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Mali corvi malum ovum

Original post date: Friday, April 27, 2007

In English: Bad egg from a bad crow.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about people being of eiusdem farinae. This proverb also belongs to the "cut from the same cloth" type, the idea being that one bad thing (the bad crow, malus corvus) gives rise to something else bad (the bad egg, malum ovum).

This saying found its way into Erasmus's Adagia, and he gives a variety of different ways in which the saying can be applied. For example, he says that "this is rightly applied whenever a bad student proceeds from a bad instructor," apte usurpabitur, quoties a malo praeceptore discipulus malus proficiscitur. That is a very fitting warning for someone like me. Let's hope there are not too many bad eggs to be found amongst my legions of students!

He also notes that it can be applied to "a wicked son from a wicked father," ex improbo patre filius improbus, and likewise "an unremarkable man from an unremarkable country," ex patria illaudata vir illaudatus, and finally "a criminal outrage that comes from a criminal person," denique facinus sceleratum ab homine scelesto.

Erasmus also ponders just why the crow is the vehicle used to express this metaphorical meaning: "Some relate this meaning to the nature of the creature, which itself is not fit for human consumption, and which generates an egg that is good for nothing," Metaphoram alii referunt ad naturam animantis, quae nec ipsa est idonea cibis humanis, nec ovum parit ad quidquam utile.

He also cites others who allege something even more sinister about the crows and their offspring: "There are those who would say that it happens that the chicks of the crows devour their own parents, if by chance the parents have not supplied them with enough to eat," Sunt, qui dicant, fieri, ut coruorum pulli parentes ipsos devorent, si forte non pascant illos ad satietatem.

In English, too, the crow is not a bird with especially positive connotations, so the metaphorical application of the "bad crow" and the "bad egg" works very well for us, too, even if we do not believe that greedy crow chicks actually consume their poor parents!

Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud:

80. Mali corvi malum ovum.

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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