When I look at vade mecum, associations invade me cumulatively. I think of Darth Vader, for instance. And, what, is he covered in talcum? No, no, he’s with Meco – you know, Meco Monardo, who came out with Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, a record that I, as a ten-year-old utterly enamoured of Star Wars, naturally listened to quite a fair bit, along with several other Star Wars–related things. (Anyone who was around in 1977 is sure to recognize this music – note that the video that has been posted with it uses clips from later movies in the series too.) I was always sure to have some Star Wars thing or other with me wherever I went, as an indispensable appurtenance.
Hmm. It occurs to me that my indispensable appurtenances have changed somewhat. Now I do not leave the house without my datebook. I use a Letts, but some people prefer to use a Quo Vadis. I also have a pen and pencil and handkerchief, but I do not, as some do, always carry a comb – another thing that arrives with this word, mecum not only sounding a bit like “my comb” but having those comb-like m‘s.
If I were to carry any other book with me, it would be a book too cumbersome to carry: the complete Oxford English Dictionary. As it is online now, I could actually have it with me if I had an iPhone, which, for those who have one, seems to be quite the ultimate vade mecum – a useful thing that one carries about everywhere. It goes with you – after all, vade mecum is Latin for “go with me”.
Perhaps the epitome of a vade mecum, certainly in science fiction, is nothing to do with Star Wars but rather the eponymous book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Of course, the galactic guidebook that Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent carry is not available to us now on Earth. For those interested in sci fi or fantasy, their vade mecum may be Marc Okrand’s Klingon Dictionary, or it may be a Dungeon Master’s Guide, or, if they play ChthulhuTech, they may use the Core Book – although there is a volume for ChthulhuTech called Vade Mecum, it requires the Core Book, ironically.
But a person interested in tasting words could do worse than to have a Latin reference (among a few others). That, at least, would make it plain that the plural of this word could never be vade meca – you see, mecum is not a neuter noun; it’s a pronoun plus preposition. The cum means “with”. So you treat the words as a phrase entire and pluralize accordingly. After all, the plural of go-with-me would not be go-with-us.
The two words that make up this compound have a certain contrast in pronunciation, with a vibe on the lips and teeth and a touch on the tongue tip in the first, a sort of wool vest of a word, and then in the second word a nasal with the lips bouncing to a velar touch of the tongue and back, making a word like a pillow with a table knife in the middle. Of course, that partly depends on what you make ’em; there are several ways to say this. Most likely nowadays you will hear a vulgate-ish pronunciation, “vah day may come”; formerly in England, the old British style of saying Latin would have prevailed, “vay dee me come”. Of course, in the original Latin it’s neither; it’s “wah deh meh coom”, but while a day may come when we say Latin commonly that way, I’m not waiting for it – or writing it in my Letts.
Thanks to Elaine Phillips for asking for vade mecum.