Thursday, June 26, 2008

WOTD: Obscurum per obscurius

Okay, this isn’t a single word but rather a phrase. But that’s perfectly acceptable for my occasional Word of the Day posts. Why? Because I make the rules. :)

You may find the Latin phrase obscurum per obscurius particularly useful in conversations about the subject matter of my blog. You are having conversations about my posts, aren’t you?! The phrase is used to describe an explanation which is even more obscure that the obscure thing it seeks to explain. It’s literally “the obscure by means of the even more obscure.”

A synonymous phrase is ignotum per ignotius, meaning “the unknown by means of the even more unknown.” This phrase may be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, specifically in the second part of The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale. I won’t quote it, because it makes little sense out of context — and isn’t that the very picture of obscurum per obscurius? :) — but if you want to look it up, it’s about two dozen lines from the end of the tale.

I think you could safely apply the phrase to at least half of the posts I’ve written for Lingwë. Perhaps I should adopt it as a motto!


  1. You know, Jase, I just had a capital idea -- why don't you see if you can get a column in the Dallas L-a-D or some other local newspaper, and have your own language and etymology column -- kind of like Jan Freeman's in the Boston Globe, or William Safire's. I bet it would go over really well! And another feather in the cap, too.

    As for me ... back to my Langued'oc ... :)

  2. Hey Gary, thanks for making the time to check it at Lingwë. I’m touched. How’s the weather there in Provence?

    The language column is a great idea! The only possible snag is that I think about 90% of the content of the Dallas Morning News is recycled from the wire services. There’s honestly very little locally generated copy. But I may have to drop somebody a line anyway. You never know. :)