Dead language grammar check

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In the weeks after securing their diplomas, some classically-minded seniors may be wondering about the ancient language on the symbolic paper scrolls. Bwog tipster Tao Tan went a little further.

“The Latin looked just a bit off to me,” Tao writes. “Specifically, I was wondering how and why they chose to render “New York” (Novum Eboracum in proper, classical Latin) the way they did. On the diploma, New York is rendered in two ways: ‘Noveboracensis’, a Neo-Latin adjectival form, and ‘Novi Eboraci’, a classically acceptable locative.

Fortunately, as I was wandering around the Heyman Center this morning, I ran into Peter Pouncey, the former Dean of Columbia College and, before that, a Professor of Classics. Brandishing these pictures, I asked Peter Pouncey what he thought. After getting over the initial shock that somebody actually noticed (‘What? We must have overeducated you. You’re not supposed to actually be able to *read* your diploma!’), Professor Pouncey explained that having variety in grammatical forms was highly regarded.

However, Dean Pouncey was kind enough to provide a short literal translation of the Columbia College diploma. Basically, the first two lines literally translate as ‘The Trustees of the New York-y University of Columbia, the College formerly known as King’s’ (this is verbatim; Pouncey literally said ‘New York-y’, as ‘Noveboracensis’ is an adjectival form).

Ironically, this leaves Barnard College (diploma at left) as the only Columbia school to even come close to properly rendering ‘Columbia University in the City of New York’
sdfsin Latin.

This translates, as Peter Pouncey explained, into, quite literally, ‘The Trustees of the University of Columbia (which happens to be) situated in New York City’. Not the City of New York, mind you.

Anyway, all this is better than the Law diploma, which translates: ‘The Trustees of the New York-y University of Columbia’.”


Way more than we needed to know, but we’re glad someone’s keeping tabs. 

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  1. tanfan  

    Latin! Capitalism! Weird Columbia lore! I am going to miss Tao Tan

  2. ???

    Anyone know how to download the graduation videos for keeps? I know they say you can't, but there's got to be a way. I think it sucks we can't buy or download our own graduation. I wish they had told us before hand, then I could have had my family film the parts I wanted...

  3. JImmy

    Only you, Tao. Only you.

    I'm going to miss him on these pages, too, but hopefully our paths won't stop crossing (or colliding).

  4. grrr

    Sorry, but this had to be said eventually:

    Why does it say "Columbia" on the Barnard diploma?

    • because

      barnard is part of columbia university.

      • clarification

        The FACULTY of Barnard College is part of Columbia University (hence the degree).

        The students, administration, organizations, and governance bodies are not.

    • Alum

      Columbia's agreement with Barnard includes a provision that Barnard grads receive Columbia degrees. Columbia gets to approve Barnard's curriculum (Barnard's president holds the title of Dean in the University and interacts with the provost just like all the other deans do re: curricular matters), as well as its tenure decisions, in order to ensure that Barnard's grads have earned a degree with the CU name on it.

  5. here we go again  

    although i really am sick of barnard girls claiming they're just as much a part of columbia as CC, SEAS, and GS. please!

  6. Hay guys

    Barnard = girls
    GS = old
    Engineers = nerds

    lol, whut?

  7. jojon

    Barnard= girls that don't go to Columbia

  8. Anonymous

    tao: reading through your wikicu entry on the BA i am puzzled by your reasoning -- "The Latin itself on the degree has also changed to Baccalaureus in Artibus, a phrase that instead of meaning Bachelor of Arts, now translates into Bachelor in Arts by replacing the (correct) genitive plural of ars with the (incorrect) ablative plural."

    The big words confused me, of course, but i suppose a comment from someone who studies modern romance languages. The preposition "in" often in these languages is translated to "of" in English because the preposition "in" serves a wider purpose than it does in English. So why is it "wrong" for it to be "in"? basically, address in lay terms why "in" in Latin can't be "of" in English, based on similar examples in other languages (e.g. "consistir en" in Spanish translates to "consists of" in English).

    • keith's wrong

      "In" means "into" with accusative, or "in" with ablative. In no case does it ever mean "of,

      • Anonymous

        thanks. so with the genitive, does in mean of?

        • Anonymous

          no, "in" is hardly if ever used with the genitive. I know what you're talking about with "in" in other languages being translated as several different prepositions in English, but this isn't one of those cases. Basically, in languages with cases (like Latin, German, Czech, Russian...) the cases serve to show the function of the word in the sentence. English does this by means of word order and/or prepositions. But, for example, in the sentence above where I wrote "by means of," that whole phrase wouldn't be necessary if the sentence were rendered in Latin because it would be expressed by putting "word order and/or prepositions" in the ablative case (it would be the ablative of means). Each case has several purposes, the ablative having the most. The genitive is almost always used for one of two purposes, either possessive (the house of John) or partitive (a piece of cheese), both of which are usually rendered in English by the preposition "of." The ablative has a zillion different functions and can be rendered with lots of different preps or no preps, but in latin the preposition "in" is usually used in the ablative (although as #14 commented, "in" does mean "into" when used with the accusative). "De" does not usually mean "of" like in most romance languages; rather it is usually used with the ablative to mean some kind of "from." So yeah, I agree that the genitive would be better in this case.

          ... and that will hopefully be the nerdiest I ever get on the bwog. although I wouldn't count on it.

          espero que t'hagi ajudat, keith.

  9. Anonymous rereading what you wrote i am sorry for quick stepping my response. but i am still trying to understand what you mean by "ars" versus "artibus." so i want to know more about the difference between the genitive and ablative case with regards to prepositions. and i suppose another question, i did a quick search on ablative in latin and i am still confused why an ablative would necessarily make you translate "in" as "in."

  10. the genitive

    in latin is a possessive/descriptive case and is almost always translated with "of" in the example here, it would be Baccalaureus Artis. And to my knowledge in with the ablative case is almost always "in" in the english sense while in with the accusative is "into". I'm not sure if this clears things up for you, but if I had written the diploma, I would have used the genitive like Tao suggested.

  11. I love you all

    This is what Columbia is all about. :) Correcting the Latin on your own diploma. And then perhaps complaining to the higher-ups about it. Thank you, you guys just made my day.

    - CC '10

  12. Anti-GS lobby

    Our one enduring success = English diplomas for GS, Latin for the REAL colleges.

    Our next goal - Diplomas in Spanish to honor Matt 'Sucio' Sanchez, their most famous alum

  13. I think

    'Barnard College' is highlighted well enough on the diploma to leave little room for doubt about which institution the person attended. The only thing I don't like is meeting a new person who introduces herself as a Columbia Alum, only to later awkwardly clarify otherwise ("uhhhh.. I went to Barnard") when further questioned. show some Barnard pride & stop using us to make you feel better about yourselves.

    • barnard girl

      Ugh. Many thanks to Tao Tan & to Bwog for an interesting post.
      However, why does everything have to turn into an opportunity to complain about Barnard students?
      Yes, there are some Barnard women who applied to CC & didn't get in. However, there are many, including myself, who didn't even apply to/want to go to CC & didn't realize that choosing Barnard would mean having our intelligence insulted on pretty much a daily basis. It's not exactly the type of warning they give on the tour.
      As for having Barnard pride, it is a little difficult to do so when it seems like everyone at Columbia looks down on you. Yes, a Barnard alum should introduce herself as a Barnard alum, but how quickly would you have written her off as a waste of your time if she did?
      In my experience, it's more like CC students insult Barnard students to feel better about themselves than Barnard students using Columbia to feel better about themselves.

    • Another BC gal

      It's not so much a matter of not having Barnard pride, but a matter of convenience. I can't tell you how many times I've had the following conversation:

      "what school to you go to?" "Barnard." "What's Barnard?" "It's the women's college affiliated with Columbia University." "Oh! OK!"

      After the 100th time, it's just so much easier to cut to the chase and say "I go to Columbia." If the person then says "oh, so do I / so did my brother / sister, etc etc etc..." THEN you can have the less annoying slightly awkward conversation, "oh, well actually I go to Barnard," because they'll actually know what you're talking about.

      I absolutely love my school, but coming from outside the NYC area where everyone goes to state schools, Barnard is a huge mystery.

      • but

        tons of people go neither to state schools nor to large ivy league universities. Why not just accept that not everyone has heard of every college in the US and say, when asked for clarification, "Barnard is a small women's liberal arts college in new york city?" It's not like the person you're talking to would then bang his/her head against the wall screaming "I DON"T UNDERSTAND!! what IS this barnard you speak of?"

  14. oldfart

    As someone who has seen many deans come and go, let me tell you that Peter Pouncy was the absolute best ever.

  15. Bitter

    I don't care. I still can't get a job with it.

  16. on this post?  

    alum --> alumnus

  17. dear EXACTLY

    If you are actually SO bothered by how someone chooses to describe her college (as being affiliated with Columbia, or whatever) to other people that you find yourself compelled to complain about it to strangers on the Internet, you REALLY need to get out more. You don't go to college to learn to become a person who despises some of your classmates for what they choose to say about themselves or their own respective colleges. That's their business and none of yours. If you're about to say, "But they MAKE it my business when they talk about MY school!"... then seriously, take a good hard look at yourself. Don't you have better things to do with that Ivy League education than sit around defending its worth and preventing others from (rightfully) claiming some part of it as their own?

    Your decision to continue focusing negative energy towards such a petty and ridiculous argument when there are FAR bigger and more important issues to deal with in the world renders the Columbia education you received pretty worthless in my opinion. Grow up.

  18. LOL  

    Y'all need to chill.

    -The New York-y University of Columbia, the College formerly known as King's '07

  19. ricky ross

    just got a mill of that brown paper bag monay!!!

  20. peter pouncey

    was the best lit hum teacher ever.

  21. UGH

    can't we just call the Columbia Barnard relationship "quasi incestual" and move on?

    I prefer the wikicu terminology- barnard is institutionally independent from but academically linked to Columbia University.

  22. uuuugh


    why are we the only ivy that has to deal with shit like this?

  23. except  

    wasn't Barnard the only choice you had as a female prior to the whole co-ed thing? granted it's a different school but i mean, as a girl at columbia, you really cannot complain about barnard girls. if columbia hadn't become coed back in the 80's well, you wouldn't be there.

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