Tag Archives: ignoramus

panini

I had a panini for lunch today, which, as always, set me thinking about grammar.

You’re probably thinking “Oh! Because panini comes from Italian, where it’s a plural, and panino is the singular!” You may also be thinking “He used panini as a singular. What an ignoramus.”

In fact, panini makes me think about grammar because of Panini – which is more properly written Pāṇini (which means the “ah” takes twice as long to say as it otherwise would, and the first n is said with the tongue tip farther back in the mouth; also, since it’s not written with a Ph, the P is closer to an English “b”). He was a Sanskrit grammarian; he lived in India sometime before the Buddha was born (and thus also sometime before Socrates and everyone after that), probably around the 6th century BCE. You could almost say he was the Sanskrit grammarian, though others came after. Panini wrote the authoritative manual on Sanskrit grammar. It is a concise work, effectively an algorithm. It’s an exercise in figuring out a natural phenomenon, and at the same time it’s what computer dorks might call an API (basically a set of instructions on how to make a certain kind of thing work). He observed something, figured out as best he could how it worked, and set down as elegant a description of it as he could, which thereby became a means of standardizing its production in formal contexts. I don’t want to go on too long here; this Scroll.in article on him is worth your 5 minutes to learn more.

Do I think of him every time I see panini because I’m a pretentious self-regarding twerp who is mighty pleased with himself for knowing something to do with Sanskrit? Of course not. I mean, I am a pretentious etc., but the reason I think of him every time is that I knew Panini as his name for years before I ever saw it as a name of a food item. I learned about him in university in the mid-1980s; paninis (or panini, if you prefer) didn’t encroach on my sphere of existence until the late 1980s or early 1990s. Our firstborn impressions of a lexeme have birthright: they get the full baby albums and all the brand new toys and clothes. The later impressions get the hand-me-downs.

So. First the Sanskrit, then the sandwich. When it showed up in North America, the average Anglophone saw panini and took it for the singular. People who know some Italian say “No, panino is the singular,” but they might as well be saying “No, it’s Panini’s monster. Panini is the one who created it.” Ask yourself how often you see biscotto or graffito. Even I, who know enough Italian to pass a graduate proficiency test in it (it was one of my two for my PhD, the other being French), seldom make a point of using the Italian singular. It would almost be like asking for a wedgie instead of a sandwich.

Look, Panini saw grammar as a means to understanding the divine, and thus perhaps good grammar as next to godliness, but he still worked with the data he had before him in the state it was in. He didn’t, for example, try to reverse sandhi. And I won’t try to reverse the sandwich. In Italian, after all, panino just means ‘small bread’ or ‘bread-ette’ and that’s often all they mean when they say it (though they can mean the sandwich too). If you’re going to be a purist, get that meat and cheese out of it.

And if you think someone who takes a word that is one thing grammatically in the source language and makes it another thing grammatically in English is an ignoramus, allow me to remind you that ignoramus is, in Latin, a verb in the first-person plural indicative, meaning ‘we don’t know’ (it comes to us by way of a character named Ignoramus in a 17th-century play of the same name). And you have just used it as a singular noun, sans critique. You’ll have to eat your words.

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ignorandum, ignoranda, ignorandus

Some things are best left aside. In the business of daily life, we have multiple memoranda (things to remember) and a full agenda (things to do), and so many people demanding our attention. And if you’re on a social network, some of those people might be real ignoramuses too, but somehow they still think they merit interaction; they may even provoke it. Somehow we need to need to do a triage. Never mind things to get around to. We need to make a list of things not to get around to. Things to ignore. And people to ignore.

So. A memorandum is a thing to remember; the word memorandum is a Latin singular neuter future passive participle of memoro ‘I bring to mind’; it means ‘to be remembered’, as in ‘a thing to be remembered’, i.e., ‘a thing to remember’. The plural is memoranda. Similarly, agenda is the neuter plural or feminine singular meaning ‘thing(s) to do’.

So what would be a thing to ignore?

That’s easy enough if you’re no ignoramus on Latin roots. The Latin verb ignoro means ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t know about’ or ‘I ignore’. The first person plural conjugation is ignoramus ‘we don’t know; we ignore’. That word was pressed into service as the name of a lawyer in the 1615 play Ignoramus by Georges Ruggle, and from that has come to be the English noun we all know. (You can’t pluralize it as ignorami because it’s not a noun in Latin.) So if ignoro is the verb, the future passive participle will be ignorandus, ignoranda, ignorandum in masculine, feminine, and neuter, respectively. Since we normally use the neuter – memorandum, originally plural agenda – we can go with ignorandum for a single thing to ignore, and ignoranda for a list of things to ignore.

We can, if we really want to be exact, use the masculine for a single male who needs ignoring: ignorandus (plural ignorandi). This is most likely to be of use on social networking sites, where one may encounter randos – random dudes who just butt in and expect unearned attention to their obnoxious opinions. It works especially well because it is so close to ignoranus. Should that be ignoramus? No, it’s a popular wordplay: an ignoranus is a person who is both an ignoramus and an anus (you may more likely use the English equivalent for the latter). We may say with confidence that every ignoranus is an ignorandus to add to the ignoranda.

And, as an added bonus, the masculine accusative plural is ignorandos, which means that “Just ignore the ignorandos” is actually using proper Latin. The singular dative and ablative are ignorando, so “I want to get away from that ignorando” is also using proper Latin. (The whole declension is on Wiktionary.)