Being known for a stong knowledge of Latin brings me all sorts of weird questions.
People are forever asking me to translate stuff for them, as if my knowledge and copious free time were simply at their disposal for free.
Things get interesting when they want to know the Latin for some silly phrase they intend to tattoo on their bodies.
Almost always they tell what they intend to have tattooed.
Nearly always it is wrong.
I never correct them.
Now I read a news story which a reader alerted me to:
It’s Latin to them: Ashley Dupre’s tattoo flummoxes pros
BY HELEN KENNEDY
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, June 10th 2008, 4:00 AM
What does Ashley Dupre’s tattoo mean?
Revealing Daily News pictures of Eliot Spitzer’s favorite hooker cavorting on the beach gave rise to some obvious musings, but also some not-so-obvious, like: What exactly does that tattoo mean? [HEY! A new blog idea? What Does the Hooker's Latin Really Say?]
Ashley Alexandra Dupre’s teeny bikini exposed a Latin phrase inked on her lower belly: tutela valui. [For pity's sake...]
Experts said it was pseudo Latin, like the mostly meaningless Chinese characters some people tattoo on themselves – but even stodgy scholars were chuckling at the double entendres jumping out of it. [No, it is not pseudo Latin. That phrase can actually mean something in Latin.]
Tutela, which is related to tutor, has to do with a protector or guardian. Valui appears to be a past form of the word strong. [valeo]
"So I guess you would say it means, ‘I have a strong patron’ or ‘I have a strong keeper,’" said Doug Machle, assistant to the chairman in the classics department at the University of Washington. [?]
"Or, actually, it’s more like, ‘My guardian was strong.’" [?]
Others read it differently. [!]
Daniel Nodes, a classics professor at Ave Maria University in Florida, translated it as "I’ve been well and remain that way because I have protection." [Better]
Mark Buchan, a classics professor at Columbia, took a different tack, musing that it could mean "safe haven." [?!?]
One California professor translated it as "I have been highly proficient in support" – which he further simplifies to "I have been an expert escort." [?]
In any case, Latin teachers are used to seeing lots of fishy tattoos. [You can say that again!]
"Latin is really a living language – it’s a lot more prevalent than you’d think," said Gerry Visco, administrator of the classics department at Columbia.
"We get a lot of people calling up – every day, I’d say – wanting to put something on a mug or T-shirt. They think there’s a team of scribes sitting here waiting to translate for them." [Yah... and they think it's free.]
Okay, folks… what does the hooker’s tattoo really say?
Let’s hear your theories.