August 16, 2002
Bad Latin Alert

So much for the vaunted superior accuracy of edited web-sites run by major corporations. Mickey Kaus heads today's Kausfiles post on Paul Krugman (1:06 AM) Krugman Errata Est. That is apparently intended to mean "Krugman is wrong" or "Krugman has made a mistake", but the form of the verb is perfect passive. The correct Latin form would be the perfect active: Krugman Erravit. Errata est is not even good Latin, since intransitive verbs like errare normally have no passive forms. If the phrase had any meaning at all, it could only be something like "Krugman has been made a mistake" or "Krugman has been erred", which is unintelligible in both languages. With errata instead of erratus, the phrase also makes Krugman feminine. Ancient Roman satirists and orators sometimes did that sort of thing to defame their targets by questioning their masculinity. I hope Kaus isn't doing that here: it would be in very poor taste.

(Modern Romance languages form their perfect actives with a participle plus a form of "to be", just the way Latin forms its perfect passive. It's probably safe to conclude that Kaus knows much more French, Spanish, and/or Italian than Latin.)

The phrase at the end of Kaus' 12:36 AM post is just as bad: "welfare" in Pig Latin is "elfare-way", not "elfare-wray". Time to send Mickey back to school? Whether that should be high school to work on his Latin or middle school to work on his Pig Latin is a difficult decision: the two are equally important in today's economy.

Just to keep this post from being entirely negative, here's a little story from British colonial history involving a Latin verb in the perfect active. When General Clive conquered the Indian province of Sind, he supposedly sent the Foreign Office a one-word telegram to announce his deed. The message was PECCAVI, which is Latin for "I have sinned". The story has been refuted, since the Foreign Office records for that time survive, but it's still a good one.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 16, 2002 08:42 AM

My guess is Mickey Kaus got confused by the phrase "Errare humanum est".

Posted by: Murti Bing on August 16, 2002 09:36 AM

Bad English Alert:

The American Prowler column on Bill Simon's money problems has "make due" when "make do" is meant.


Posted by: steevil on August 16, 2002 10:05 AM

Or possibly, like me, the only Latin Kaus remembers is "Carthago delenda est"...

Posted by: MarkM on August 16, 2002 10:19 AM

Doc, are you sure it is "Krugman has been made a mistake"? Personally, I think Krugman was born a mistake. Or maybe born by mistake. Or maybe borne by mistake.

Riyadh delenda est!

Posted by: Cato the Youngest on August 16, 2002 10:22 AM

I agree with MarkM. Maybe Mickey was striving for something like, "Krugman must be a mistake."

Posted by: Ja on August 16, 2002 11:52 AM

A former co-worker (and boss) of mine insists that the plural of antenna is antennae. Lately she's been promoted enough times that she's too big a cheese (I love to call her a big cheese since she's barely 5 feet tall) to have time to correct our reports, so now I can get away with antennas as the plural.

So: entomologists use "antennae," engineers should use "antennas."


Posted by: steevil on August 16, 2002 01:40 PM

Not all Romance languages form their past perfects with a participle plus form of the verb "to be." Strictly speaking, for example, French uses the past ptc. plus a form of "to have" for past perfects active and the past ptc. plus a form of "to be" for past perfects passive.

Posted by: MW on August 16, 2002 02:34 PM

Sorry about that, MW. I should have said that some modern Romance languages sometimes form their perfects that way. I was thinking about all those 'être' verbs in French. Of course, there are plenty of 'avoir' verbs, too.

Actually, I got a note from Kaus, who says:

"I knew it was undoubtedly bad latin. I meant it as a play on Cartago Delenda Est, or whatever it is that Roman guy obsessively said. (similar to Iraq, actually, no?)
the pig latin was just stupidity.

(He's now fixed the Pig Latin.)

It turns out that my guess about the origin of the error was wrong, anyway. What he was aiming for was something like Krugman corrigenda est ("Krugman must be corrected") or, better, Krugman corrigendus est, if we don't want to impugn the man's masculinity. Or how about Krugmani errata delenda sunt? That would mean "the errors of Krugman must be destroyed".

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on August 16, 2002 04:37 PM

"The American Prowler column on Bill Simon's money problems has 'make due' when 'make do' is meant," wrote Steve.

To round out the circle, let me note that I KEEP SEEING it just the other way around, in assorted posts elsewhere--as in "do diligence." Not to mention references to "towing the line," rather than "toeing."

I think this sort of thing began when courses in English were superseded by "Language Arts."

Posted by: Lucian on August 16, 2002 09:09 PM

Actually, it was General Sir Charles Napier who conquered Sind and supposedly sent the "Peccavi" dispatch. Fifteen years after the Sind campaign, General Sir Colin Campbell captured the city of Lucknow during the Great Mutiny and was given (dubious)credit for his own latin pun, "Nunc fortunatus sum".

Posted by: carl on August 17, 2002 01:12 AM

Lucian: There are lots of 'em, my particular favorite is "tough ROAD to hoe". As any farmer will tell you - ROADS get topped, ROWS are hoed.

Posted by: Larry R. Duncan on August 17, 2002 07:56 AM

Larry, that issue is mute. Perhaps you should take a different tact.

Posted by: Cracker Barrel Philosopher on August 17, 2002 11:42 AM

I've been doing this one for years: "towing the line" rather than "toeing."

I guess I have an image of someone dragging a boat onto shore with a rope. Or maybe I should stop writing cliches and avoid such problems altogether.

Then there's the Southernism: "I could care less," when the correct but less-mellifluous line would be "I couldn't care less."

Posted by: clay waters on August 17, 2002 12:49 PM

I should of stayed out of this thread.</sarcasm>

A spell checker is useless when it is coupled with an empty mind.

Posted by: timekeeper on August 17, 2002 10:07 PM

I'm a lawyer, so the one that gets my goat is "parole evidence." Brrr.

Anyway, I come to defend "I could care less," which is perfectly sound as irony.

What impresses me is seeing Dear Abby waste a week on readers' speculation as to the origin of "tinker's dam" when all she had to do was go to the OED.

Posted by: Max Power on August 18, 2002 05:40 PM

I’ve just thought of a couple of bad Latin puns on the model of ‘peccavi’ (“I have Sind”). Say if, during the Korean War, the US had captured Kim Il Sung, would that have been “cecini”? On the other hand, if the North Koreans had captured Douglas MacArthur, would the message have been “fodi”? (Apologies for this stuff in advance).

Posted by: Murti Bing on August 19, 2002 02:00 PM

In Western Romance (Rumanian is more influenced by Slavic), active transitive perfects use habere, but intransitive perfects (especially synonyms of `go') quite often use esse.

I find odd the locution I would have liked to have (done that). It seems to mean ``I'd have treasured the memory for a time, but by now I'd be over it.''

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on August 22, 2002 04:28 AM

A late entry: The following slap at J.K. Rowling's linguistic skills is the curtain-closer for a musical titled "Welcome Back, Potter," and is sung to the tune of "Bibbity, Bobbity, Boo."

Radix malorum, felix decorum.
Totum dependeat tum.
Canis is meum non comedit tot.
Cogito ergo non sum.

Cam’ra obscura en aqua dura.
Quot erat demonstrdum.
Quo signo nata es non sequitur!
Cogito ergo non sum.

Dies natalis ben’.
Nonne mascescis es?
But the silliest quirk
that makes it work is:
Cogito ergo non sum.

Dom’nica, Lunae, Martis, Mercurii,
Iovis, Veneris, Saturn.
Sic faciunt omnes, die dulci fruere:
Cogito ergo, cogito ergo,
cogito ergo non sum!

Posted by: Ron Butler on August 23, 2002 12:48 PM

Sorry to post on so old a thread, but I just stumbled on this page while looking for a good account of the "I Have Sind" story, and can't resist putting in my HS II

It is likely that Mr. Kaus was thinking either of the English usage of the word "Errata" (meaning "place where a periodical lists mistakes they made in previous issues," actually the plural of erratum "thing erred, i.e. mistake") or of the English locution "Krugman is mistaken" which looks for all the world like a passive.

Posted by: Justin on October 2, 2003 07:36 PM