February 22, 2007

ab ovo, ad unguem, arrectis auribus

Dear Reader,
From time to time I will post a trio of foreign terms that seem worthy of occasional use--humorous or otherwise.--B'n'J' Herewith, from the Latin:

ab ovo: [L.], from the egg; from the beginning.

ad unguem: [L.], to a fingernail; to a nicety; to a T; highly finished (an expression borrowed from sculptors, who tested the smoothness of their work with the fingernail). ad unguem factus homo, "a man polished to the nail"; "a man of men, accomplished and refined": Horace (tr. by Conington).

arrectis auribus: [L.], with ears pricked up: Vergil.

--Mawson, C. O. Sylvester. Revised and Updated by Berlitz, Charles. Dictionary of Foreign Terms, Second Edition. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Bloggin' John Comments:
•What makes these expressions memorable for me is how their inventive images substitute for qualities: [egg = a beginning], [fingernail = refined touch], [pricked-up ear = attentive listening].

• As a former teacher of English (not of Latin) I can imagine assuming a pseudo-pompous pose, for fun, at the beginning of a day's class and in oroutund tones propound . . .

All right! Arrectis auribus! Listen up! Way back, ab ovo, I promised you that if you did your homework each night and did it well, you'd always be ready for the next day's class. You would never lay an egg, so to speak. The yolk would never be on you!

Now, a few moments ago I spoke a pair of everyday sound bits. I said, "all right." Let's make sure we know the correct spelling . . . of what? That word? Or is it of those two words?

Ms. Jones, what did last night's reading tell us is the standard spelling, ad unguem, we might say, of the word in question? Is it "a-l-r-i-g-h-t"? Or is it "a-l-l [space] r-i-g-h-t"?

Ms. Jones:
"The correct spelling of all right is 'a-l-l [space] r-i-g-h-t,' following the mnemonic, "2 WORDS and 2 L's make all right all right!

Ita est! [It is so!] Benedicite! [Bless you!]


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