Monday, September 8, 2008

Amo, Amas, Amat and More: A Book Review

The other day at a staff meeting, one of my co-workers was talking about a project that had gone badly off the rails. "Per angusta ad augusta," I said as he concluded his tale of woe. Everyone looked at me uncomprehendingly, of course. "You know through difficulties to honors," I said.

Now, I am definitely no Latin scholar, but I do arrive at staff meetings armed with several memorized phrases from the ancient tongue, ready to whip them out whenever the occasion permits. My source? Its a breezy little tome titled, Amo, Amas, Amat and More; How to Use Latin to Your Own Advantage and to the Astonishment of Others. Its author is Eugene Ehrlich, a renowned dictionary editor and contributor to other books about words.

The book is straightforwardly presented, with the Latin phrases given in alphabetical order. Each entry consists of the phrase followed by a phonetic rendering to assist in pronunciation, then its English translation and finally, in most instances, an explanatory paragraph to help elucidate the more mysterious of the offerings.

One aspect of Amo, Amas, Amat that is particularly helpful is that the author will occasionally translate a phrase using an equivalent English expression that might not be a word-for-word rendering (although he does provide the exact translation in the follow-up paragraph).

An example: "Aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus" is translated as "You cant win 'em all," but a more precise rendering would be, "Sometimes even good Homer dozes." Ehrlich offers the history behind this phrase, which helps us to understand why our common expression about not being able to "win 'em all" is indeed a good way to translate the Latin in this case.

Amo, Amas, Amat includes an introduction by William F. Buckley, Jr., as well as an index to the English translations, which makes for a nice cross-reference.

Amo, Amas, Amat was published by Harper & Row Publishers of New York; ISBN # 0-06-181249-8.

H. Tim Sevets is books editor for the Solid Gold Info Writers Consortium, where he specializes in objective reviews of the top money-making reports sold over the Web. Recently, he reviewed an e-book that claims to show how to make money by tearing up old books and magazines and selling them on eBay. Read his opinion at

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