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Friday: August 4, 2006

Etymological Confusion

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:34 PM GMT-0500

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?


  1. Thank you, Doctor. I’d often wondered…..

    Comment by Olrence — Saturday: August 5, 2006 @ 2:18 AM GMT-0500

  2. Weevil San,
    Thankyou for the translation, most impressive. I really must get a latin dictionary, if only to swear properly in a dead language. Now I’m off to look at more IDF babes.

    Comment by Daniel San — Saturday: August 5, 2006 @ 4:06 AM GMT-0500

  3. ego eram frustra tamen tantum callide

    Comment by MentalFloss — Saturday: August 5, 2006 @ 5:19 AM GMT-0500

  4. What the hell ever that Floss guy said, Ditto…:).

    Comment by El Cid — Saturday: August 5, 2006 @ 7:03 AM GMT-0500

  5. There’s another bit of misused Latin out there too.

    The European Union calls itself Unio Europaea (I actually checked with the Latin translator for the organization).

    In classical Latin Unio means pearl. That is, pollution in the body which must be excreted over for continued survival.

    Apt really.

    Comment by Tim Worstall — Saturday: August 5, 2006 @ 8:46 AM GMT-0500

  6. I’m constantly amazed and entertained by how the left always
    manages to satirize itself without being aware of it. Freud
    would be in psychoanalysis heaven were he alive today. “I
    progress, demented.” Perfect!

    Comment by RebeccaH — Saturday: August 5, 2006 @ 11:12 AM GMT-0500

  7. I first encountered the phrase larvatus prodeo in the early 1970s in some psychology book — maybe it was Denial of Death by Ernst Becker. The author offered the rather lengthy translation: “As a man of desire, I go forth in disguise.” I guess the author took the pro- prefix as purposive. A plainer translation would be “disguised, I go forth.” Anyway, my copy of the Oxford Latin Dictionary is packed away somewhere, but an online translation of “larv…” offers “larva (larua) -ae f. [a ghost, specter; a mask].” http://catholic.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/lookup.pl?stem=larv Evidently larva means some sort of dubious appearance or dubious semblance. (Larvatus is a past passive participle of a kind sometimes formed from a noun to signify condition of dress or equippage etc., e.g, togatus = “toga’ed,” toga-clad, though there’s no verb togare).

    Larvatus makes sense as “disguised” not only because “ghosted” and “spectered” are a bit hard to construe, but also because “disguised” involves a semantic counterbalance, a touch of irony, against prodeo which does mean “go forth.”

    Comment by ForNow — Sunday: August 6, 2006 @ 1:08 AM GMT-0500

  8. An analogous organization name, though without the pretentiousness, is a local trucking company,
    SemiExpress. I assume the company founder assumed it would be interpreted as ‘rapid delivery
    via 18-wheeler,’ but I imagine every employee refers to it as ‘half-fast.’

    Comment by steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) — Tuesday: August 8, 2006 @ 4:29 PM GMT-0500

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