Nunc vs. Iam

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Nunc vs. Iam

Post by Ilium » Tue Feb 23, 2010 2:44 am

(Sorry if there's been a topic on this before... I tried searching but couldn't find anything.)

So recently I read Through the Looking Glass (yes, this is Latin related!), and in the book, the White Queen says: "The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday -- but never jam to-day." According to Annotated Alice:

...Carroll plays on the Latin word iam (i and j are interchangeable in classical Latin), which means "now." The word iam is used in the past and future tenses, but in the present tense the word for "now" is nunc. I received more letters about this than about any other oversight, mostly from Latin teachers. They tell me that the Queen's remark is often used in class as a mnemonic for recalling the proper usage of the word.

This no-jam-today business is news to me! I'm only a Latin II student, but I know I've seen "iam" used in the present tense before. My school uses the Ecce Romani books, and in one of the Latin I book's first translations appears the sentence "Laeta est Flavia quod Cornelia iam in villa habitat"... is Ecce Romani wrong? My sense of the two words was that "iam" is a more vaguely defined sense of "now" (as in, Cornelia is living now in the country house but has also been living there for a while), while "nunc" is more "right now." And I have only ever seen "nunc" in the present tense.... but it never occured to me to limit "iam" to past and future tenses.

So... anyone care to enlighten me on nunc vs. iam? :) Thanks in advance!
Last edited by Ilium on Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Nunc vs. Iam

Post by Damoetas » Tue Feb 23, 2010 5:31 am

ipse ego venabor: iam nunc me sacra Dianae
suscipere et Veneris ponere vota iuvat.

Evidently Propertius was not aware of this rule! (Elegies 2.19.17-8) In fact, a glance at the entries for iam and nunc in Lewis & Short reveals dozens of exceptions.... This sounds like the kind of rule that teachers would have drilled into students' heads for the purposes of prose composition, but was not a real rule observed by Latin writers (consciously or unconsciously). Although it may have had some statistically validity as something that is generally or usually true.

Perhaps someone else knows more about 19th century Latin pedagogy -- a subject that I'm actually quite interested in, because it still seems to strongly influence the way we do things today, for good or for ill.

EDIT: PS: there are probably better examples than the Propertius quote; that was just what popped into my head.... It's complicated because the sentence does start with a future tense; the only thing clearly taking place in the present is iuvat. One could argue that suscipere and ponere are conceived as taking place in the future.... But perhaps this sentence suffices to show that the situation is muddy!
Dic mihi, Damoeta, 'cuium pecus' anne Latinum?

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Re: Nunc vs. Iam

Post by adrianus » Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:04 am

First of all it's a joke mnemonic, not 100% true and so not ideal. For teaching purposes, it can serve to say that you don't use "nunc" for the past or future but "jam" instead. The fact you can also use "jam" in the present weakens it slightly but it still draws a distinction with respect to "nunc".

Primum est jocus memoriam adjuvans non perfectus quòd non semper verus. Forsit ad docendum est jocus utilis qui tempore praeterito et futuro non aptum "nunc" sed "jam" esse dicamus. Quod et "jam" tempore praesenti adhibeatur minùs bonum memoriae facit at eum adverbium à "nunc" tamen distinguit.

"The rule is, nunc today but never nunc to-morrow or nunc yesterday -- but jam instead."

Invert and bend this rule to get the original sentence which is more ridiculous and so funnier.

Hoc inverte et flecte ut pristinam sententiam habeas quae plùs ridiculus est et proindè plùs placet.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.

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