a question for the Latin geeks in my readership

Imagine you are reading a story wherein members of a particular group are all named with Latin nouns for virtues or good qualities. (This is not simply a meta trick on the author’s part; the meaning of those names is acknowledged in-story. The setting is, however, a secondary world, wherein Latin is being used to fulfill a role more or less like it does in reality.) Most of the names are genuine third-declension nouns following the -tas, -tatis model — e.g. Pietas, Honestas — but a few are clearly adapted from first declension nouns so as to make for a consistent pattern — e.g. Justitas from justitia. The rest of the Latin in the story is grammatically correct.

Feel free to elaborate on your perspective in comments.

0 Responses to “a question for the Latin geeks in my readership”

  1. Marie Brennan

    So in other words, you’d probably step down to the “hardly at all” option if I hadn’t explained what I was doing?

  2. coraa

    It wouldn’t bother me if the change was consistent and looked deliberate.

    • Marie Brennan

      Definitely deliberate; the entire point would be to have all the members of the (small) group instantly identifiable by the -tas ending.

  3. nojojojo

    I only had a year of Latin too, but bad Latin usage still bothers me when it’s in an Earth setting. In a secondary world I assume that nobody’s speaking English, and whatever looks like Latin is just that world’s version of Some Dead Language That Sounds Great For Ominous Chanting or Ye Olde Magickchqque. I accept it for the same reason I accept people on non-Earth planets riding horses and drinking coffee. It might actually be distilled hair-root juice and the horses might be three-toed herbivorous felines, but some details I just don’t need to know.

    • Marie Brennan

      Damn you, , you lured me into the TV Tropes pit trap. 🙂

      Anyway, yes, that’s pretty much the idea here. I’ll come up with another name for the language (maybe just call it “Antiqua” or something, except now that sounds like a font), and otherwise exploit the cultural weight that Latin carries, which fits in with the type of story this is.

  4. zunger

    It seems fine to me because it isn’t Latin text; rather, it’s names derived from Latin. It seems reasonable that names would develop their own inflection pattern, especially if they’re being adopted by non-native speakers.

    The use of consistent name endings to identify group membership is not unusual in literature. If nothing else, it’s a helpful aide-memoire to the reader, and for that matter to other members of the character’s society.

    • Marie Brennan

      The aide-memoire idea is half the point of the naming pattern, yeah. The other half is to convey the set of virtues this group is supposed to uphold, which is why I’m thinking of using modified nouns in the first place; there are certain virtues I should probably include in the list, but the words for them are structurally different.

      It’s easy enough to imagine the founders of the group deliberately made up new versions of the nouns for their own purposes.

      • Anonymous

        Is there a particular reason it has to be Latin (or, indeed, any romance language)? If you’re looking for irony, using the harsher consonants of a Teutonic language would certainly work for women’s names… and you’d be shocked how close the vocabulary is to suggesting English meanings, particularly in plattdeutsch and older forms. “Lady Kinderschildin” means what it sounds like, and that’s just one off the top of my head.

        “If it’s medievalish, they’re using Latin” is one of my many pet peeves. For example, among alchemists, naturalists, and mathematicians — such as they were– the number two written language was… Arabic, as in al-Jabaar (which became algebra when mistransliterated by Descartes). Greek was third at best.

        • Marie Brennan

          It has to be Latin because this is a holy order, sprung out of a convent of nuns following the setting’s Christianity-equivalent. There’s really no other language that would carry the same effect; Greek comes the closest, but still doesn’t quite cut it.

  5. Anonymous

    This would bug me, but more importantly I would ask what the purpose is of mangling the nouns this way in the story. Granted, the characters aren’t actually speaking Latin, but rather Ye Olde Latin Analogue. Still, what’s wrong with Justitia? What about the story makes Justitas more appropriate than the actual noun?

    And why not use old-fashioned Jus, which IMHO gets a +2 modifier for awesome.

    • Marie Brennan

      The point would be to have a consistent and instantly-recognizable pattern for the names of those characters, that is sharply distinct from that of everyone else in the story (where female names might well end in -a or -ia).

      I could probably name them all out of first-declension nouns, but those would blur into the general background more easily.

  6. toft_froggy

    I think it would depend on how else Latin was used in the story – if you scattered in enough other made-up Latin to make it clear that Latin in this world is not *meant* to be the same as in our world, then it probably wouldn’t bother me that much.

    • Marie Brennan

      If the only inaccuracy was in a few names, do you think you could accept it as a conscious choice by the person who decided the group’s members should be named in that fashion?

      (May be a moot point anyway; as I said in my newer post, I may be able to get twelve without altering any words. Probably by going with first declension nouns ending in -ia. But there are a few concepts I really feel I ought to include, and they are not obliging me with their endings. Fidelia, for example, is a type of vessel rather than anything meaning “fidelity.”)

  7. Marie Brennan

    I was thinking more in the sense that a reasonably-formed alternative noun might fly under your radar, and therefore you would hardly be bothered at all.

  8. bookblather

    Judging from the description, the Latin nouns would appear to be deliberately altered rather than a mistake. So it would be more analogous to Sir Terry Pratchett’s dog-Latin for humorous purposes than JK Rowling’s mangled Latin for spell purposes (since she never gave any indication that it was supposed to be incorrect). That sort of thing wouldn’t bother me.

    • Marie Brennan

      It does seem to bother a decent percentage of people, though. I think I’ll have to try and get a set of unmodified nouns if I possibly can.

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