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Non verbis sed rebus

Original post date: Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In English: Not with words, but with things.

I thought I would include one more proverb that, like yesterday's proverb, follows this basic pattern of "non [ablative] sed [ablative]."

The idea behind today's proverb, of course, is that it is easy to talk about something, but words are no substitute for the thing itself. When you are hungry, you don't want to talk about food; you want something to eat. If you're sick, you don't want to chat about it with your doctor; you want her to do something. There are many similar Latin sayings about words versus things or words versus deeds, such as factis, non verbis, "deeds, not words," or virtute, non verbis, "with virtue (or strength, depending on your take on Latin virtus), not words," or facta sunt potentiora verbis, "deeds are more powerful than words," etc.

What I'd like to focus on in today's saying, however, is the Latin word rebus, "by means of things." This is precisely where we get the English word "rebus," meaning something that is expressed by means of things (or, more precisely, by means of pictures of things) rather than with words. Letters are considered to be "things" so you can actually make rebuses with letters, since the names of the English letters B, C, I, P, R, T, U, and Y are all homonyms with English words. For example, here is an English rebus made with letters:
Get it? That's "Sailing in the seven seas."
There are, of course, all kinds of rebus-like abbreviation in IM-speak, such as "CU" for "See you," and so on.

There are some wonderful Latin rebuses, too, which you can see at the Graeco-Roman puzzle pages. Here is one of my favorites which is a lot like the "seven seas" in English:
ter-ra es et in ter-ram i-bis
(three times ra es et in three times ra i twice)
"dust you are and into dust you will go"

This same website also offers some Italian rebuses by Leonardo da Vinci - you will really enjoy taking a look if you know even just a little Italian!

Meanwhile, here is today's proverb about 'ver ver' (ver-bis!) read out loud:

591. Non verbis sed rebus.

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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