Sunday, March 16, 2008

A problem with Latin

Mr Darling's appropriation of my box seems to have invited a number of flattering comparisons within the popular press; indeed a newspaper called the Independent quoted from my first budget speech, delivered some 155 years ago.

I fear however that standards of popular journalism have not improved. Indeed it seems that even political writers now no longer have even a passing knowledge of Latin and the classics; for the Independent, which I understand imagines itself to appeal to the educated classes, attempts to quote from my peroration, in which I quoted the last two lines of Virgil's second Georgic.

According to the journalist, I used the words: "immensum spatiis confecimus acquor, Et jam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla."

Now I am not afraid of controversy in the field of classical studies; and the text of this passage is certainly open to dispute. For it is possible, according to some manuscripts, that the word fumantia was in fact spumantia. But it is untrue, indeed a calumny, to suggest that during such an important occasion I coined an entirely new Latin word. I refer, gentlemen, to the word "acquor". There was no such word in the Latin vocabulary.

The correct word, as I used it in my speech, was aequor. The poet used the analogy of chariot-racing to conclude his masterpiece, speaking in a self-deprecating fashion; at the time, being a young man of 44 and being uncertain how my first Budget speech might be received, I sought to be equally self-deprecating.

The correct wording was:
Nos immensum spatiis confecimus aequor,

Et jam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla.

The word nos is redundant for meaning and the meaning of the couplet is: During our travels (or rather laps), we have covered an immense plain; and now it is time to release the fuming necks of the horses.

I do not believe The Independent was the source of the error. Indeed the wonders of "Google" have revealed to me that the error was first made by the British Broadcasting Corporation four years ago. It is opportune therefore that I am present in some form or other to counter this calumny!

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