Jerry Brown keeps the Latin coming

California’s governor Jerry Brown has a degree from UC Berkeley in Classical Studies (Latin and Greek), and he’s been letting the Latinisms rip lately. I’ll go through a bunch, offering a few comments here and there. At the current rate, this will probably be updated pretty soon….


– In an interview on December 27, Jerry Brown described political life with the Latin saying ad astra per aspera, which Brown translated as “to the stars through the thorns”. Aspera might more literally be translated as “difficulties”, but Brown’s translation has some panache. Nice.


– In a press conference on the same day, Brown quoted Cicero’s Latin: O tempora, O mores, which Brown translated as “Oh, the times. Oh, the customs”. Having not heard how Brown said this, I don’t know whether to include the exclamation points that commonly punctuate this (Oh, the times! Oh, the customs!). Hopefully, the way Brown said that was a little more exciting than how it reads, because it must have been a pretty emotional point in Cicero’s speech to the senate in 63 BCE. There, Cicero was accusing a senator, Catiline of spearheading a conspiracy to violently overthrow the government, and he said the above as he reflected on how shameful it was that Catiline had not already been put to death. O tempora? You’ve got enemies, JB, but no Catiline (thankfully!).


I read that JB uses the Latin phrase bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all) when he speculates about what next year’s CA ballot box will look like. Hopefully, JB wasn’t thinking too hard about the context of this phrase as it was first used by Thomas Hobbes (1642), because if so then that is a pessimistic prediction indeed! Thomas Hobbes used it in a book he penned in Latin called De Cive.

Ostendo primo conditionem hominum extra societatem civilem (quam conditionem appellare liceat statum naturae) aliam non esse quam bellum omnium contra omnes; atque in eo bello jus esse omnibus in omnia.

I show in the first place that the state of men outside of civil society (which state may could be called the state of nature) is nothing other than a war of all against all; and that in that war, everyone has a right to everything.

Hopefully, next year’s elections won’t be that bad, JB. If it is, though, I think we’ll have a lot more to worry about than who get elected. In fact, no one would be worried about that.


During a December 13 press conference, JB explained the impending billion dollar cut in public-education spending with the legal Latin maxim nemo dat non habet (no one gives what one doesn’t have). Thankfully, those cuts areeven less than what many anticipated they would be, thus ensuring that at least some people will know what language JB is using at times like this. The saying is more commonly nemo dat quod non habet. The quod is the “what” in the translation “No one gives what one doesn’t have”. JB left quod out, but after the conference JB’s aides “assured that secretly, he meant to say it”. Thanks, aides, for the assurance, since it would be a sorry state of educational affairs if an implied quod was allowed to pass unnoticed.

Also – “At [the same] December 13 press conference, Gov. Jerry Brown, holder of a 1961 degree in classics from the University of California at Berkeley, said the current gulf between America’s haves and have-nots is akin to Ancient Rome where “it was the same fight between the aristocrats and the plebians.” (source)

This seems pretty questionable but at least its got me thinking.


But the press can get overexcited about JB’s penchant for Latin. On July 3,one reporter considered it to be a “Latin lesson” when JB used the word “encomiums”. Hardly a Latin lesson. If JB was being more consciously Latinate here he would have used the more proper plural form encomia….



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