Friday, March 09, 2007


Keeping Watch Over the Lexicographers

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 775, s.vv. who watches the watchdogs?:
These ancient words take many forms, but derive from the Roman saying Quis custodiet custodes?, which means "the shepherd watches over the sheep, but who keeps watch over the shepherds?" The expression is used to to indicate doubt about the integrity of someone in a position of trust.
The shepherd and the sheep are nowhere to be found in the Latin. The expression is from Juvenal 6.347-8 = Oxford fragment 31-2 (sed quis custodiet ipsos / custodes?) and means "Who will guard the guards themselves?" In Juvenal, it refers to those appointed to keep a watchful eye on wives, yet who turn out to be adulterers.

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