How to best communicate this phrase in Latin?
June 26, 2011 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Latin motto help - I'd like a phrase translated to Latin so it can be engraved on an item... but I don't know Latin. This is my Google-wrought attempt so far: Metiens metire semper, parum Accuratus munio vocat atra mors. What does it mean, and how could it be improved to best mean what I want it to mean? The English phrase is inside...

The item is a sort of ornate measuring calliper. The decoration includes a figure of death / grim reaper. This is seemingly disconnected, which is where the engraving comes in - the context that ties the things together.

The phrase/concept in English would be something to the effect of:
"Measure with the gravest of care, always, for cursory engineering inviteth The Reaper"

The meaning of course is that sloppy engineering can have the direst consequences, so never make a measurement casually.

Added difficulties:
Is there a particular capitalization of letters required? I'd like to engrave in either all caps or all lower case, but in google translate, capitalization seems to change the meaning, so I don't know if this can be done.

- Some engineering (such as military) seeks to create death. I'm trying to keep the phrase widely applicable for all, which means not becoming nonsensical if that happens to be the context, eg "measure well so no-one gets hurt" lacks a necessary ambiguity.

The idea of a military theme is is also why I guessed munio rather than machinor, as I got the impression that munio implies - but doesn't necessarily mean - military engineering. If there is a better word for engineering that happily includes military? Architectus?

Unsurprisingly, a web search shows that a lot of people have tried to translate "grim reaper" to Latin. I found what seemed like a good attempt here - Atra mors saeva falce imminens and for brevity I removed the words related to the sickle. But I don't know if I'm breaking grammar, or other pitfalls.

Your help appreciated!
posted by anonymisc to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Measure twice, cut once," you mean?
posted by Sara C. at 10:11 AM on June 26, 2011

Response by poster: No, that fails to give context for the decoration.
posted by anonymisc at 10:13 AM on June 26, 2011

Response by poster: (Although, if you got that just from what was written above the cut, and so weren't aware of the decorative context, then that's a good sign :)
posted by anonymisc at 10:18 AM on June 26, 2011

I still think you could go with "measure twice, cut once." It's more understated and lets the reaper decoration shine rather than simply being a mere redundant illustration. It's also rather clever, because one imagines that the latin phrase will need to be deciphered - when it turns out to be a quotidian axiom like "measure twice, cut once," the ornate aspect of the piece as a whole (reaper decoration, engraving, Latin) will seem especially significant in juxtaposition.

Especially if it's meant to be ambiguous about whether the death part is to be anticipated or prevented. Ambiguous things should be ambiguous. That's usually the best way.
posted by Sara C. at 11:00 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd go with "measure twice, scythe once," myself.
posted by asperity at 11:00 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Latin Translator
posted by elle.jeezy at 11:27 AM on June 26, 2011

Write it in english. Latin phrases on objects::chinese character tattoos.
posted by rr at 12:02 PM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Latin's a little rusty, but I'm pretty sure what you have is gibberish - "Measure measuring always, I defend (which is what munio often means: see analysis here, which is an excellent morphology tool), having been careful(?) a little bit(?) black death calls". I might be being too harsh / generous, but I'm almost certain this doesn't mean what you want it to.

It's really, really hard to do what you want to do in Latin, I'm sorry. I mean, if you don't care too much about the accuracy and you want it to look cool, I wouldn't worry too much about the grammar / sense and just go with someone's best guess. Hey, you can even say it means whatever you want it to mean. Who will know?

If you do care about the accuracy, you should know that translation is rarely done the way you propose - good translators take the essential meaning behind the sentence and then move it into the target language's idiom. Also, you have to get both the sense and the grammar right; Latin is in some ways much more complex than English. I highly doubt that anyone here will be able to get you the results you want, if you do actually care about accuracy. In that case you need to pay someone credible to think it through for you.

Alternatively, you could try to find a Latin phrase with the sense you want and use it, or a couple of them. Wikipedia has a list of Latin phrases here.

I also refer you to a previous answer about this topic, which is sort of tangentially related but in which I give a similar response:
posted by thumpasor at 1:26 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's really, really hard to do what you want to do in Latin, I'm sorry.

Huh? No it isn't. Translating the whole sentence literally is perfectly feasible, though it will look a little clumsy. I suggest you opt for an attenuated phrase that adheres more to the terse Latin motto style. Would you be satisfied with something like "The careless engineer invites death" - which is something like "Mortem machinator neglegens advocat"? That's probably wrong because I've been a long time out of school. But post your question over at the Latin discussion forums for more help on either the literal or brief version. All caps or all lower case are both fine.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:24 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Measure twice, or be cut once?
Death doesn't measure twice?

(And wait for one of our resident Latin experts to wade in, otherwise you're going to end up in 'People called Romanes, they go the house' territory.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:17 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

That translation does not say what you want it to say. I don't have my trusty prose comp dictionary to hand, but could write you a translation up tomorrow. (I teach Latin.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:23 PM on June 26, 2011

Response by poster: Would you be satisfied with something like "The careless engineer invites death"

Yes, that would work. It sounds like my ideal phrase is trying to cram too much into a sentence to be translatable, so something like this version is a more realistic goal. Especially if:

if you do actually care about accuracy. In that case you need to pay someone credible to think it through for you.

I don't have a budget, so I don't think I can manage the best thing, unfortunately. Several of these items are going to get engraved though, so I can sheepishly offer one at-cost to someone as a token of thanks. Clumsy, I know, especially since no-one can tell from the description whether they'd even want one. But I promise they'll look nice when they're done :)

I don't have my trusty prose comp dictionary to hand, but could write you a translation up tomorrow. (I teach Latin.)

I would really appreciate that. Thank you.
posted by anonymisc at 7:54 PM on June 26, 2011

Best answer: The careless engineer summons/invites death (I used artifex which has a broader meaning than engineer as it’s more common than the often bulky words for engineer]

Artifex negligens mortem ciet

Artifex negligens mortem conciet

Ciet has the meaning of stir up or summon; conciet is the compounded, stronger form but be careful your spellchecker doesn’t correct it to conceit.

Artifex negligens calamitatem conciet [Calamitatem means disaster rather than death; the Romans would probably prefer this one because of the alliteration. Alliteration was like crack to them.]

If you want ‘The careless engineer summons certain disaster’ then go with this

Artifex negligens calamitatem certam conciet

These are all structured like your average Latin sentence, with verb at end, subject at the front. Latin didn’t have capitalization so you could just not capitalize anything if you want.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:39 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Fantastic stuff - thank you!
posted by anonymisc at 2:54 AM on June 28, 2011

« Older Help me fix my evaporative cooler without being...   |   How do I help myself move on from the years-past... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.