Translate Wayne Coyne to Latin.
October 9, 2008 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Please help translate this quote to Latin: "We are not what we dream, we are what we do."

In 2006, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips was asked to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of the Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, his old high school.

An odd choice, to say the least, that resulted in an odd speech you can watch here and here.

In the speech, he uttered the above quote, and I'd really like to have it in Latin. Thanks.

For those interested, the complete phrase is: "We are not what we dream. We are what we do, and all we have is action, and we can only really learn from experience. So if we can only learn from experience, what use is all this knowledge?"
posted by Cobalt to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you'd asked me 15 years ago I'd tell you with assurity, but my Classics minor is so old and dusty I have trouble remembering how you make an indirect construction with "what." I think you use a form of "qui," but is it "quidam?" And would you use the subjunctive?

So, here's my guess. Someone who's cracked a Wheelock more recently than me can correct it:

Non sumus quid somniemus, sumus quid faciamus.

Please don't get that tattooed on yourself until someone has checked this.
posted by dw at 10:07 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


And actually, I think I used an indirect question construction there, which means this makes no sense. So don't listen to me.
posted by dw at 10:14 AM on October 9, 2008


I had "ea quos somniant non, quos agimus sumus," which literally could be construed as "We are not those things which we dream, but those which we do."

It's my first shot at it, and like dw, I wouldn't recommend getting that inked on yourself until it can be verified as accurate.
I am going to my Latin Prose class in about an hour, I'll check with my professor and get back to you.
posted by Demogorgon at 10:25 AM on October 9, 2008


Was that an original, or was Coyne quoting someone?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:37 AM on October 9, 2008


It does sound like prior art, but I couldn't find any previous reference. In fact, if you Google the quote right now and add "-coyne" to exclude it, you get the link to the front page of AskMe!
posted by Cobalt at 10:43 AM on October 9, 2008


BTW, slightly off topic. The quote, though inverted, appears to come from here:

Learning to Learn from Experience By Edward Cell

relevant passage via google books.
posted by Freen at 10:44 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


All the suggested translations so far are wrong. I do not know enough Latin to answer this, and I suggest you wait until someone who does comes along. Note to compulsive answerers: if you have to preface your remarks with a disclaimer, don't make them. There are people who actually know the language.
posted by languagehat at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2008


> All the suggested translations so far are wrong. I do not know enough Latin to answer this...

I find these conflicting reports most conflicting, 'hat. :-)
posted by baylink at 11:28 AM on October 9, 2008


My Latin professor (tenured faculty, PhD in Classics) says there are some problems with expressing an English phrase the way a Roman would, but his translation was this:

mores nostri non e sperates, sed e factis

Which translates more like, "Our character arises not from our hopes, but from our deeds."
He mentioned that using somnus for "dreams" isn't appropriate, as it specifically refers to sleep, and doesn't reflect the English meaning.
posted by Demogorgon at 12:47 PM on October 9, 2008


My tendency would be not to have 'nostri' in there so much, unless you specifically mean 'ours, not somebody elses'. Depends on what you want to convey.

Yes, I had several years of Latin.
posted by gimonca at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2008


That's a good point gimonica, but I think if you took out the nostri you would need an active indicative verb to express that the character is coming from something. Also it would have have a plural ending to agree with mores, since the plural nominative form was chosen because it means 'character' and the singular form means something more like 'manner' or 'habit.'
posted by Demogorgon at 1:26 PM on October 9, 2008


Hmmm...perhaps it's time to forge our own quote. Taking out nostri, as gimonca rightly suggests, would leave us with the possibility of using a more general phrasing to encompass all mankind. Does that make sense?
posted by Cobalt at 2:02 PM on October 9, 2008


The best translation would probably be closer to "One is not what one dreams; one is what one does." But I don't remember enough Latin to do it myself. Sorry.
posted by decagon at 4:01 PM on October 9, 2008


I find these conflicting reports most conflicting, 'hat. :-)

I know you added a smiley, but just to be boringly obvious: it is not only possible but common to know enough of a language to recognize when something is wrong without being sure of one's ability to correct it.
posted by languagehat at 4:59 PM on October 9, 2008


I'd chime in with a tentative

Factis, non somniis vir.

The ablative case is probably sufficient in this case to render the concept (to be made of/to come from) without a particle. True, somnium, -i is dreaming as related to sleep, but can also mean: 'a fancy', so I think it's fitting in this case. As per "vir", it might be "homo", but we're not talking "a male person", we're talking a Mensch, so to say. The inverted construct of the phrase is directly lifted from Horatio: "coelum, non animum mutant...". Lastly, I feel the verb ("est" at the end) might be easily omitted in such a sentence.

Anyway, IANALatinist, have it seen by a specialist.
posted by _dario at 5:39 PM on October 9, 2008


Vir is 'male person.' Hence "virile."
posted by languagehat at 5:46 PM on October 9, 2008


I know you added a smiley, but just to be boringly obvious: it is not only possible but common to know enough of a language to recognize when something is wrong without being sure of one's ability to correct it.

Please feel free to correct then.

Sorry _dario, but I don't think that works. Languagehat is right in that a vir is very distinctly a man. Homo would be more appropriate if you were referring to human beings. Secondly, you can't just infer a verb like a form of sum unless you're dealing with participles, and only then in the case of the perfect passive.
Concerning the Horace quote, there is a verb in it, and mutant has a 3rd person plural ending, so it is understood that it is 'they' who change the sky.

I always meet with two or three Latin instructors on Friday, so I can get their heads in on it and hopefully have a definitive answer for you tomorrow.
I should caution you though, there are a lot of undergrads around the Classics department who get Latin phrases tattooed on them, and in the case of unique quotes such as this there is always the difficulty of not having anyone whose native language is Latin to reference. That is why translations of English (or other languages) into Latin are always contentious.
There is are only two places I know of where people still speak Latin; the Vatican, and the people at YLE Radio in Finland who produce a weekly broadcast of the world's news in Latin. I recommend checking your final translation against whatever the people at YLE would give you, since they are very practiced in translating modern languages into Latin.
posted by Demogorgon at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2008


This is getting really interesting. I've written the Finns at YLE and will report back what they respond. Demogorgon, please do check with your Latin instructors tomorrow!
posted by Cobalt at 9:39 PM on October 9, 2008


Eway areway otnay hatway eway reamday, eway areway hatway ooday.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:24 PM on October 10, 2008


it is not only possible but common to know enough of a language to recognize when something is wrong without being sure of one's ability to correct it.

Please feel free to correct then.


Is this some kind of joke? If I knew enough to correct it, I would. Nobody here knows enough. Presumably the Finns do; I look forward to seeing their response.
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on October 10, 2008


Wait, you recognize that the translations are wrong, but you don't know why? Don't get me wrong, I acknowledge your expertise as a linguist 'hat, but how does this work? I'm sorry, it's just not obvious to me. If it wouldn't bore you to do so, I would appreciate an elaboration.

Cobalt, I talked to my professor again today, and also discussed it with some of his colleagues. He stuck by his translation and they all agreed with it. I brought up the issue of using nostri and they said that its use doesn't necessarily allude to an ours/somebody else's meaning, though it often does, and that normally you would look for context to derive that meaning. He did suggest the possibility of using homines in place of nostri, which would mean "The character of people/men...&c." He also supported the idea of trying to get something from Professor Tuomo Pekkanen or Reijo Pitkäranta, who edit the Nuntii Latini broadcasts.
I also would like to hear what they offer, so please post it if you get a response to your e-mail!
posted by Demogorgon at 5:20 PM on October 10, 2008


Wait, you recognize that the translations are wrong, but you don't know why?

I didn't say I didn't know why, I said I couldn't produce a correct translation. Let's look at the first attempt above: Non sumus quid somniemus, sumus quid faciamus. I can see at a glance that those verbs are subjunctive, not indicative, ergo it's wrong. Or to try a reductio ad absurdum, would you be unable to determine that Romanes eunt domus was an incorrect translation of "We are not what we dream, we are what we do"? Does that mean you would be able to produce a correct one? I hope this clarifies things.
posted by languagehat at 5:51 PM on October 10, 2008


Well, it's been over a month and I've not received a response from YLE Radio or Reijo Pitkäranta. I could never locate Tuomo Pekkanen's email address so all avenues of further inquiry seem depleted. I'll go with Demogorgon's teacher translation:

mores nostri non e sperates, sed e factis

Thank you, everyone. I really appreciate your help.

In case you wanted to know, this was never meant as a tattoo. That was dw's doing, when he mentioned it at the beginning of the thread, though I must say it's not a bad idea.

Originally, I meant to use it for my business, as a guiding principle, but the more I think about it, the more I like it, so I'm planning on perhaps adding it to my family crest. The phrase really speaks to me.

Freen, fantastic find. decagon, I really like your idea.

Again, thanks all.
posted by Cobalt at 8:48 PM on November 10, 2008


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