Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Little Erudition Emollit Mores

Between the complex sentence structure, the high vocabulary, and the Latin quotations, George Eliot’s Middlemarch displays a fair amount of erudition. The Latin is especially interesting in a book written by a woman in which many of the male characters (and some of the female characters, if we are to take their talk at face value) believe a woman incapable of mastering Latin. Perhaps this point alone led Mary Ann Evans to write under a man’s name.

Here’s a little quiz based on some of the words and phrases, English and Latin, from the first half of the novel. Using each item from the numbered list in turn, fill the first blank of the following sentence, and then find the phrase from the lettered list that best completes the sentence.

A person who ________________ is ________________.

For the first blank:
1. is a custos rotulorum
2. is a nullifidian
3. is varium et mutabile semper
4. pretermits
5. is a hoyden
6. is nullo aevo periturus
7. omne tulit punctum
8. trenchant
9. emollit mores

For the second blank:
a. an officer of the county
b. boisterous
c. famous
d. fickle
e. perfectly persuasive
f. reticent
g. vigorously articulate
h. without religious faith
i. liberally educated and perhaps knows some Ovid


1-a. The phrase means “guardian of the rolls” and is used for the now ceremonial head of a county in various parts of Britain.
2-h. From nulla fides, “no faith.”
4-f. To pretermit is to fail to say or do something.
5-b. Apparently only girls can be hoydens.
6-c. Literally “never to die in any age.”
7-e. Horace said that the person who mixes the useful and the sweet omne tulit punctum: has carried every point.
8-g. Notice, the trenchant person doesn’t necessarily carry omne punctum.
9-i. Ovid actually said that the liberal education itself, not the person, emollit mores: softens manners or sweetens the character.

By the way, how anyone could ever have believed that girls are incapable of mastering Latin is beyond me. Half of all Romans, after all, were women.

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