I would like to have some text translated from English (or another language) to Latin. I don't know any Latin myself. Can I ask my translation question on this site? If yes, how should I do it?

  • Note to advanced users: By choosing 'Close' > 'Community-specific reason' > 'Insufficient context in translation request' you can vote to close a question so that there is an automatic notification of the issue and a link to this page. Just a couple of clicks and no typing needed. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 14 at 12:56

You don't have to know any Latin to be allowed to ask questions on this site. If you have a translation question, please answer all the following questions in your question:

  • What is the text you would like to have translated?
  • Where is the text from? It can be something you came up with yourself or something you found somewhere. There might already be a translation out there, and context helps.
  • What do you exactly want to convey with the text? For example, the motto "above the clouds" will get a very different translation if it is for a commercial airliner instead of someone escaping domestic violence to fantasy world. Give the same thought in different words. Translation is about ideas more than words, so make sure we get the idea.
  • What would the text be used for? Carved in a wedding ring, tattooed on you, written on a greeting card, or something else?
  • What have you done to translate the text yourself? If nothing, just state it frankly. If you have found a similar phrase somewhere and would like to have it adapted for your purposes, that helps a lot. Please consider browsing any online Latin dictionary and looking for suitable words even if you can't quite put them together into a sentence.
  • If you have a suggested translation, where is it from? You, a Latin text book, Google Translate, or someplace else? Don't just say "a book" or "a website" if you know more.
  • If you have a suggested translation, are you uncertain about something specific?

Including all this information in your question can be done in 15 minutes. It is a small chore in comparison to what the people giving you an answer might do.

If you have something to add, please edit your question. Don't just post comments, but edit and improve the question. You can always do that as long as you have access to your account, which is why it is a good idea to register your account.

If your question was closed or put on hold, edit it to improve and it can be reopened. Explain and give context.

We realize that if you don't know any Latin, you can't easily offer your own translation. But you can elaborate on what you would like to have. The better your question is, the more likely you are to receive useful answers.

Anyone giving you a translation on this site is a volunteer. Be respectful and help them help you. If you want us to put effort into it, show us that you've put some effort into it too.

  • Let me know if I missed something or if you disagree. We get quite a lot of questions of this nature, and I wanted to have a concrete page to give our new users to read if they ask such questions. More general translation discussions: How can I ask a translation or homework question? What do we do with translation requests? – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 12 at 9:50
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    This is great and covers any follow-up comments that usually need to be made when someone is asking for translation help. It'll be easy to post a link to this in comments. – Adam Feb 12 at 15:14
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    @Adam I'm also thinking of adding a custom closing reason: "Your question has been put on hold for insufficient context. If you edit your question to elaborate on it, it can be reopened. Please consult this meta page for instructions for asking a translation question if you don't know much Latin and follow all the instructions given there. Explain and give more context!" Then anyone can (vote to) leave that comment and put the question on hold with two clicks. [Update: This is now live!] – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 12 at 15:38
  • I think most people who want to ask a translation question don't actually care enough to read the meta, let alone stick around after getting their answer... – cmw Feb 13 at 4:13
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    @C.M.Weimer Then I'd actually be happy to keep their questions closed and give them nothing. I'm not assuming them to read meta first, but I'd close those questions quickly with an automatic note pointing here (see comment above). If we point them to clear and reasonable instructions and they don't react, I don't think we need to react either. If someone really wants to get their translation, they'll put in extra ten minutes of work and we'll help. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 13 at 10:06
  • So the point of this question and answer is to set up explicit criteria we can require askers to meet. Improving the question is not that much extra work compared to the work of a volunteer translator. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 13 at 14:18

(I realize the below is controversial and somewhat against the current praxis of the site, but it's my opinion and perhaps ought to be explicitly stated.)

The guidance in our Help Center about on topic question includes the following among questions should generally not be asked:

translation requests or etymological queries that show no serious research effort using readily available online sources)

The German help center goes a little further:

Translation requests to German should be of general interest and should provide sufficient context. Please understand that we can not be an individual translation service.

I am of the opinion that one-off translations of mottos/tattoos/etc. should not be permitted on this site. Given that a huge majority of the questions that involve no knowledge of Latin are such translation requests, I think they should almost never be in scope.

The reason I say this is that I believe the following made-up question handily meets the criteria outlined above:

I would like to translate the phrase, "winged pigs forever." I came up with the text myself, and I just want a literal translation because it's fun and quirky. The only thing I've done is type it into Google translate, which gives me: "quod reptat et porcos in sempiternum." Is that right?

I think this kind of question should be rejected, since it has no general interest and doesn't ask any question that a Latin learner of any level could benefit from.

I realize that defining a translation of "general interest" is harder in Latin than it is in German, since it's often an interesting and controversial issue figuring out how to translate even common English phrases.

I think it lowers the quality of the questions on this site, though, to permit questions that ask for extremely specific translations that do not meet the minimal bar of asking some question of general interest, e.g.

  • Is X or Y a better translation of Z?
  • Can I use the dative in this way?

Perhaps I'm just being grumpy, but I don't want this to become a tattoo translation site.

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    Thanks! I see where you are coming from, and I would reject the "winged pigs forever" question too. I might change my mind if it has a compelling use case, more than "it'd be fun to know". But on a general level I would make a distinction between technically valid and interesting. If a question is technically invalid, we can close it for it. If it's just uninteresting, we can't, but we can vote it to oblivion. What makes a question interesting cannot be codified but it cannot be ignored either; this site is mainly curated by our collective taste. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 13 at 21:18
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    What we can and should codify is what is technically valid, and inspecting a part of the border of our scope is one of the purposes of this question. I prefer to keep the threshold of technical validity low enough so that no interesting (from the point of view of our community) question is lawyered into closure. My preferred solution at the moment is to allow such translation requests as long as they adhere to these criteria, but vote them down if they are uninteresting. I have nothing at all against a user systematically voting down all such questions. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 13 at 21:18
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    A question behind this meta discussion was: What does research effort mean for a translation request if the user knows no Latin? The question is moot if we declare those questions out of scope. If we allow them, I think it can only mean elaborating on the points I listed in my answer. I don't want the site to be overwhelmed by such requests either. The biggest danger of motto translation questions is their turning the site less appealing to the Latin enthusiasts that comprise our core demographic. I'd be happy to hear how others feel about this danger. (Sorry for the long comment!) – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 13 at 21:18
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    @JoonasIlmavirta That's helpful--particularly the distinction between "technical validity" and "good question." – brianpck Feb 13 at 22:13
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    I do think that tattoo translations present some danger of making the site less appealing to serious Latinists. However, I'm currently favoring them because tattoos are actually one of the last living elements of the Latin tradition! That is, they're meant as serious, permanent writing, calling for the most elevated register. People ask for these translations because even though they don't know Latin, they still genuinely feel the cultural meaning of Latin. As long as the requests are not frivolous, I'm happy to help keep this tradition alive—at the best web site for it. – Ben Kovitz Feb 16 at 21:09
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    1. I'm ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I agree we are not a translation service. On the other hand, sometimes mottoes can be interesting and highly upvoted. Sometimes answers to insipid questions can be informative. I wasn't aware of the etymology of Disney until I looked it up to answer the Disney World question. The "winter is coming" thread got four answers, one over 20 points, mine at 16, and two others at 6. – cmw Feb 18 at 15:05
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    2. With actual citations and explorations of the differences, I think they provide something useful on top of being interesting to the larger community (Disney and Game of Thrones are/were very popular and recognizable by other Stacks). That alone might make these types of questions worthwhile. Where questions fail is when we get nonsensical mottoes without any explanation or context. We should always encourage the question-asker to give context and understand that language translation is never word-for-word replacement. – cmw Feb 18 at 15:06

The answer by Joonas Ilmavirta covers all the bases on ‘how can I make my translation request valid on Latin SE’. My general thoughts on the matter are simply that ‘If it shows effort, it is valid.’ By effort, I believe following Joonas’ list should be considered the gold standard.

My main issue is with us claiming some right to state what is and what isn’t interesting in and of itself. We might not have a particular interest in the word or sentence requested; but it could hold value to the asker, and the why of this, really is none of our business (though there certainly are other interrogative pronouns which are). One of the main goals of this sight is to be a welcoming site for anyone showing an interest in Latin and the study of Classics, and I believe that should be our guiding star, more than what could be perceived as willy-nilly downvoting – one is tempted to say: discrimination – of some unusual question.

Even a single word can be quite interesting in and of itself, such as ‘What is “blue” in Latin?’ Though one could be tempted to simply reply ‘We are not a dictionary’, answering a question such as that can be very challenging, given that that very word is the colour which gets its name the latest in almost any given language. If the user lists suggestions and context for this, we have a way of understanding how to answer it and quite the interesting challenge ahead of us – one which surely will reveal linguistics, history and culture to us.

Further, I do not consider it a problem should we be a source of tattoo translations. I myself have a tattoo which I am very proud of and which holds great personal value to me, written in Elvish with great help from cand. philol. Helge Kåre Fauskanger. Key to this translation was our communication back and forth, which gave him the context, the source, its context, what I personally wanted to communicate with it, what it would be used for, the very few things I had found myself using online sources and the book itself, and thus my not very helpful attempt at a translation, and thus why it would be too uncertain to even try to base anything off of it. (Yes, this of course retrospectively perfectly matches the list above; I believe my point has been made, though.)

In summary: If it shows effort (i.e. Joonas’ list), I believe we should allow any translation requests. The details of it may not be interesting for the user, but I have yet to come upon a translation which has not yielded some interesting linguistic secrets to me. It is my hope that we will update the site’s introduction to include Joonas’ list.

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    Thanks! The point of my list was indeed to make the concept of effort clear and give new users a checklist for elaboration. (The same points have also been written in comments numerous times, and having them all here with an easy way to link here simply saves time.) On your example: I think "What is 'blue' in Latin?" is not that good, but this would be: "I noticed that the word 'blue' is not in this Latin dictionary. Why so? How should it be translated to Latin?" A question should make itself interesting. (This particular meta question was about sentence or motto or tattoo translations.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 15 at 10:36
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    I'd also add that the site is curated by our collective taste, and we should indicate our preferences by voting. If we collectively consider something uninteresting despite being technically valid, I see no injustice. The site is useful and interesting because we filter the content by our personal tastes. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 15 at 10:39
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    I'm not so sure we should cater to the extemporaneous whims of any given person, especially considering that a good number of these types of questions are asked by people who never interact with the site afterward. They often don't award right answers, follow up comments made, or even say thanks. Seems like a lot of wasted effort just to help someone who for all we know doesn't really care what answer they get. – cmw Feb 18 at 15:28
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    @cmweimer on the other hand, someone coming along later just to browse through might find an interesting tidbit related to something they'd like to look at. It's not just about the asker. – Matt Gutting Mar 28 at 22:31
  • Which is a very good point. The ultimate goal of the SE sites is after all to be the best online source for answers to questions. – Canned Man Apr 12 at 12:24

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