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.