Ancient Roman Idioms Posted by on Apr 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Like with any language, Latin contains idioms that don’t make sense at first glance. Take for instance “ad calendas Graecas” which literally means “On the Greek day of the calends”. To understand the meaning of this idiom, the word calends has to be translated first. The ancient Romans used to label the first of every month as the calends. Since this naming convention was not Greek, but unique to the Romans, it meant that the Greeks would never have the calends. In other words, “ad kalendas Graecas” refers to something that will never happen or materialize.

Another idiom is “fides punica”, which translates to “Punic trust” or “Punic faith”. The ancient Romans called the Carthaginian language “Punic”. Although the term “Punic” refers to the Carthaginian language, the ancient Romans had equated the term “Punic” as someone being treacherous or faithless. The ancient Romans waged three large wars against the Carthaginians, called the Punic Wars. Carthage was a formidable enemy, and as a result, the word “Punic” became a negatively associated word. Therefore “fides punica” was used by the ancient Romans to express any treachery or betrayal.

Nuces relinquere” is actually an interesting idiom.” It literally means “to relinquish the nuts”. The reference to nuts is essential to understanding this idiom. Since there were very few toys that lower class parents could afford, ancient Roman children played with nuts. Therefore “to relinquish the nuts” meant that someone was no longer a child. In other words, only children played with nuts, so to give up one’s nuts meant that one’s childish ways were abandoned.

Proximus egomet mihi” means “the closest one to me is me, myself”. “Proximus” means “closest” or “nearest” while “egomet” means “myself” and “mihi” means “to me”. To put it another way, it means, “I am the one with the closest affinity to myself”. This proverb was used to justify situations where an individual needed to save or protect oneself over the welfare of others. It’s similar to the English phrase, “Every man for himself”.

Word for word “Rem acu tetigisti” means “You have touched the matter with a needle”. It’s equivalent to the English idiom, “to hit the nail on the head”, which is used in a situation where something is done, identified or said exactly right. “Res” means “issue” or “matter”. The accusative of “res” is “rem”. “Acus” = needle, and the ablative of “acus” is “acu” or “with needle”. “Tetigisti” means “you have touched” and is the perfect active of “tangere” or “to touch”. Note that “tangere” could also mean “to arrive” or “to move” and even “to attain to”. However in the context of this idiom it means “to touch”.







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