Mark Liberman at Language Log has posted about a couple of Nabokov’s interviews (which are not like anybody else’s); he finished up with this quote:

This exchange with Alvin Toffler appeared in Playboy for January, 1964. Great trouble was taken on both sides to achieve the illusion of a spontaneous conversation. Actually, my contribution as printed conforms meticulously to the answers, every word of which I had written in longhand before having them typed for submission to Toffler when he came to Montreux in mid-March, 1963. The present text takes into account the order of my interviewer’s questions as well as the fact that a couple of consecutive pages of my typescript were apparently lost in transit. Egreto perambis doribus!

Neither Mark nor I has any idea what the jocular polymath might have meant by that last bit of pseudo-Latin, nor (as far as I can tell by googling) does anybody else on the internet, so I’m throwing the floor open to suggestions. Egrets given to the perambulating Dorians??


  1. John Emerson says

    I think that the question you should have asked is, “What was Nabakov doing interviewing Toffler?” I struggle to find a comparison…. Flaubert interviewing a second-rank follower of Fourier, erhaps.

  2. John Emerson says

    . /a. Perhaps.

  3. From the comments on this phrase:
    “I have found one use of “doribus”, in a medieval version of the Ad Missam catholic song. “in splen doribus sanctorum.”” (
    Yes, well, this is clearly in splendoribus sanctorum – “in the splendours of the holy” and someone was a little over-zealous with their word boundaries.
    Do we know that’s what he actually wrote, and not what was transcribed from an interview?

  4. Impossible to know for sure, but Nabokov was notoriously picky about making sure his exact words were printed, so the presumption is that it’s correct. If it’s a typo, it’s hard to see what the original might have been; more likely that it’s one of his playful linguistic games. Surely one of the obsessive Nabokov scholars has grappled with this in the last four decades!

  5. John Emerson: I do believe Toffler was interviewing Nabokov, not the other way around.

  6. Reading per ambis for perambis, I understand it as macaronic Latin for “Go out through both doors!”, a plural imperative. This reading does not stand up in detail, though; egreto is not a proper plural imperative for the deponent verb egredior; ambis is not a valid inflected form of ambo; and per governs the accusative, whereas doribus is dative or ablative. But maybe Nabokov didn’t care; -ibus is very characteristic of Latin and often appears in macaronic forms.
    (There is no noun root dor- in Lewis & Short , only Doros ‘Doric’, which is why I presume that Nabokov intended the English word door.)

  7. Bird names I’m good at. Egreto is Esperanto for egret. Malgranda egreto is the little egret and Granda egreto is the great egret. Alas I don’t know as much about Esperanto as about birds, but I’m guessing perambis and doribus don’t turn out to be Esperanto.
    The egret walks out with the Greeks?

  8. I forgot Rabelais! Doribus appears in Gargantua and Pantagruel. It’s some kind of a sham cure or something. Ooh, found it … here is the sentence: “There are others in the world–these are no flimflam stories, nor tales of a tub–who, being much troubled with the toothache, after they had spent their goods upon physicians without receiving at all any ease of their pain, have found no more ready remedy than to put the said Chronicles betwixt two pieces of linen cloth made somewhat hot, and so apply them to the place that smarteth, sinapizing them with a little powder of projection, otherwise called doribus.”
    The egret walks out with a placebo?

  9. There’s also a character called Master Doribus in Gargantua and Pantagruel. His preaching is about like the placebo thing described in the introduction.

  10. Rabelais may be in there somewhere, but it’s more complicated.
    “Doribus” does appear in one of the translations of Pantagruel:
    There are others in the world—these are no flimflam stories, nor tales of a tub—who, being much troubled with the toothache, after they had spent their goods upon physicians without receiving at all any ease of their pain, have found no more ready remedy than to put the said Chronicles betwixt two pieces of linen cloth made somewhat hot, and so apply them to the place that smarteth, sinapizing them with a little powder of projection, otherwise called doribus.
    However, in the original, it’s d’oribus:
    D’aultres sont par le monde (ce ne sont pas faribolles) qui estans grandement affligez du mal des dentz, apres avoir tous leurs biens despenduz en medecins, n’ont trouvé remede plus expedient, que mettre lesdictes chronicques entre deux beaulx linges bien chaulx, & les applicquer au lieu de la douleur, les sinapizant avecques ung peu de pouldre d’oribus.
    where “oribus” is apparently ablative or dative plural of os, “mouth”.

  11. It’s a stretch, but the combination of the word “transit” and the macaronic “-bus”, made me think of A.D. Godley’s classic poem on the Motor Bus which starts:
    What is it that roareth thus?
    Can it be a Motor Bus?
    Yes, the smell and hideous hum
    Indicat Motorem Bum!
    Might it be that if the pages were “lost in transit”, old Nab is suggesting they were left on the bus? And that one might suppose in a university town, for example, that students might have jokingly latinized an instruction to the effect that “egress by both doors of the bus” is to take place at certain stops?

  12. That’s the most plausible thing I’ve heard so far. Nabokov went to Cambridge and was certainly familiar with Godley and similar macaronic jests.

  13. Based on a Google search and an overactive imagination, I was thinking it might have something to do with the fact that (at least according to this site) the ‘Doribus’ of Rabelais was one Matthieu Ory, whose official title was ‘Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity for the Realm of France’. Inquisitor, interviewer; tomAYto, tomAHto.
    But that actually does seem a bit far-fetched. The one about the bus makes waaaay more sense, eh?

  14. dungbeetle says

    from a dumb one ” exited thru two greek columns” there by not in your column.

  15. Well, just look at the context. Nabokov was obviously ticked off that two pages of his text had disappeared, and the interview was still being published nonetheless. For such a meticulous person, this must have caused a great deal of frustration.
    In other words, he was working with jibberish, or close to it. How to express his frustration? With Latin jibberish, of course, maybe from his school days.
    Don’t look too hard for meaning in the Latin.

  16. I think it is mock latin, like the “motor bus” verse. The comment occurs after he says he both followed the order of the questions and included content that had got lost when he submitted his replies in advance: so I wonder whether he means “I go out by both doors”, or in colloquial English, something like “I cover(ed) all (both) angles” – though why he thinks a jocular reference is called for, I don’t know (and if this is right, I would have thought he would use exito rather than egreto for “go out”).

  17. egress: egressus [digression]ppl of egredior to go out, to go up, etc.,
    For those of us, that latin be a hardship reminds me of one that when asked the meaning of castra poneris, his reply be ‘Castrated pony”

    Doribus dorice loqui fas est. [Pereira 98]. Dóricos devem falar em língua dórica. nCada um fala como quem é.

  19. I think Geraint Jennings is closest, via the following chain of English idiom to fake Latin:
    Sometimes, when something goes missing or gets lost, we say “It got up and went for a walk”, or similar words.
    So “Egreto perambis” would be mock-Latin for “(they?) went out wandering”. Could “doribus” thus mean “from the bus” (or “on the bus”)?

  20. theophylact says

    The “bus” explication makes sense, especially as the Dog Latin tag immediately follows “lost in transit”.

  21. I was looking at that “doribus” which seems to be puzzling everyone, and I found myself wondering if perhaps the “d” was a transcription error (OCR error?) for “ol”.
    Would “oloribus” make more sense? According to Perseus, olor means “a swan”.

  22. I guess something like: I hang around with sleep-walkers.

  23. After fiddling around with the Latin dictionaries on Perseus some more, I note that “do” means “to give”. Could “doribus” mean “my offering”?
    “Egreto perambis doribus” – “My offering went out and wandered away”?

  24. Could egreto be an anagram for te gero? I bring you?

  25. I think it was Nabokovian for, “The shadow knows.”

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