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iStock // Rebecca O'Connell
iStock // Rebecca O'Connell

5 Annoying Latin Errors from an Ancient List That Predicted Latin's Descendants

iStock // Rebecca O'Connell
iStock // Rebecca O'Connell

Sometime around the 7th century, a grammarian got fed up and started collecting all the annoying mistakes that people kept making in Latin. He wrote them up in the Appendix Probi, a straightforward list of the “say this, not that” variety. The most interesting thing about the Appendix Probi is not that it shows that people have always been making usage errors, but that the errors people made in Latin show the specific ways that Latin turned into its descendants, the Romance languages, including Spanish, French, and Italian.

1. FEBRUARIUS NON FEBRARIUS

The advice in the Appendix is not so different from what you might see on the same kind of lists for English today. Where our lists warn us to use “dependent not dependant” and “February not Febuary,” the Appendix tells the Late Antiquity Era Latin user that it’s “aquaeductus non aquiductus” and “Februarius non Febrarius.” Despite that advice, the syllable that Latin speakers kept leaving out of Februarius stayed left out in what eventually became Spanish (Febrero), French (Février), and Italian (Febbraio).

2. AURIS NON ORICLA

In many places where Latin had a diphthong vowel /au/, the descendant languages have /o/. For example, in Spanish, Latin paucus (a little) became poco, causa (cause) became cosa (thing), and taurus (bull) became toro.

You can see evidence of this change beginning in the Appendix Probi when the author complains that is should be auris (ear), not oricla. People were already swapping out /au/ for /o/, and that continued to the point where the word for ear in Romance languages became oreja in Spanish, orecchia in Italian, and oreille in French.

3. CALIDA NON CALDA

Another change from Latin to the Romance languages was the loss of unstressed vowels in the middle of a word. The Appendix says it should be “calida non calda,” and “viridis non virdis.” These days the words for warm and for green in Italian (calda, verde) and French (chaud, vert) are still missing that internal extra syllable.

4. EXEQUIAE NON EXECIAE

Some widespread changes in Latin’s descendants, like the change from a /kw/ to a /k/ sound, make frequent appearances on the list, (exequiae non execiae, equs non ecus, coqus non cocus, coquens non cocens, coqui non coci) even when they don’t address specific surviving words that changed. There’s no complaint about quomodo (how) becoming comodo, but that’s what happened when it turned into como (Spanish) and comment (French) in the descendant languages. The Appendix is evidence that that particular sound change was already well underway.

5. TABULA NON TABLA

Many of the annoying mistakes in the list nearly directly represent current-day correct words. Some exactly represent them. The advice that the word for crowd should be “turma non torma” is perfectly ignored by the fact that the Italian word for crowd turned out to be torma. The complaint about tabla for tabula is perfectly ignored by the Spanish word for board, tabla. With a few additional changes, that same mistake reaches all the way into English (through French borrowing) with table. Centuries of language change between late Latin and modern languages mean that mistakes have been piled upon mistakes. That, essentially, is what modern languages are. Really, it’s what all languages are. The same will be true for your descendants, though by then, they may be descendents.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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