Another gem from Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle, providing a nice example of Latin peevery:

There was nothing lukewarm or even particularly “liberal”—in a cozy modern sense—about Pelagius. He remained a layperson and shied away from the use of the originally Greek word “monk” (the “m-word,” which Jerome had brandished with gusto on every occasion so as to shock and thrill his readers):

I want you to be called a Christian, not a monk, and to possess the virtue of your own personal claim to praise rather than a foreign name which is bestowed to no purpose by us Latins.

(Don’t tell him the word “Christian” is also from Greek!)


  1. Trond Engen says

    Is this linguistic peevery? It’s a very small sample for a judgment, but based only on this I’d say he was going after pride and self-aggrandizing. “Don’t think you’re worthier than others. Say you’re a Christian like everybody else. And use your own name, a local one, not that fancy Latin one you were given when you entered the monastery.”

  2. I think you mean “that fancy Greek one.” And yeah, to me complaining about borrowed words is automatically peevery, though of course that doesn’t mean Pelagius was a constant peever — this may have been his one bugaboo for all I know. (We all have them, including me.)

  3. J. W. Brewer says

    A few years before Pelagius was censured by the Council of Carthage he had beaten the rap on similar heresy charges at the Synod of Diospolis, which exonerated him by saying (according to wiki’s translation of what was presumably a Greek original): “Now since we have received satisfaction in respect of the charges brought against the monk Pelagius in his presence and since he gives his assent to sound doctrines but condemns and anathematises those contrary to the faith of the Church etc etc.” I assume in context he was smart enough not to peeve about being called a monk . . .

  4. Pelagius itself is a name of Greek origin, from Greek pelagos (deep sea).

  5. So why did the m-word shock and thrill Jerome’s readers?

  6. I think you mean “that fancy Greek one.”

    No, I think Trune means “that fancy Latin personal name you got when you became a monk”, like Brother Honuphrius as opposed to plain old Hump.

    A friend of mine, an appeals lawyer, objected to lawyers calling themselves attorneys for two reasons: it wasn’t, especially in his case, etymologically sound, and he believed it to be snobby and pretentious: “My good man, I’m an attorney“. The first point was peevery, but the second IMO was not.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Wikipedia abundantly justifies its existence by sharing that

    “Jerome apparently thought that Pelagius was Irish, suggesting that he was “stuffed with Irish porridge” (Scotorum pultibus proegravatus)”

    Do you know, I’ve *always* wanted to know how to say “stuffed with Irish porridge” in Latin. I just didn’t realise it.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    It seems that Pelagius was probably not an adherent of Pelagianism.

    I have family reasons for knowing the perhaps esoteric fact that Erastus was not an Erastian, either. There are a lot of parallel cases once you start thinking about it …

  9. Do you know, I’ve *always* wanted to know how to say “stuffed with Irish porridge” in Latin. I just didn’t realise it.

    Si hoc signum legere potes, operis boni in rebus Latinus alacribus et fructuosis potiri potes!

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    Verum, mehercle; sed “Latinus”? Egomet, fortasse? Nonne “rei” verbum femininum est? An lapsus calami?

    Miser Britannus, non dignus sum clari nominis “Latini.”

  11. Trond Engen says

    June C.: No, I think Trune means “that fancy Latin personal name you got when you became a monk”, like Brother Honuphrius as opposed to plain old Hump.

    Yes, exactly.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    …. hi calami electronici non faciles sunt recte scribendi, opinor.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    The name “(h)Onuphrius” is even more exotic than Greek, what with being Egyptian and all. Fair enough, as it was the Egyptians who invented monasticism.

    The -nufr- bit is from the same Egyptian root as the first bit of “Nefertiti.”

  14. Tum vero quia Anglicus lingua materna est, ego saepe Iudas cum formas in grammatica latina, masculino et feminino.

    Sic habe:

    If you can read this sign, you can get a good job in the fast-paced, high-paying world of Latin!

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    So true!
    Reminds me of

    the Betamax of artificial auxiliary languages. Take that, Zamenhof!

  16. Only one-and-a-half years of Latin half a century ago and I got my guffaws today on this thread! Thanx!

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    So is the consensus that Brown seriously misinterpreted what Pel. was actually saying?

  18. In Ill Bethisad, LSF is the international language of scientific publication.

    Honuphrius is the name used in the Law Lecture section of Finnegans Wake for the book’s hero, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker.

  19. Latine sine flexione

    Wow! So easy to understand! Why was I tortured so back in high school? Roll in your grave, Ludwig!

    More funny Latin quips here.

  20. squadron leader squiffy von bladet says

    “That’s no layperson, that’s my monk!”

  21. Oops. So easy to get confused, what with Latin, Roman and Italic. Not to mention omnes capita. Hattic magic, please!

  22. Magicked!

  23. Gratias ago tibi!

  24. @David: You missed the actual lapsus calami when correcting Paul — “rebus Latinibus alacribus et fructuosis” is supposed to be a single noun phrase (

  25. @Lars: Surely you mean “Latinis.”

  26. @John Cowan: It’s ironic that “attorney” fell out of use in Britain because it had become a pejorative, referring to what was perceived as “low-class” work. (I recall Dr. Johnson spreading the rumor in one of his writings that somebody Johnson did not care for supported himself as an “attorney.”)

  27. “I do not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but I believe the gentleman is an attorney.”

  28. David Eddyshaw says


    No, I picked the right word, though my comment on the gender of “res” was irrelevant to the actual mistake. It should indeed have been Latinis, as Roger C says (ablative plural, rather than dative, though the form itself is identical.)

    The fact that it was in fact joke-Latin went right over my head, come to that. That’ll teach me.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    (I didn’t feel up to posting in Latin about the case as well as the gender of “Latinus” at short notice.)

  30. @Rodger: Surely I do.

    @David: Modulo my own errors, my point was exactly that: Right word, wrong mistake.

  31. And now, Dr Johnson’s Buildings are the proud home of several firms of barristers, all unimpeachable folk the great lawyer-hater would never have considered an ‘attorney’, I’m sure.

  32. John Cowan says

    it had become a pejorative

    It always was. The OED’s first quotation is from Simonie (ca. 1330), as follows: “Attourneis in cuntre, þeih geten siluer for noht.”

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