Monday, April 27, 2015

Short cuts to learning Italian - Our Legal Friends

I mentioned in a previous post that knowing a fair amount of "medical Latin" made learning Italian a little easier.  Latin and Italian are certainly not the same thing but the connections are close enough to be helpful.

My main professional experiences of course are in medicine, but as we go hither and thither in this world it would be surprising if we did not pick up a few bits and pieces of other "languages".  Legal Latin for instance.

I don't find the mental leaps to come quite as easily, but just for fun here are a few scraps of Legal Latin and ways one might craft them into modern Italian....

Fumis boni iuris.  Literally this means "smoke of a good right".  The legal meaning refers to having a sufficient basis to bring legal action.  It is used more in European courts and has the implication that your case is strong enough to prevail.  I rather like the notion of a puff of smoke as a benevolent signal.  It does not, alas, have anything to do with the election of a new Pope.  The smoke from the chimney at the Vatican happens when the Cardinals burn the secret ballots after each vote.  For failed votes they mix in smoke.  With success, just paper.  White smoke.

Ex turpi causa non oritur actio.  "From a dishonorable cause an action cannot arise".  It's good to know you can't be sued by people who break the law.  Also I like the word "turpi".  It reminds me of the quaint "moral turpitude" clauses you used to see in contracts.  What would pass for turpitude in the Year of Our Lord 2015 is difficult to imagine.  If you were wondering, turpentine comes from another source altogether.

In flagrante delicto.  I never consider it a good day unless I learn some small interesting fact.  This term literally means "in blazing offense".  It seems to be used in connection with various sexual hi-jinks but is not specific to that sub type of human misbehaviour.  I think the connection with same comes from the last word of the phrase.  Delicto sounds a lot like delicious.  But once again two words have nothing to do with each other.

Defalcation.  If most of us have a general familiarity with the sort of things described as being "in flagrante" few have heard of this one.  Defalcation is the misappropriation of funds by one entrusted with them.  It literally means "cutting off with a sickle".  Interestingly the Latin for sickle, "falx" turns up in medicalese as well.  The falx cerebri is a sickle shaped structure that separates the two sides of the brain.  There, you have probably learned something new and will now have a good day also.

Uno flatu.  "In the same breath".  A term used to criticize a statement in which conflicting things are said at the same time.  Flatu, it seems, is Latin for any movement of air....hence "deflation" and "flatulence"!

"Non compos mentis" This means "not of sound mind".  Compos is an interesting word.  It actually seems to mean a mind at peace.  Latin: Compos  Italian: Compostezza  English: Composure.  

I suppose there can be a few small useful bits here.  In Italian No Smoking is Vietato Fumare.  I am generally discouraged by my Fellow Traveler from going too far with my modest linguistic skills, so I doubt I will be accusing shifty street merchants of Turpitudine, much as they would deserve it. Flagrant/Flagrante is such a marvelous word in any variant that I won't be able to resist on that one.

We will be doing a bike tour of the Appian Way.  Not expecting a flat tire but if it happens I will be well equipped with the knowledge that while "flat" is a Germanic word, inflation - or better still - Inflazione, is a word that earlier travelers on the same road would have understood.

For now I wish you "Compostezza alla tutti!"

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