Thursday, December 3, 2009
O Vocative, Where Art Thou?
"What's the most embarrassing mistake you made in a book that got caught by a sharp eyed reader?"
Ahem. A mortifying topic. And here we are, exposing ourselves in public, admitting that we're actually (gasp) fallible. :) (and Shane, no comments from you or Rebecca about "exposure", OK?)
I recently received a review in an academic newsletter for members of a Classics organization. I'm glad to say it was very positive ... but it did point out an error in the Latin in NOX DORMIENDA.
Y' see, Latin nouns have these things called cases. The cases all have different endings and serve different grammatical functions (the nominative is a noun that's a subject, the accusative is a direct object, etc.). The vocative case is used in direct address: "O Copy Editor, why must thou mess with my words?" That kind of thing.
When I first wrote NOX, I wasn't going to use the vocative form, even in direct address. Then I changed my mind.
Hence, the error. I forgot to change every single instance of direct address to the vocative case, and with second declension masculine nouns ending in -us, that means changing the -us to an "e", and ... and ... hey, wake up out there!
Other things I had to watch out for: the right kind of Latin. Latin changed over the centuries (fancy that!) and the Latin from Plautus' era (you probably know him, even if you haven't heard of him--his plays were the basis for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) was a lot different from Latin in the first century AD. Which was much different than medieval ecclesiastical Latin, etc. I made sure the Latin used was consistent with the era and not too archaic. And of course, there is a lot of Latin profanity in the book, too ...
Now that you know more about an ancient language than you were bargaining for, I hope you'll forgive me for not including quite as much raw Latin in CURSED, the sequel to NOX. Still plenty of pithy epithets and even a phrase from Cicero--cui bono--that has become a staple of criminal investigation techniques everywhere. But honestly ... I don't want to mess with the vocative again.
It could kick Caesar's butt!
P.S. The grammatical construction in "NOX DORMIENDA" is called a passive periphrastic. It takes the noun (NOX, meaning night) and combines it with a gerundive (DORMIENDA--a kind of verbal adjective, that ends in "a" to agree with the feminine gendered NOX). The passive periphrastic connotes obligation or necessity. In this case, it means--literally--a night that must be slept. In other words .... The Big Sleep. :)