Vague Exactitude

Grammer Flunkies 5Recently I asked my Facebook connections if they could help me with a Latin phrase; the phrase has to do with the computation of days in the Julian calendar (calends, ides, nones, etc.).  Here is my exact post:

“Calling all Romance Language speakers (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.): Does the following phrase (any of its words) render something similar in your language, and if so, what do those words mean? The phrase is in Latin, “Principium mensis cujusque vocato kalendas” I understand the first and last words, but am curious about the three middle words… Thanks for any help.”

Quite a discussion ensued; but I still don’t know if there is an etymological equivalent or relative to “cujusque.”  One person suggested the connection of mensis (month) with the medical term – which I should have thought of as the German slang term is “Mens” for women’s monthly cycle.  But all other entries tried to help me with the first and last word, and I spent more time explaining my request than I saved by asking in the first place.

This is a trend I’ve noticed on the rise on Facebook in particular, but I am aware that it’s also happening across Cyberland; too often people skim over a text and assume they’ve understood it well enough to make an informed contribution to a discussion.  It’s harmless when it only has to do with topics of grammar and language; but when it also enters the formation process of people’s opinions in the political or social arenas, society beware.  I usually ignore such discussions with a healthy dose of eye-rolling; but sometimes I have to intervene in the propagation of half-baked ignorance, or I won’t be able to sleep at night.

The illustration is a perfect example of this vague exactitude; people took the time to reply, but they did not take the time to properly read, to inform themselves of the actual task at hand.  I have only two words to add:  STOP IT!


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4 responses to “Vague Exactitude

  1. From your third paragraph, it seems the word for which you’re still seeking a cognate is “cujusque.” That Latin word consists of “cujus” (more commonly spelled “cuius”), which is the genitive form of the relative pronoun “qui, quae, quod” (meaning “who,” “which,” or “that”), to which “-que” (a suffix, or technically an enclitic, meaning “and”) has been appended. The genitive form “cujus” means “whose” or “of which,” so the combined version “cujusque” means “and whose.”

    When you consider the base word “cujus” in its nominative forms of “qui” (masculine), “quae” (feminine), and “quod” (neuter), it has cognates in all the Romance languages you mentioned, most recognizably in its masculine form. “Qui” means “who” in French, exactly as it does in Latin, and the French “que” meaning “what” or “that” is likewise derived from the Latin. This Latin word was also the origin of the Spanish “qué” (“what”) and “que” (“that”), as well as the Italian “che” (“what” or “that”).

    Despite appearances, all of those are descended from the “cujus” part of “cujusque,” not the “-que” part. I don’t think any Romance language uses a related word or enclitic to mean “and,” so that portion might not have a Romance cognate. To present-day readers, the most familiar uses of this “-que” would be in “Arma virumque cano” (“Arms and the man I sing,” the opening words of the Aeneid) and “Senatus Populusque Romanus” (“The Roman Senate and People,” a Latin phrase often abbreviated SPQR).

    As for the main theme of your blog post, namely the frequency with which people comment on online articles they seem to have merely skimmed, I agree that this is all too common. I hope I haven’t provided an additional example.

  2. Thank you for your reply! Last night my husband was sitting in bed and reading this article and told me a short version of your answer, in German, “und dessen” which is “and whose”, so good confirmation! 🙂
    Any information on “vocato”?

  3. Well, if your goal is to understand the overall quotation, it essentially means, “The beginning of the month is called the calends.” As for “vocato” in particular, it means “called” because it’s the neuter ablative of the fourth principal part of the verb “to call”: “voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatus.” If you’re interested in its cognates, it has quite a few, not only in the Romance languages but also in English; nearly every English word containing “voc-” or “vok-” is derived from this Latin verb, such as “invoke,” “convocation,” and “vocational.”

  4. Thank you for the thorough information! I find etymological connections fascinating! I figured that “vocato” must be related to words like “vocal” or “vocalize” but wasn’t sure of the exact connection; now I know! 🙂

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