Monday, August 30, 2010

Verbum Hodiernum: VIGINTI

Today's word is VIGINTI, which is the Latin word for twenty.

The Roman numeral was written XX. You may think that is the letter X written twice, but this X is not a letter of the alphabet (it just looks like the letter "x") - instead, it is a symbol, an abstraction that represents the counting out of five (V) twice - one five below and one five above. And that V is not the letter V - instead, it is probably the schematic representation of a hand (five fingers). So, the two V symbols written together look like an X, but it's not alphabetical at all. It's mathematical.

Since I don't have any good proverbs or sayings to share with you about the number viginti, I thought I would report here a great finger counting game that I learned about in a grad school seminar; as I recall from that long-ago seminar, the report of this method was attributed to Bede, who said it was a Roman method - but I would love to have a real reference, so if anybody recognizes this old way of counting, please let me know!

How to multiply on your fingers:

This is a way to multiply numbers 5-9 on your fingers. Showing the numbers 1, 2, 3, or 4 with your fingers is easy; you just hold up that number of fingers. To be able to do this trick, you also need to know how to show the numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9 with ONE HAND ONLY, being able to show those numbers with either your left or your right hand. Here is how it goes:

To show the number 5,
hold no fingers down,
palm facing you, so all fingers are extended;
here is how the number 5 looks when made with your left hand, and with your right hand:
To show the number 6,
hold one finger down,
palm facing you;
here is how the number 6 looks when made with your left hand, and with your right hand:
To show the number 7,
hold two fingers down,
palm facing you;
here is how the number 7 looks when made with your left hand, and with your right hand:
To show the number 8,
hold three fingers down,
palm facing you;
here is how the number 8 looks when made with your left hand, and with your right hand:
To show the number 9,
hold four fingers down,
palm facing you;
here is how the number 9 looks when made with your left hand, and with your right hand:

To multiply, do the numbers with both hands, and then COUNT the number of fingers down and multiply those by 10, and then MULTIPLY the number of fingers standing up, and then add the two numbers:

6 multiplied by 7:

3 fingers down = 30
4 x 3 fingers up = 12


9 multiplied by 9:

8 fingers down = 80
1 x 1 fingers up = 1


7 multiplied by 8:

5 fingers down = 50
3 x 2 fingers up = 6


8 multiplied by 5:

3 fingers down = 30
2 x 5 fingers up = 10


Try some more - it works!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Verbum Hodiernum: MEUS

Today's word is the possessive adjective meus. As you can see, it is related to the root of the first person pronoun, which you can see in the accusative me form of ego. The Indo-European connections are clear here, too, with the English "me."

In addition to the standard first and second declension endings for this adjective, note also the singular vocative form mi, as in: mi pater! You can even find this form used with feminine nouns, for example: mi soror! mi domina!

Remember also that while English uses the possessive adjective to express all forms of possession, Latin also frequently prefers the dative instead, especially for personal names, family members, body parts, things that do not exactly "belong" to you and to nobody else. For example: puero nomen est Marcus.

Here are some examples of today's word in Latin sayings and proverbs; for more information, see the page at the Scala Sapientiae, which contains notes on some of the proverbs cited below, as well as additional proverbs:

Omnia mea mecum sunt.

Faciam meo modo.

Ego meorum solus sum meus.

Quod verum est, meum est.

Mecum mea sunt cuncta.

Quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est.

Meum mihi placet, illi suum.

Ventus est vita mea.

Spes mea, res mea.

Meum mihi, suum cuique carum.

Quis est meus proximus?

Salus publica, salus mea.

Omnia mea mecum porto.

Divitiae meae sunt, tu autem divitiarum es.

Qui me amat, amet et canem meum.

Tu si me amas, canem meum dilige.

Ego fidem meam malo quam thesauros.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meae.

Nondum venit hora mea.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Verbum Hodiernum: QUAERO

I'm back after a long hiatus while finishing up the big Aesop's fables book, Mille Fabulae et Una: 1001 Aesop's Fables in Latin. It's available for FREE download in PDF format; go to to get your copy and please spread the word. The more students and teachers who download the book, the happier I will be!

Today's word is the verb QUAERO. This is a very important and productive word in Latin. There are many compounds of the verb, which often appear with -quiro in the stem: inquiro, for example, and requiro. There is also an iterative form: quaerito (notice how the stem vowel remains the same in this form). The perfect stem and perfect participle have an s: quaesivi and qaesitum. You can see both the -r- and the -s- stems in English words derived from the Latin; for example, we have both "require" and "requisite" in English.

The Latin verb can take a direct object in the accusative case: te quaerebam, "I was looking for you."

The word can also mean to seek in the sense of asking for something, desiring it, and in that construction you will find an ut clause, or an infinitive clause, for example: mutare sedes quaerebant.

When you are asking or inquiring about something from someone, you can use the preposition ab. For example, here is Cicero: quaesivit a medicis, quemadmodum se haberet. You can also use the preposition de or ex, e.g. quaero de te.

The idea that something is quaesitus can be in the good sense, something that is special, exquisite, something that is sought after. Tacitus speaks of quaeitissimi honores, for example. The same word can also have a negative connotation, of something that is outlandish or far-fetched. You have to use context to establish whether it is being used in a positive or negative sense.

Here are some Latin proverbs and sayings that use this word:

Quaere verum.

Quaerendo invenietis.

Qui quaerit, invenit.

Quaerite et invenietis.

Quaere adulescens, utere senex.

Dum quaeris hora fugit.

Stulto nullus quaerendi finis.

Ansam quaeris.

Pax quaeritur bello.

Panem quaeramus aratro.

Hominem quaero.

Aurum in stercore quaero.

Lupi alas quaeris.

Asini vellera quaeris.

Aquam a pumice quaeris.

In mari aquam quaeris.

In medio mari quaerit undas.

Acum in meta faeni quaerit.

Caput Nili quaerit.

Nili fontes quaerit.

Lepus carnem quaerit.

Leonis vestigia quaeris.

Ursi praesentis vestigia quaeris.

Rosam praeteritam ne quaeras.

Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere.

Dum licet fugere, ne quaere litem.

Rem, non spem, quaerit amicus.

Amoto quaeramus seria ludo.

Veritas non quaerit angulos.

Nec quaerere nec spernere honorem.

Consilium a sapiente quaerendum est.