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Oxford's Latin (and legal) language good and
In the following notes I disregard the distinction
between "v" and "u", which are merely different graphic
representations of the same letter of the Latin
alphabet. BLD is Black's Law Dictionary, 4th
edn., St. Paul, 1961.
The following Latin (or English-Latin) phrases and
clauses in Oxford's letters in his own hand are
grammatically and otherwise correct:
in medio rerum omnium certamine et discrimine
finis coronat opus
wryte [=writ] of elegit
Comment: Legal term, listed in BLD under "elegit";
Ward, p. 304, deliberately overlooks postscript with
this legal term; Fowler, p. 366, transcribes
(inaccurately, and changing good Latin to bad) as
de bene esse
de bene esse quantum in nobis est
de bene esse, quantum in Regina est
Comment: This expression, in any of its forms, is a standard legal term,
listed in BLD
(the phrase refers to provisional
neither Ward nor Fowler transcribes.
The following phrases, by contrast, are seriously
de benne esse, quantum in nos est
Comment: Oxford spells "bene" correctly several times (see
above); the doubling of the "n" here is a clear error
in spelling, in a language for which the rules of
spelling were taught in schools and universities. The
replacement of "nobis" (see above: ablative correctly
following "in") by "nos" (accusative) is an
egregious grammatical error and a mis-writing of a
Comment: Fowler transcribes accurately, retaining the
incorrect Latin without comment. The correct legal term
is "levari facias", as listed in BLD. The difference
between the incorrect "levare" and the correct "levari"
is the difference between the active and the passive
form of the infinitive. This is a distinction taught
in first-year Latin and doubtless in
any Inns of Court education. Oxford thus has made an
error not only in first-year Latin, but in legal Latin.
Comment: The correct legal term, listed in BLD (under "facias"),
is "fieri facias". Ward, p. 304, deliberately overlooks the
postscript with this legal term; Fowler, p. 366,
transcribes (inaccurately, but changing bad Latin to
good) as "fieri facias". Once again Oxford has
incorrectly used the active rather than the passive
infinitive. He has compounded the error by writing "y"
in place of "ie" in "fieri": not only is this an incorrect
spelling, but "y" is not even a letter in the standard
Latin alphabet. The only explanation I can think of is
that Oxford heard the word "fieri" pronounced in
a discussion among lawyers, and attempted to give a
phonetic representation of what he heard others
Comment: The standard medieval and Renaissance Latin for
"the sum of all (the foregoing)" is summa totalis,
which occurs thousands of times in household and
institutional accounts. The correct nominative singular
of this feminine noun is "summa"; its plural
(not normally used in a situation like this) is
"summae" or, in medieval Latin, summe. Oxford treats the noun
incorrectly as a neuter singular. He also gets
the declension of "totalis" wrong.
Conclusion: Oxford's Latin is extremely puzzling. At
best one might argue that his spelling of Latin was as
idiosyncratic as his spelling of English, however odd
that might sound for a language which normally
permitted very small leeway in conventions of spelling.
At worst one might argue that although Oxford may have
carried some Latin phrases in his head along with their
correct spelling, he did not retain the basic grammar
lessons of his youth and, like Chaucer's Summoner, could
parrot legal phrases which he had overheard but of which
he had little expert understanding or knowledge.
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