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Non vi sed iure

Original post date: Monday, April 02, 2007

In English: Not by might but by right.

I'll confess immediately that the Latin saying does not rhyme, but since there have been so many times when I cannot find a good English rhyme to match a rhymed Latin saying, it seems only fair to have some rhyme in the English this time, even if the Latin does not rhyme.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, non gladio sed gratia, showing the productivity of the "non [ablative] sed [ablative]" pattern. You can see this pattern at work in today's proverb, although today's proverb features much more difficult nouns, not the kind of thing you can introduce the first week of a Latin class.

The word vi is from the notoriously defective Latin word vis, meaning "force, might, strength, violence." In the singular, this noun is found only in the nominative, in the ablative form, vi (as in today's saying), and in the accusative vim - a Latin word you can even see in the English phrase "vim and vigor." Given that the best strategy for learning Latin words is to learn the nominative and genitive singular forms, this word is very frustrating: there is no genitive singular form to learn!

In the plural, things only get worse with vis. The plural nominative and accusative form is vires, and the genitive plural is virium. Of course, this looks frustratingly like some form of the Latin word vir, meaning "man." Paying attention to the endings is the only way to keep them straight!

The other word in today's saying, iure comes from a very productive root in Latin which also gives us a plethora of English words: jury, injury, juridical, perjury, abjure, etc. The Latin word is a third-declension noun, ius, but the "r" is not visible in the nominative singular form. The genitive singular, iuris, however, clearly shows the "r' in the stem.

Yet there is another trick here in the Latin. The word ius is a homonym: it means "justice, right, law," but it also means "broth, soup." A knowledge of French or a love of French food, can help you to remember that; just think of French au jus, "served with broth or gravy." But you also know this Latin word ius in English - it's where we get the word "juice."

Of course, from context you know that today's proverb does not mean, "not by force, but with juice" - although if it were the motto of an organic fruit juice company, perhaps you would not be so sure!

So, here is the Latin saying read out loud - and remember: think jury, not juice!

338. Non vi sed iure.

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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