scitur

Some people learn a thing, know it, and act like they know it. They apply the knowledge scrupulously. Others learn a thing and, as soon as they think no one is going to be checking up on them, stop acting like they know it. They do whatever they want and expect others to accommodate them.

My two favourite examples of this split are driving and bibliographic citations. I think we all know that there are many people who stopped paying attention to basic traffic laws the day after they got their licence. Editors – most if not all – know too that there are many university-educated people who must have learned how to do a proper bibliographic reference according to a standard style, but who, the moment they weren’t being graded, stopped caring, even if they’re writing things that require references. They might give the last name and the date and nothing more, or they might just paste in a link. Occasionally an editor will get a gem of the order of “Google search.” The only questions remaining for the editor on such occasions are “How do I clean up the author’s blood and where should I bury his body parts?”

Any user of bibliographic references – a person who actually looks up the works cited (the normal term for this kind of person is “grad student”) – will come to detest the lazy citations Op cit. and perhaps even Ibid., especially if all the bib refs are in footnotes and not in a References section. And yet there is something enviable about such insouciance or chutzpah. An editor who has spent hours tracking down the full details of articles sloppily cited will surely wish she or he could just put “It is known.”

Well, why not? Of course, everything is better in Latin, at least when you’re trying to impress. If you say something in Latin, the ordinary person will ask what you mean, but scholars – the people who would actually bother seeing the bib ref in the first place – may be afraid to admit they don’t know what it means. So I present to you, for use on special occasions, the Latin for “It is known”: Scitur.

Yes, one word: Latin has passive inflection available. Latin conjugations are a wonder. You can even use a third-person future imperative passive: scitor. It’s very difficult to translate into English, but a hack job would be “I command that it come to be known.”

Your next question may be how this word scitur is pronounced. Well. Latin has several different standards. It was a living language for quite a long time, and changed during that time; then it became a semi-living language, an enforced second language for many people with divers first languages; then it came to be taught in schools to pupils who were eager to forget it as soon as they could, and the pronunciations came under the spell of the phonotactic perversities of the first language of the teachers. Add to all this the fact that the i in scitur is long (and so is often written with a line over it in texts). So…

If you want the classical pronunciation, it’s somewhere between “skeeter” and “ski tour.” The c was hard in classical Latin, and the u was like in put.

If you want the vulgate pronunciation, it’s as above but with “she” in place of “ski” – the “sk” before a high front vowel softened to become “sh” (by the way, there was no point at which it was “s-ch”; the change of “k” to “ch” happened at the same time as the change of “sk” to “sh,” not prior to it).

If you want the Mister Chips pronunciation – the pronunciation of the British classicists for centuries up to the early 20th, following the same sound changes as the English language suffered in medieval times – I think it would be “sigh tur.” The i is long, as I said, and the Mister Chips version interprets that as an English “long i,” which is really a diphthong.

You could also go with a modern compromise and say it like “seater.”

Or you could not say it at all. It’s text. Let it speak for itself.

Which reminds me of the other perfect bibliographic citation for lazy people: Res ipsa loquitur. It’s a term used normally in law, but if lawyers can use it, why not scholars too? It actually uses the passive conjugation; a calque would be “[the] thing for itself is spoken.” But idiomatic English is “the thing speaks for itself.”

Yes, yes it does. It is known.

One response to “scitur

  1. We do have a phrasing very close in meaning “I command that it become known”

    “I’ll have you know….”

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