Saturday, April 09, 2005


Errare Humanum Est

Keith Burgess-Jackson discusses bathroom graffiti and mentions one with a philosophical flavor: To Ayer is Hume'n. There's also Heraclitus' panta rhei (all things flow, or all things are in a state of flux). I've heard that this is sometimes scrawled on the wall by urinals, but I've never seen it myself.

To Ayer is Hume'n is of course a pun on To err is human, in Latin Errare humanum est. Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 244, claims that humanum est errare (which he misprints as humanum et errare) "dates back to at least the fourteenth century in its Latin form."

Maybe it should be the fourth century. Henerik Kocher, in his indispensable Dicionário de expressões e frases latinas cites St. Jerome, Letters 57.12, as the source of Errare humanum est (more precisely it's 57.12.3). But in Hilberg's edition of St. Jerome's letters I see
Errasse humanum est et confiteri errorem prudentis

To have erred is human and to admit one's error is the mark of a wise man
without any variants in the critical apparatus.

Maybe someone with access to a well-stocked library can track down the precise origin of Errare humanum est.

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