De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est. “Of the dead, nothing but good is to be said.” Well, that’s a fairly exact translation, but not so idiomatic – Latin liked passives and other constructions that used est (‘is’) far more than English does. Better to render it as “Don’t speak ill of the dead” or “Speak only well of the dead” or that sort of thing. There are a lot of dreadful translations into and out of Latin. I’ve sung and heard music written in English and then translated word for word into Latin, which is a ghastly and villainous thing to do, sort of like using a computer like a typewriter, hitting return at the end of each line and aligning using spaces and so on. I’ve seen books and poetry translated equally badly into Latin, somehow adding more words where Latin would use fewer, as though translation were an exercise in explication (imagine! a Latin translation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with a title that, translated back from Latin, means ‘how an evil little being called the Grinch stole the birth of Christ’).

Where was I. Oh, yes. De mortuis et cetera. It’s often shortened to Nil nisi bonum, ‘nothing but good’. Have you seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia? I recommend it; well made, highly quotable. But don’t quote the pronunciation of Nil nisi bonum you hear near the beginning. Oh, it’s accurate – to British schoolboy Latin of nearly a century ago, which is what would have been used. But gah. A great exhibition of the effect of the Great Vowel Shift of English on pronunciation of Latin, but really: “Nill nice eye bone ’em.” A more accurate-to-the-original version (allowing for the usual Anglophone incompetence at loan phonetics) would be like “Kneel knee see bon oom.”

Why am I going on about this? Oh, yes. So anyway, at a funeral, someone delivers a eulogy. That’s from Greek εὐ eu ‘good’ (you see it in euthanasia, ‘good death’, and a number of other words too) plus λογία logia ‘speech’ (or ‘words’; you see it in all those –ology words and many others). You say nice things about the dead person. It’s a sad time, someone’s been lost, no one wants to be reminded about the unpleasant parts of the person’s character because that kind of poisons the grief. Anyway, there’s no risk in saying nice things; the person isn’t going to get a swollen head from them or use them against you later.

But if there’s good speech, there must be bad speech, right? Such as the speech we often make of others before they die? Various kinds of criticism and kvetching? The Greeks had a word for it, surely? Well, no, they didn’t, not as such, but that didn’t stop us from taking Greek parts and jamming them together, because the ancient Greeks are dead and they’re our parts now, never mind those modern Greeks, they’re two millennia removed from it too. We just took the opposite of eu, that negative dys (from δυσ), not dis as in dislocation (that’s Latin and means ‘away from’ or similar senses) but dys as in dyslexia, and stuck it onto the logy. Dyslogy. With one swell foop we have dislodged the eulogy. And, like eulogy, it’s said with the accent on the first syllable. But it’s a bit harder to say. And it’s harder to look at, too: tandem y’s (we are not used to seeing two of them with four letters in between) and quite a slog through “sludge” in the middle.

So where do you use dyslogy? Be honest: you probably use it all the time; it doesn’t take much to dislodge the cup of malcontent. Dyslogy will spill out about the weather, perhaps, unless you live somewhere where the weather is always nice. About sports, politics, people who cut in front of you and then move slowly, people who live where the weather is always nice and flaunt it on Facebook, anyone who uses the hashtag #soblessed, maybe even anyone who uses the word hashtag, lousy translations, people who complain about everything all the time, and, of course, those pretentious dicks who use words like dyslogy.

3 responses to “dyslogy

  1. Your comment about the two y’s with 4 letters in the middle made me think about the much more common words mystery and tyranny, which also satisfy that criterion, two things that are frequently dyslogised about.

  2. These days, “dyslogy, thy name is Trump.”

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