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Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

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Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby furrykef » Thu May 27, 2010 6:52 pm

OK, "ignoramus" is a little harsh, but it seemed appropriate to use a Latinate word. :)

Today on a website somebody asked, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (with no translation) To which I responded, "Ego illos custodiam. :)" (also with no translation). Now, as it happens, this website has a captcha that uses Latin words -- the site itself otherwise has nothing to do with Latin -- and somebody remarked that the captcha he got was "dolor", which perfectly described what he felt because my grammar was completely wrong. The copula must take the nominative, he said, not the accusative.

Except, as you may have figured out, "custodiam", in this context, is actually a verb (first-person singular future), not a noun. Oops. And of course there's no copula here, implied or otherwise.

I also remember somebody on Wikipedia noting that "ars gratia artis" is incorrect grammar and it should be "ars gratia arte", using the ablative. Except, of course, gratiā does take the genitive, just as it does in English: "for the sake of art" (or "for art's sake").

What bugs me isn't that the corrections were wrong but rather that both times they were stated as if they were solid facts. They basically say "your Latin sucks" while simultaneously proving it's theirs that sucks. Delicious irony, isn't it?

Any anecdotes?
Last edited by furrykef on Thu May 27, 2010 8:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby Smythe » Thu May 27, 2010 8:23 pm

I always want to correct people's Latin. Then I think about it and decide that they were probably right after all. heh.

Much more confident in my ability to nitpick English grammar. ;)
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby furrykef » Thu May 27, 2010 8:37 pm

Hehe, well, again, I want to emphasize that there's nothing wrong with correcting somebody's Latin as long as you do it right: be polite about it, and if you're not 100% sure, it's best to make note of that fact. (If you're really unsure, it's best to phrase it in the form of a question: "Why didn't you say...?" -- and if they are right, you might learn something.) Once they start acting like a know-it-all, and they show that they're not, though, I'm all too happy to put an egg on their face.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby Episteme » Thu May 27, 2010 9:25 pm

I simply cannot stand it when sorority or fraternity people "correct" my pronunciation of the names of the Greek letters. I've heard scholars pronounce the letter names at least two different ways; it's just that I resent someone who's clearly not an expert (the sorores and fratres) talking down to me about it.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby IreneY » Thu May 27, 2010 11:09 pm

No, not really, but I had my modern Greek corrected by a complete and utter idiot. Also had someone who had one semester of ancient Greek claiming she could read my handwritten (and my handwriting a. is whimsical b. sucks) letter to my mom (in modern Greek; I can only imagining her sending it back with all the corrections in red and a long message about how disappointed she is that I don't speak perfect ancient Greek).
How did you react? I tend to be either extremely polite or extremely sarcastic.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby furrykef » Thu May 27, 2010 11:42 pm

My exact response was:

Sorry, but you're completely wrong. "Custodiam" here is the first-person singular future of "custodire", not the accusative of the noun "custodia". There is also no copula here, implied or otherwise.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Who will watch the watchmen?
Ego illos custodiam. - I shall watch them.

Perhaps before you feel "dolor" at something, you should first make sure that you are actually right. :)


So, mostly polite with a bit of a jab at the end. In fact I kinda feel bad about talking behind his back here, but I don't really mean to pick on him specifically.

For what it's worth, between his post and mine, somebody posted the obligatory, "Romanes eunt domus! Romanes eunt domus!"


The other example I gave, the "ars gratia artis" thing... I wasn't involved in it, and somebody else already provided the correction, so I didn't respond.

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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby Smythe » Fri May 28, 2010 3:37 pm

One of the problems (or in some instances, positives) of human nature is that we are constantly trying to one up each other. It can be as minor as pointing out another poster's spelling mistakes on a trivial forum somewhere and escalates all the way to world domination (cf. Hitler, Alexander, & Napolean). I wouldn't feel too bad for your jab at the end seeing as how not only was his 'dolor' comment unwarranted, but incorrect as well.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby Bedell » Sat May 29, 2010 12:12 am

I came to the conclusion a long time ago, that an awful lot of things in life boil down to the personalities of the participants and not their IQ or education. I usually like to play dumb and give them enough rope to hang themselves and finally ask why they felt the need to opine about something they clearly know very little about. e.g. "I think we are all one and are just parts of God." Says I, "How interesting! How do you reconcile that with Augustine's view of the Trinity or have you found a major defect in his argument?" "Who's Augustine?" .... :roll: (I might add, for the sake of thinking disagreers, my point isn't that Augustine is the last word on the subject, but that he has written some rather important words in a very long academic discussion which cannot be ignored by anyone wanting to join in.)

WRT to Latin, the thought occurs to me that given the shortage of people who have a solid grounding in the Classics these days, perhaps these over-eager critics are used to getting away with it because they encounter so few people who can see through their pretension.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby Markos » Sat May 29, 2010 3:02 pm

There is a serious point here. For the past year, I have become involved in several forums where we write in Ancient Greek. There is a widespread compulsion to correct Greek which in my opinion must be completely shut down. You simply would never do this in English. We make typos or use questionable grammar or give words new meanings all the time in English, but NO ONE has ever sent me an e-mail correcting my English, because they rightly focus on the CONTENT of my communication, not the FORM. We MUST, in my humble opinion, adopt this same attitude with Ancient Greek and Latin. Mistakes are self-correcting. If someone writes a lot of Latin and reads a lot of Latin they will notice the mistakes--I prefer to call them variations--themselves. Pointing out "mistakes" will never help somebody learn. It just takes you out of Active Use and back into Analytic Mode. If you feel you cannot resist this compulsion, write to them back in Latin or Greek and use the form that you think is correct and leave it at that. This is such a widespread pathology--correcting mistakes often with incorrect corrections--that is is actually banned on several Living Language sites.

I actually don't know much Latin, but I will say that Greek from Homer to Demotic varies so much in morphology, syntax and semantics that I do not think it is possible to make a mistake, in the sense that anything you write in Greek I can find something similar in some text somewhere. Text Correctors, GET OVER IT!

(Feel free to correct any of my English from above. :D
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby furrykef » Sat May 29, 2010 5:08 pm

Wow, Markos... you just shot down the entire point of the website lang-8 :lol: (lang-8 is a website where you basically maintain a blog in such a way that it's easy for people to come along and correct your mistakes)

I disagree; I find corrections to be invaluable, especially because it's not always possible to notice that nobody else says something the way you say it, in which case the mistake isn't self-correcting, it's actually self-reinforcing. To put it another way, if you say something incorrectly, and later you see somebody say it correctly, it doesn't necessarily tell you that the way you first said it is wrong. For all you know, they could both be valid. This is especially likely if what you said is grammatically correct, just unidiomatic.

Of course, this applies much more readily to languages like Spanish and Japanese that are fully alive today, rather than languages like Latin where it's hard to develop a gut feeling of what a Roman would or would not have said. Cicero isn't around to tell us, "Oh, we wouldn't say that, we'd say it like this..." And of course that situation is even worse with Ancient Greek, since there were so many varieties of it...
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby Lex » Sun May 30, 2010 5:46 am

furrykef wrote:I disagree; I find corrections to be invaluable...


I agree. If you're posting on a site dedicated to a dead language, the point probably isn't merely communication, or it would be conducted in a living language. The point is to practice the language, and learn where you are going wrong. I, for one, do not always (in fact seldom) notice my own mistakes, and appreciate correction.

To get back on topic for a moment, whenever I do correct my own mistakes, I am being corrected by an ignoramus.

I agree with Markos that being corrected all the time would be a drag, though, in normal day-to-day communications. I once knew a Russian man, whose wife knew much more English grammar than he did. She corrected his English incessantly, and in front of his peers, enough to visibly drive him to distraction. I told them the joke about a similar Russian couple; They had just had a fight, and the man decided to retreat to the confort of his soccer game. He said "Pass me remote control, bitch." The wife responded "In English, you have to use the definite article, 'the'! You have to use 'the'!" To which the husband answered, "OK, pass me remote control, THE bitch!" My Russian friend thought this joke was hilarious. His wife, not so much. Go figure. *shrug*
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby vqp.cass » Sun Jun 13, 2010 6:28 pm

Love that joke, Lex.

I'd say that humility is a habit of mind and heart worth cultivating, as is patience.
I greatly admire literary and intellectual types who are quick of wit, but I don't fall in that category myself. I tend by nature to be more in the line of a Barliman Butterbur, who can "see through a brick wall, in time." (That's from memory, so may be a lesser paraphrase.) I find that when I do give in to the temptation to pose as clever and offer a quick set-down or correction, I nearly always find myself with a foot in my mouth after the fact.

I like the advice of someone above that posing questions and admitting fallibility is the best tactic, by and large.

On the one hand, the idea of community implies that "we" hope to all be correct together, in common. On the other hand, allowances must continually be made for the imperfections of others, and for our own. I find that spending most of my time with a talkative five-year-old has done a good deal to help me learn patience and kindness, though of course I want him ultimately to be able to speak correctly and well.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby Quin Firefrorefiddle » Mon Jun 21, 2010 5:43 pm

It drives me right up the wall when someone corrects me and is truly, horribly wrong. For example. A few years ago I was in a Biblical Hebrew class. Not introductory, a reading class. And I admittedly *sucked* at the language- it wasn't at all intuitive for me and I was endlessly confused.

So one day, the prof- who had taken over the class for a semester while the regular prof went on sabbatical- I'd never had the new guy before- starts off class by writing some Latin on the board. Latin I recognized, Latin just about anyone would recognize. Only he'd misspelled it. I mean, admittedly his doctorate was in Hebrew and not Latin, far as I know- but even I knew "Vini vidi vici" was wrong, and I'd never taken Latin before.

Since there was something going on in the class that I actually had a clue about, I raised my hand and pointed out that he'd put an i where he meant to put an e- politely. To which, in front of the whole class, he said (pretty condescendingly) no, I was wrong and he was right, and then went on with the class. I had to look at that misspelling for the rest of the hour. (Admittedly, he didn't know me, and therefore had no idea that while I talk a lot and as a lot of troublesome questions, I only ever correct a prof when I'm damned certain I have a leg to stand on.)

Two days later, we ran across each other in an empty stairwell and he admitted that he'd looked it up an I was right. He never did say anything in front of the class about it. If he hadn't had my grade under his control, I would have gotten pretty snitty about it.
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby dlb » Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:53 am

Markos wrote:There is a serious point here. This is such a widespread pathology--correcting mistakes often with incorrect corrections--

Hmmm, me thinks then, is this self correcting logic?
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Re: Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?

Postby rustymason » Thu Sep 16, 2010 6:41 pm

Ever have your Latin corrected by an ignoramus?
Yes, all the time. But I try not to be too hard on myself -- I'll eventually learn.

Talking with other learners online is too tough for me. It takes a too long to figure out who knows what they are talking about, and I wouldn't want to bore the good speakers with my Latin or Greek baby talk.
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