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Si satis est, multum est

Original post date: Thursday, March 29, 2007

In English: If it is enough, it is a great deal.

This is a proverb which has a lot in common with yesterday's proverb: Longa est vita si plena est, "Life is long, if it is full." Both proverbs are a hypothetical statement based on the Latin si, "if."

Today's proverb can apply to all kinds of hypothetical situations. If you have enough, satis, of something, then that is a lot, multum! So if you have enough money - count yourself rich: enough money is a lot of money. And if you have enough food for dinner, that is plenty of food. And so on.

You could call this the opposite of the "super-size-me" philosophy. Instead, this is the "satisfy me" philosophy. If you have enough to satisfy, satis, then that is plenty.

Latin satis, often abbreviated simply as sat, can be seen at work in many English words, such as "satisfaction," "satisfactory," "satiate," "satisfy," and so on (along with their opposites: dissatisfaction, unsatisfactory, etc.). It is also lurking in the etymology of the English word "asset," which comes originally from the Latin phrase ad satis.

Here's a surprise, though: another English word related to the Latin word satis is the English word "sad." You can see that this could be true phonetically: sat and "sad" are very close indeed. Yet the meaning seems to be the opposite: how could something satisfactory make you sad? Here's how that happened! The English word "sad," sæd, meant "sated," in the sense of full, satisfied. Then, from this sense of full it came to mean "heavy, weighty," and from "heavy" it moved to "burdened, tired," and then to the modern meaning of "sad."

I was really surprised when I found this out, but the Oxford English Dictionary provides all kinds of fascinating citations for the history of the English word "sad," showing clearly that it has meant "sated, heavy, full," etc. My favorite citation is this one, from 1638: "To those that..tell you..I am but as a feather, I shall be found sadder than lead," i.e. heavier than lead.

So, hoping that you really are feeling light as a feather instead of sadder than lead, here is today's proverb read out loud:

60. Si satis est, multum est.

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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