odit, habet.

Si non caste, et tamen caute.

Si non ut volumus, tamen ut possumus.

Multi indigni luce sunt, et tamen dies oritur.

Quamvis sint modica, prosunt tamen omnia lucra.

Manus digiti conaequales non sunt, omnes tamen usui sunt.

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