Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday's bit of Latin: omniBUS

Not that I have loads of spare time, but since things seem to be a little too quiet these days on the INTERNET I thought I ought to start something. Ahem. I mean start another posting series. Also, since the word has actually made it down to even our diocesan paper that the CORRECTED form of the words for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is scheduled to begin use in Advent of 2011 - you know, sort of like a software upgrade: (Hee hee: "The Vatican today announced the release of "Mass 2.1" Ahem!) Even though this version is English and not Latin, I thought we ought to consider a little about Chesterton and Latin.

To start with, let's see one of my favourite bits of Latin in GKC - one of those lovely places where an ending for the ablative plural has become a common word in English. Oh yes, very funny, but true.... But read it for yourself:

The word "omnibus" is a very noble word with a very noble meaning and even tradition. It is derived from an ancient and adamantine tongue which has rolled it with very authoritative thunders: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus. It is a word really more human and universal than republic or democracy. A man might very consistently build a temple for all the tribes of men, a temple of the largest pattern and the loveliest design, and then call it an omnibus. It is true that the dignity of this description has really been somewhat diminished by the illogical habit of clipping the word down to the last and least important part of it. But that is only one of many modern examples in which real vulgarity is not in democracy,
but rather in the loss of democracy. It is about as democratic to call an omnibus a 'bus as it would be to call a democrat a rat.
[GKC ILN Jan 13 1917 CW31:22-3]
GKC is quoting what is known as the "Vincentian Canon" (or rule) phrased by St. Vincent of LĂ©rins (+ ca 440) "That must be regarded as true which is believed EVERYWHERE (ubique), ALWAYS (semper), BY ALL (omnibus)". [See e.g. Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary]

One curious note relating to this is something I picked up in my explorations of molecular biology - there is an important enzyme called "ubiquitin" which might be roughly nicknamed "the everywhere stuff"... There are some other "ubi" compounds too, but you can hunt for them yourselves.

Perhaps someday, someone somewhere will take up the question of whether the tech term "SCSI-bus" is a dative or ablative plural, and then discuss the root of this very odd noun and give the rest of its paradigm. (Hee hee.)

1 comment:

  1. The declension would have to be:


    The nominative, of course, cannot be derived. ;)


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