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Friday: August 4, 2006

Etymological Confusion

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:34 PM UTC

Commenter Daniel San on Tim Blair’s blog has a question about the name of leftie blog Larvatus Prodeo:

Could someone who knows a bit of Latin please tell me what that name means. I’m betting it’s quite pompous.

The guesses offered by other commenters are mostly off-target. For instance, guinsPen suggests that “Larvatus = Barking” and “Prodeo = Moonbats”. Though obviously a guess, that is actually half-right.

The About Larvatus Prodeo page credits the name, pompously, to the juvenilia of René Descartes, as quoted by Jacques Maritain, quoted in turn by a William Gaddis fan site, and translates, redundantly, ‘Like an actor wearing a mask, I come forward, masked, on the stage of the world.’

This may be a correct rendering of Descartes’ idiosyncratic Renaissance Latin, but is only half-right for standard classical Latin. The word prodeo does indeed mean ‘I come forward’: eo is ‘I go’, pro is ‘forward, in front’, and the d is inserted for euphonic reasons. But larvatus does not mean ‘masked’ in classical Latin. To quote the Oxford Latin Dictionary, it means ‘possessed by evil spirits, demented’. Having visited the site, I find the name singularly appropriate. Of course, the Cartesian interpretation of the name would be more appropriate to some kind of Straussian secret-teaching blog than the one that proudly wears it. Perhaps the secret teaching is that the bloggers are demented and their blog is therapeutic? Or are they right-wingers pretending to be left-wingers to discredit the left — boring from within, as it used to be called when done the other way around?