Now, class. It’s not every day that we get to apply our study of extinct languages to contemporary events, but we have that opportunity right now.
Recent events in Paris have called attention to a Latin phrase that appears on the coat of arms of the city of Paris, and is also associated with the Paris Fire Brigade:
Can anyone tell me the meaning of “Fluctuat nec mergitur?”
In the second row? Tres bon. Oui, the French translate this city motto as “Elle est agitée par les vagues, et ne sombre pas.”
In English that’s something like “She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink,” or, closer to our blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxon roots, perhaps “Battered, but never sunk.”
It’s a fitting sentiment to represent the resolve of people everywhere to resist the tyranny of terror, and certainly Parisiens in this time of trial.
It also illustrates the extreme economy of a highly inflected language such as Latin, which provides a lot of information in the noun and verb forms, without the use of pronouns, articles and verb phrases such as “Does not sink.” We’ll look more closely at noun inflections in our very next lesson.
Your assignment for that class is lines 2961 and 2962 of Beowulf. Please come with your translations ready.
A tip of the UWS beret to faithful reader, La Boheme, for suggesting this subject. More about the motto of Paris is at Wikipedia.
© 2015 Brad Nixon