Monday, August 30, 2004
Argumentum Ad Hominem
But let's look at his reasoning:
A moment ago, I did a Google search for "in contrast." I used quotation marks so as to get the exact expression. I got 3.72 million hits. "By contrast," by contrast, got 1.84 million hits. This shows that both expressions are widely used.Consider the solecism "argumentum ad hominum" versus the correct "argumentum ad hominem." The Latin preposition "ad" takes the accusative case. "Hominum" is genitive plural, "hominem" is accusative singular of "homo" (man, person). Therefore "argumentum ad hominem" is correct, "argumentum ad hominum" is not. Mutatis mutandis we could rewrite Burgess-Jackson's second paragraph as follows:
Then I searched for "in virtue of" and "by virtue of." The former garnered 113,000 hits, the latter 1.06 million hits. I suppose someone could claim that this shows that "in virtue of" is incorrect, unidiomatic, or archaic. I would draw the opposite conclusion. It's correct, idiomatic, and current, just not as popular. In virtue of these results, feel free to use "in virtue of."
Then I searched for "argumentum ad hominum" and "argumentum ad hominem." The former garnered 499 hits, the latter 5,830 hits. I suppose someone could claim that this shows that "argumentum ad hominum" is incorrect, unidiomatic, or archaic. I would draw the opposite conclusion. It's correct, idiomatic, and current, just not as popular. In virtue of these results, feel free to use "argumentum ad hominum."You could use similar reasoning to support the use of the ungrammatical "between you and I" (20,200 hits) versus the proper "between you and me" (87,900 hits). Agreement with or against Google is not the arbiter of correct usage, either in English or Latin. As I have pointed out elsewhere, there are more Google hits for the incorrect "ad nauseum" than for the correct "ad nauseam." Google measures popularity, but does not determine correctness. As the legal maxim says, "Testimonia ponderanda sunt, non numeranda" (witnesses should be weighed, not counted).
But perhaps I'm being unfair. After all, Burgess-Jackson was discussing a case where the choice is unclear between two acceptable alternatives, not a case where one phrase is obviously correct, the other incorrect. My rule of thumb, when faced with a doubtful choice between alternatives like "by virtue of" and "in virtue of," is to ask someone who has read widely and who writes well which they would use. Someone, that is, like Keith Burgess-Jackson.
Returning to "ad hominum" and "ad hominem," I'm well aware that you can find expressions like "ad hominum milia decem" (about ten thousand men) in good Latin authors such as Caesar, and that "ad Cereris" (at Ceres', i.e. at Ceres' temple) is idiomatic Latin. The fact remains that "ad" always takes an accusative, expressed or implied.
On a lighter note -- any Latin teacher can tell you about the giggles that erupt in the classroom the first time the vocabulary word "homo" is introduced. The same thing happens in German class with "fahrt."