Friday, May 19, 2006


A Howler

Tonight at a secondhand bookstore I picked up Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, by Terry Lindvall, Ph.D. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), for one dollar. I've read a few chapters, and it's not a bad book. It quotes extensively from Lewis, which alone guarantees that there will be much worth reading in it. The title is a takeoff on Lewis' own book Surprised by Joy.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines howler as "an amusing or ridiculous blunder." So it happened that I was amused (surprised by laughter, as it were) when I read the dedication of Surprised by Laughter, which ends with a howler, the supposedly Latin sentence "Soli Deus Gloria."

If you're a Latin teacher, it might be a good extra credit exercise for your students to correct this mistake. I won't give away the answer by correcting it here.

Hint: I assume Lindvall meant "To God alone be glory." As Fr. Deighan points out, it is possible to translate "Soli Deus gloria" as "To a loner, God is glory." But it is clear from the rest of the dedication that Lindvall did not have this in mind.

Two more howlers from the pen of Terry Lindvall, Ph.D., on p. 223 of the same work:
Man is homo risens, the zoion gelastikon -- the animal that laughs.
How about homo cachinnans, or ridens, or risor? But not risens, which implies the existence of a non-existent Latin verb riso or riseo. And there is no Greek word zoion, which should be zōon (ζῶον).

Matt Carter correctly points out that ζῷον is the preferred orthography, and that zoion is therefore an acceptable transliteration. I wrongly relied on the lemma in my old (1872) Liddell and Scott, which has ζῶον, without the iota subscript. The title of this post describes my own mistake, and I hereby eat humble pie.

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