Monday, August 07, 2006


Nouns of Agency

A recent post by Maverick Philosopher William Vallicella on altered photographs is entitled A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words? Caveat Videtor! The noun videtor does not occur in Latin. Bill evidently wants videtor to be a noun derived from the verb video and meaning viewer, so that caveat videtor would mean let the viewer beware. A better Latin equivalent for viewer might be spectator. From the standpoint of morphology, videtor could also be 3rd person singular future passive imperative of video, but I don't know if there are any actual examples of this in ancient Latin either. Don't trust Google -- many of its examples of videtor are actually mistakes for videtur.

Why doesn't the noun videtor occur in Latin? We have laudator from laudo, laudare; auditor from audio, audire; etc. In English we call these nouns of agency -- see Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar § 236. In Latin we call them nomina agentis. Are there any nomina agentis ending in -etor derived from second conjugation verbs? If not, why not? From moneo there is monitor, but not monetor. I don't have the reference works needed to answer these questions. Maybe a real grammarian could answer them. Calling Bestiaria Latina, Campus Mawrtius, Curculio, Sauvage Noble, other bloggers, and all you classical scholars who should have blogs but don't -- help!

Stephen C. Carlson:
I agree that "spectator" is better Latin--certainly better than "videtor." If one searches the English definitions of Lewis and Short, one finds that "inspector" is glossed as "viewer," but that is a late usage.

If one wants a term derived from "video," I suppose that would be "visor." Unfortunately, the L&S entry for the term is "a scout, only in a gloss ap. Tac. A. 16, 2; omitted by Draeg. and Halm."
David Carruth:
These nomina agentis, as you call them, are derived from the fourth principle part (the supine stem). Hence from moneo, monere, monui, monitus, we make monitor - monit- + -or. The default form from video would be - you guessed it - visor (from vis-, the supine stem), which does exist as a word in English, obviously, though I've never seen it used in Latin. Consider raptor, laudator, dictator (from dicto (1)), actor, and others. (I do agree that spectator is the best choice.)

Also, I have a contribution for your list of asyndetic, privative adjectives. Unfortunately, it's not a classical reference.. but maybe you'll enjoy it all the same.

"Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract of time unlit, unfelt, unlived." Joyce, James. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Penguin, 1964: 141.
Michael Salter:
Nouns of agency, to the best of my knowledge, are generally formed simply by replacing the -um ending of the supine with an -or ending, so you'd be looking for verbs with supines in -etum, such as deleo and (de-)cerno. I seem to remembering seeing a noun "deletor" occasionally in CL, but when I googled it the examples seemed to come mainly from Medieval/Ecclesiastical Latin. Ditto for "decretor", which was the other possibility that came to mind. For your friend, I'd suggest "caveant videntes" as being more CL in style...
Angelo Mercado:
A brief reply to Laudator Temporis Acti on the formation of agent nouns in Latin: †videtor is not possible, for -tōr- m. is essentially suffixed to the perfect passive participle stem, formed the same way as the supine (Leumann § 319), so *vīsor (unattested, historically *vid-t-). Compare victor but not †vincitor. So also monitor, †monetor.
Laura Gibbs contributes a list of Latin nouns of agency ending in -or but not -tor, too long to quote here but well worth reading.

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