I enjoyed this paragraph from Jerzy Linderski, “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum: Concepts of Defensive Imperialism,” for its own sake (via Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti):

For Roman facts are not waiting there to be collected; the act of picking them up is the act of choice and interpretation. No fact exists without an interpretation imposed upon it. For facts are like words in a dictionary; they are dead. In the real language words come to life only in enunciations; in the real world facts come to life only in the flow of history. And the flow of history, as we know it, flows from the ordering mind of the historian, ancient or modern. The tools of order are unexpressed philosophy and assumed terminology. Hence even the most extensive erudition and deepest knowledge of the quisquilia of epigraphy may still result in specious history. In order to understand or refute what a historian says, we must investigate his frame of mind. This appears to us a natural postulate with respect to our ancient forefathers, but the dissecting of the minds of our contemporary colleagues many would feel is a different matter: a task unbecoming a scholar and gentleman. Yet we are not questioning honesty; we are questioning philosophy. We are seeking premises unexpressed, unrealized, unsuspected.

But I bring it here for the excellent Latin word quisquilia ‘admixed twigs or stalks; odds and ends; rubbish, dregs,’ which while not much used in English is current in Italian, where it means ‘trifle, minor detail.’ I’m afraid it has far too dusty a scent to be usable in English other than by classicists, but I do like it.

Also, note Linderski’s title “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum”; this is, of course, a Latin saying meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war,” and it is the source of the pistol name Parabellum, which in turn is the source of Russian парабеллум ‘automatic pistol,’ which I probably first encountered in Ilf & Petrov’s classic Двенадцать стульев (The Twelve Chairs, 1927), where Ostap says:

― Мы надеемся с вашей помощью поразить врага. Я дам вам парабеллум.

“We hope, with your help, to defeat the enemy. I’ll give you a pistol.”


  1. Rodger C says

    Now we have a cool word for “seeds and stems.”

  2. And now I have to link to Commander Cody.

  3. I’m a little surprised Linderski uses neuter ‘quisquilia’ rather than feminine ‘quisquiliae’. The latter is standard ancient Latin, attested in Cicero, Apuleius, and Isidore, the former only used by Trimalchio in Petronius 75.8, and the ex-slave’s Latin is often amusingly bad. I suppose making it a neuter plural helps it fit in with words like ‘varia’ or ‘paraphernalia’ in English.

    As for ‘Parabellum’, it is not a generic word for pistol, it’s a specific model invented by Georg Luger in 1898 and therefore often known as a ‘luger’. Wikipedia lists it under “Luger pistol”, which links to a Parabellum disambiguation page distinguishing four weapons or types of ammunition, four bands in four different countries, and three other things.

  4. Sorry if I read too hastily and implied that you didn’t know that Parabellum was originally a specific model. Should have followed your link before commenting!

  5. Hence the capital letter. But in Russian it’s generic.

  6. Maybe for people who don’t know anything about guns.

    I knew how Parabellum looked and could tell it from Makarov in second grade.

    Lots of boys of my generation could. Our parents probably knew even more – judging from that Mauser semi-automatic I found on the attic of our dacha…

  7. Quisquilia equals kickshaws?

  8. And the star of two old-timey proto-Israeli poems:
    The Floor to Comrade Parabellum, written in the context of an ongoing holocaust amidst the British refusal to let survivors in (and in the lead-up to WWII, refugees);
    and Where are Those Girls, who would hide a Parabellum in their (blouse) bosom, as well as some hand-grenades, but “today’s cleavages” (’70s, I believe) barely accommodate “what they already have”.

  9. Quisquilla means “shrimp” in Spanish. Quisquilha is “shrimp” or “razor clam(s)” in Galician but not, apparently, in standard Portuguese. However, the word appears in the writings of Guimarães Rosa in the sense of “trifles,” as do its numerous synonyms.

    Kickshaw (along with its superior twin, kickshoe) comes from quelque(s) chose(s).

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