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Literal Translation Exercise of Latin Mottos: High Point University and Johnson State College

written by: John Garger • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 8/2/2012

Both High Point University and Johnson State College use Latin as the language of their mottos. Learn the literal Classical Latin to English translations of these two university mottos.

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    Both High Point University of North Carolina, USA and Johnson State College of Vermont, USA use Latin as the official language of their mottos. University mottos serve to express the educational paradigm of an institution of higher learning and often date back decades if not centuries.

    Classical Latin is the type taught in most Latin programs throughout the world dating back to the time of Caesar and the so-called “Golden Age” of Latin. However, Latin survived for many centuries and is often broken up into several periods in the language’s history. Many university Latin mottos are influenced by later Latin periods. Sometimes, the official translation of a Latin motto does not coincide with a literal Classical Latin translation into English. Read on to learn about the literal translations of these two universities’ Latin mottos from Classical Latin to English.

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    A Translation of High Point University’s Latin Motto into English

    High Point University’s Latin motto is “Nil sine numine” to which the university offers the following official translation: “Nothing without divine guidance.” Let’s take a closer look at this Latin motto and see if a literal Classical Latin to English translation coincides with the official translation offered by the university.

    “Nil” is an indeclinable adverb sometimes offered in the form “nihil.” This word comes directly into English from which we get “nil” meaning “nothing.” It is also the root of the English word “nihilism.” As in English, “nil” can mean “nothing” but it can also be used to express other concepts related to nothingness or a lack of something. It is quite common in Latin and can mean several things depending on context.

    “Sine” is a preposition usually translated into English to mean “without.” Latin students will recognize this word’s relationship with the Latin word “cum” which means “with.” As with “cum,” “sine” is often coupled with the ablative case to form several important Latin constructions. One of the most prominent of these constructions is the ablative of manner.

    The ablative of manner is used to express how something was done. It is often confused with the ablative of means or instrument. However, in contrast to the ablative of means, it uses a preposition when it is implied that something was done “with” something.

    “Numine” is the ablative singular form of the neuter noun “numen” which means “nod,” “will,” “divine will,” or even “divinity.” “Numen” is often used to express approval from authority, especially that from God.

    Take together, High Point University’s Latin Motto “Nil sine numine” can be translated literally as “Nothing without Divine Will.” Clearly, the official translation offered by the university is an exact match to a literal translation according to properly applied Classical Latin grammar and lexicon.

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    A Translation of Johnson State College’s Latin Motto into English

    Johnson State College’s Latin motto is “Docendo discimus” to which the university offers the following official translation: “By teaching we learn.” Let’s take a closer look at this Latin motto and see if a literal Classical Latin to English translation coincides with the official translation offered by the university.

    “Docendo” is the gerund form of the word “doceo, docere, docui, doctum,” a third-conjugation verb that means to “explain” or “teach.” The gerund form in Latin is easy to recognize because of the –nd– addition to the root of a verb. The –o ending here indicates that “docendo” is in either the dative or the ablative case. In this particular instance, it is in the ablative case forming an important Latin construction known as the ablative of manner.

    As discussed above, the ablative of manner is used to express how something or in what manner something is, was, or will be done. When “with” is implied, you couple the word in the ablative case with the Latin word “cum” (or “sine” for “without”). When “by” is implied, the word in the ablative case stands alone with no helping preposition. By itself, “docendo” can be translated literally to mean “by explaining.”

    “Discimus” is simply the first-person plural present active indicative form of the third-conjugation verb “disco” which means to “learn.” In its present form, we can translate “discimus” to literally mean “we learn.”

    Taken together, a literal translation of Johnson State College’s Latin motto “docendo discmus” is “By explaining we learn.” The university’s interpretation of “docendo” as “by teaching” is more than reasonable making the official translation a perfect match to a Classical Latin to English translation.

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    Conclusion

    Brief university, Latin-motto translations tend to correspond much more accurately to a literal Classical Latin to English translation than do longer mottos, especially those that contain several verbs and nouns. The two Latin mottos of High Point University and Johnson State College translate easily from Classical Latin to English. Simple mottos such as these give the elementary Latin student an opportunity to practice Latin grammar using short phrases that isolate some of the more important grammatical constructions.