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Fortuna imperatrix mundi

Original post date: Thursday, February 08, 2007

In English: Fortune is the empress of the world.

In the past several days I've featured proverbs where things were the "mother" or "father" of something based on their gender. A feminine noun would be a "mother," mater, but if a noun is masculine, it gets to be the "father," pater. Today's proverb features a similar play with the grammatical gender of a noun. The subject of the proverb, Fortuna, is a feminine noun. This means she is the "empress," imperatrix, of the world. In other words: luck rules!

The word imperatrix is a feminine noun, the female equivalent of the masculine noun imperator, "emperor, commander, general." In English we have some word pairs with distinct male and female forms: emperor-empress, actor-actress, mister-mistress (although the word "mistress" certainly has come to acquire a range of meanings that do not parallel the masculine "mister") and waiter-waitress are the ones that first come to mind. There are a few more, but not too many.

In Latin, however, the feminine forms with the suffix -trix are much more commonly found. For example, this word imperatrix exists in Latin not just to describe real human females who were emperors or generals (hardly a common situation in Rome!), but rather because the feminine noun could be used in sentences like today's proverb. Grammatical gender, in addition to actual human biological gender, means that the feminine forms can play a substantial role in the Latin language, even if the the Roman women themselves were hardly liberated by today's standards.

On the days when the Perseus website is working (which is maybe half the time since they suffered some kind of server meltdown last summer), you can use the reverse dictionary look-up in order to search for words in the Latin dictionary based on the last letters of the word, instead of the first letters. That yields a long, long list of wonderful Latin words ending in -trix. Since Perseus seems to be working today (glory hallelujah!), I can provide this sample of the many Latin -trix words you will find: agitatrix, ambulatrix, cantatrix, compotrix, creatrix, devoratrix, divinatrix, dominatrix, educatrix, fabricatrix, gubernatrix, ianitrix, insultatrix and liberatrix, to name just a few.

So here is today's proverb read out loud - enjoy the trix!

237. Fortuna imperatrix mundi.

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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