That’s an Order!

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Mandamus is one of those legal terms being bandied about these days. It’s a court order that commands an official to do his or her duty or forbids him or her from doing something he or she shouldn’t be doing. Pundits are discussing this possible writ regarding the Trump documents case in Florida to push Judge Cannon to get a move on.

If you remember amo, amas, amat, amamus, etc., from your first day of Latin class, you might recall that the endings on that verb provide a pronoun subject. Amo means “I love.” Amas means “you love.” Amat means “she, he, or it loves,” and amamus means “we love.” If you studied French or Spanish instead of Latin, you might remember similar endings on those Romance languages’ verbs. (But you should have studied Latin.)

The ending on mandamus, then, means “we.” The verb itself means “command” or “order.” A writ of mandamus is not messing around. It means “we command,” and could result in the removal of an official who doesn’t hop to it. It’s the root of mandate and mandatory.

Like many other terms, mandamus has an Anglicized pronunciation. In Latin, one would say “mahn-dah-moose.” Today’s jurists, however, will not be prosecuted for saying “man-day-mus.” Commonly used in English, the word has taken on an English pronunciation. Imagine, for example, pronouncing bona fide as it would sound in Latin: “bona-feeday.” You’d sound like a pretentious jerk. Normal English speakers make “bona fide” rhyme with “fried.”

Similarly, habeas corpus (literally, “let you have the body”) takes on a long A in the first syllable: “hay-bee-us core-pus.” In Latin, the two A’s in habeas would have that “ah” sound.

More than once over my years of teaching Latin, an eager new student would stop at my desk to report an egregious error on the part of a family member. “I told them it’s pronounced ‘way-toe,’ not ‘vee-toe,'” they might report. I usually didn’t have the heart to correct them.

Keep on pronouncing veto, alter ego, ultimatum, via, ad litem, and ad hoc as you always have. You’re communicating with other English speakers, not ancient Romans.

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4 Responses to That’s an Order!

  1. Kathy says:

    Michael–A word meaning “together way” seems fine to me, but I don’t trust them to include a fair, representative number of regular people in it, particularly regular people of the feminine persuasion.

  2. Kathy says:

    This is so interesting, Roger! If I ever knew what “Maundy” meant, I’d forgotten it. I’d never heard the word until I married a Protestant, in any event. Looking it up now, I see (for those who don’t know) that Jesus at the Last Supper, said to his disciples: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” In Latin, the opening words are “Mandatum novum.” The word “maundy” came to us through French, as did so many Latinate words in English. So the “maun-” pronunciation would derive from the French as much as the Latin. Jesus demonstrated his new commandment by washing the disciples’ feet the day before his crucifixion. (I know you know all this, Roger.) An alternative explanation is that “Maundy” derives from Latin mendicare and French mendier, to beg. Once again, the “maun-” spelling would reflect the French pronunciation.

  3. Michael Whitely says:

    On Monday, after the procession of the Paschal candle, I went down to the local Greek restaurant and asked the owner about proceed and procession. She wrote on a bit of paper: Prohora (proceed), Prohoras (to proceed) Prohoroma (procession). The oma sounds like amus, we proceed. She said the emphasis is on the h. It is quite hard, you really have to hit it. The ho sounded like the English go, we go forward together.

    We watched the Pope’s Easter vigil, up until they had finished with the candle. The Pope is getting sick and is restricting his appearances. His priority is to contribute to the upcoming discussion on synodality (What? Exactly!). The top people have just held a Synod. They don’t like the name but can’t find another one. So thinking caps on!

    They want to shake off the Roman Catholic bit and get back to the original Church, but the early Christians only referred to themselves as The Way, which in Greek is synhodos, together on the way (there’s that go again). If we can come up with a replacement name they might give us a certificate, or a heart, or whatever the wizard of Oz is giving out that day.

  4. Roger G. Talbott says:

    So is Maundy Thursday is spelled the way it is because the church pronounced it correctly?

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