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Asinus asellum culpat

Original post date: Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In English: The donkey finds fault with the jackass.

In other words, this Latin proverb is basically the equivalent of our English saying, "the pot calling the kettle black."

It's actually rather hard to translate this into English, even if the Latin is just three little words. The asinus (donkey) finds fault with the asellus (donkey). The word asellus is just a diminutive of the regular word for donkey, and English, unfortunately, is short on diminutives. Moreover, despite the term, diminutives are not just "little" versions of the big thing. Both of these words for donkey were freely used in Latin. So, for example, Horace can write about narrare fabellam surdo asello, "telling a story to a deaf donkey."

And yes, this proverb is my latest contribution to the ongoing discussion about the North Korean nuclear test. For a voice of sanity in what seems like so much braying of asini and aselli on both sides, I found much worth thinking about in Jimmy Carter's New York Times editorial. Carter has a history here. As he explains in the article, in 1994 he went to North Korea and participated in negotiations at that time which made it possible for atomic energy agency inspectors to make sure that North Korea's spent nuclear fuel not be reprocessed for its plutonium. In 2002, however, when Bush denounced North Korea as being part of his vaunted "axis of evil," North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expelled the inspectors. Thanks very much to Jimmy Carter for reminding us about just how the situation reached the point where we find it today.

Meanwhile, after listening to a slew of administration officials on the radio the past couple of days, I offer today's proverb, and here it is read out loud:

1050. Asinus asellum culpat.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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