What are the greatest expressions, phrasal verbs or quotes from other languages you know (not your mother tongue)?

By: | Post date: September 18, 2016 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Language

The best saying of Ancient Greek ever comes from the very end of Ancient Greek.

When Julian (emperor), last Roman advocate of paganism, was asked what he thought of Christianity, he said:

ἀνέγνων. ἔγνων. κατέγνων.

It’s a truly magnificent pun.

Literally, it means: I up-knew, I knew, I down-knew.

“To up-know” is the Greek for “to read”. “To down-know” is the Greek for “to condemn”. “To know” can be used to mean “to understand”.

So: I up-knew, I knew, I down-knew = I have read it. I have understood it. I have condemned it.

Or, as a most weak echo of Julian’s magnificence:

I’ve read it; I get it; I’ll shred it.

When Esperanto was invented by Ludovik Zamenhof, the lack of a culture was somewhat felt, though nowhere near as acutely felt as people assume. In any case, it was quickly filled in with a whole lot of Mitteleuropa literary culture, which was what was prestigious around where Esperanto was invented.

As a sign of respect, Ludovik Zamenhof published his father’s collection of proverbs in multiple languages. Including Esperanto. And the Esperanto has jingle jangle blunt rhymes, the way you’d expect of proverbial wisdom.

Those proverbs were instant culture; but they weren’t high culture. So sadly, they were ignored by everyone in Esperanto culture since. With the exception of the magnificent translation into Esperanto of the first volume of Asterix, which used them with gusto. (Even more sadly: the subsequent volumes were done by other people, and were nowhere near as clever.)

One of them wedged itself into my mind when I found the collection, and it hasn’t dislodged itself since. You could say, it’s a relation of Julian’s apophthegm.

Dio longe paciencas, sed severe rekompencas.

God has long patience. And stern payback.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: