It's hard to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys

By km2002, in 'English to Latin Translation', Mar 25, 2012.

  1. km2002 New Member

    This is a common expression, at least in the U.S. workplace, indicative of trying to achieve the best you can but being held down by underperforming coworkers. And I've been looking for a translation for years, something legitimate, as opposed to the mock-Latin "Illegitimi non carborundum" ("Don't let the ba$tards wear you down," borrowed from an old trademark for a line of sandpaper). I do hope this is not considered inappropriate; heck of a first impression if it is. Thank you one and all.
  2. socratidion Civis Illustris

    So, are you looking for something quite close to the English, a fairly literal rendering? Or an alternative phrase with a good Latin pedigree that conveys roughly the same sentiment?

    For a literal rendering, since turkeys hadn't been discovered in the ancient world, do you want the modern Latin name (apparently 'meleagris'), or will you be content with another ludicrous earthbound bird -- 'perdix', the partridge, springs to mind.
  3. Manus Correctrix QVAE CORRIGIT

    Seems somehow regal to me. We may need to step outside of the kingdom of birds. What animal stood for stupidity in Latin, the way ‘turkey’ does in Yankee English? Asinus?
  4. Batavus_II Civis Illustris

    Same here, but I can't think of a good translation.
  5. Manus Correctrix QVAE CORRIGIT

    We could work from the Vulgate:

    Si exaltatus fueris ut aquila, inde tamen trahent te asini quibuscum laboras.

    (Paraphrase of chapter 1 of the vision of Abdias.)
  6. Aurifex Aedilis

    Borrowing from C.N.'s suggestion:
    Qui optat aquilas volatu aequare, ei minime convenit cum asinis laborare.
    Not ideal, perhaps, but getting nearer.

    My preference would actually be to maintain the pointed contrast between two different kinds of bird, one domestic, the other majestic, and broaden things beyond the context of the workplace.

    As Socratidion has indicated, turkeys were unknown to the Romans, so there is no authentic Latin word for them. They are however assigned by taxonomists to the order Galliformes, and so are related to the domestic fowl, the Latin word for which was gallina.

    An alternative translation then would be:
    Qui optat aquilas volatu aequare, ei minime convenit gallinis conversari.
    where conversari (with dat.) means "to associate with".
  7. socratidion Civis Illustris

    Whether 'hen' or 'partridge' doesn't much bother me, though it's worth saying that the idea came to me because of the story of Daedalus & Icarus (as told in Ovid) -- you know, the one where they glue feathers to their arms with wax, and fly... Before that, Daedalus tries to kill his other son Perdix (jealous of his greater talent) by throwing him off a tower. Before Perdix hits the ground, he has magically been turned into a partridge, a bird who ever after is scared of heights. So in the end it turns out that one son, Icarus, goes flying (too close to the sun, according to the famous part of the story), and the other hugs the ground. Seemed like a meaningful resonance here.

    As well as 'gallina', there's 'gallus', the male cockerel. Maybe that would be preferable: a gaudy, colourful bird, all show, and no real power.

    But whatever. Ass is fine too. I was toying with the old 'Jovi/bovi' (Jupiter/ox) contrast as well at one point. At least we're reasonably happy with 'eagle'.

    Cursor's version means something like "if you have been exalted, as the eagle, even so the asses with whom you work will drag you down from there". That works for me.

    I love Aurifex's 'aquilas volatu aequare' (be on a level with eagles in flying), which has the ring of real Latin about it. The sentence as a whole comes out as something like 'For him who wishes to be on a level with eagles in flying, it's no good at all to associate with hens'. It's prosy, but it has a rightness about it.

    For what it's worth, a couple of alternative approaches, which, I admit, lose the 'flying' metaphor, but since we're talking about birds, it's implicit:
    qui socios habet perdices nil aquilis dignum perficit = he who has partridges as co-workers achieves nothing worthy of eagles
    qui cum perdicibus ambulat haud facile ad aquilas assequitur = he who walks with partridges does not easily attain the level of eagles
    e grege perdicum haud facile ad aquilas transcendas = out of a flock of partridges you don't easily pass over to eagles . (Sounds weird, but it's based on a similar idea in Plautus)
  8. km2002 New Member

    Thank you one and all! I think I lean toward a perhaps more literal rendering such as Aurifex offered, perhaps to this extent:

    Qui optat aquilas volatu aequare, ei minime convenit cum gallinis laborare.

    But I do appreciate the extent to which you all went, some toward a more literal translation, some toward a more poetic. I'm very glad I found out about this forum. Lord knows how many funny things happened to me on my way here.
  9. socratidion Civis Illustris

    OK, that's fine: but 'laborare cum' is not the best choice for 'work with' -- which I guess is why Aurifex changed it. 'laborare' is always an emphatic word, connoting great pains, effort, struggle, and even suffering, bother, distress... In the English, 'work' is something much more neutral, just the job you are doing -- the jobs we all do as part of our lives.

    Aurifex's second suggestion (conversari = associate with) solved this problem. Another possibility is 'cum gallinis sociari' (note the additional 'cum'), which is 'share in <a project?> with'...
  10. Aurifex Aedilis

    Yes, there is very imperfect overlap between the meanings of laborare and "work", a verb in English that can, if necessary, be quite neutral, as you say. The weight of the word laborare in the second clause risks distracting us from the point of the contrast between eagles and hens (or partridges) and their respective statuses.

    Incidentally, Socratidi, I thought hens were appropriate polar opposites of eagles because they are flightless and domesticated. I didn't want to use the masculine form gallus/gallis, though, in case someone misinterpreted my intentions and read what I had written as a thinly disguised racial slur on Frenchmen. Sad!
  11. km2002 New Member

    I'm sorry I hadn't had a chance to check back on this in a while. Quite an interesting refinement of the original thread. To my uneducated mind, laborare, regardless of weight or lack thereof, seems more readily apparent to non-Latin scholars such as yourselves as a form of "to work" (laborare, labor), while conversari suggests talking to turkeys rather than working with them; and sociari looks too much to the uneducated eye as "associate," which isn't really the thrust of the original English. Now I have options to consider (which isn't optimal, really, for someone who doesn't know the language).

    Socratidion, what do you mean by an additional cum (when you suggested cum gallinis sociari)? Again, remember, please, that I don't know the language.

    Again, thank you one and all.
  12. Manus Correctrix QVAE CORRIGIT

    The prefix con- and the preposition cum are both essentially the same thing. They must once have been some adverb meaning ‘together’, along the lines of ‘quon’ or suchlike.

    Socratidion was pointing out that the two options were gallinis conversari or cum gallinis sociari.
  13. Aurifex Aedilis

    I have tried but failed to work out what you mean by "laborare...seems more readily apparent to non-Latin scholars such as yourselves ". Please could you explain.
    Conversari should not necessarily suggest talking to turkeys rather than spending time with them generally, unless you think similar words in different languages should always have a direct correspondence.
    Finally your reservations about sociari seem to confirm that you have not really understood the force of the word "work" in your original English, and how its essential signification there would make laborare a poor equivalent in Latin.
  14. Manus Correctrix QVAE CORRIGIT

    Well, I think his meaning is fairly clear. The phrase, although in Latin, will be primarily directed at monolingual English-speakers. He is thus quite keen to have no faux amis in there.

    It’s not to the liking of classical purists, but understandable. I think we can accommodate this within reason.
  15. Manus Correctrix QVAE CORRIGIT

    I think that it’s reasonable to use ‘toil’ (laboro) here, notwithstanding the good arguments in favour of consocio, etc. I do think that we should speak of asses rather than partridges though. It fits the idea of toil, and the pejorative nuance is clear in both languages.
  16. Aurifex Aedilis

    I'm still not clear what is meant by "non-Latin scholars such as yourselves".

    We can nearly always accommodate a desire to avoid false friends, and I would grudgingly connive at laborare here.

    What worries me a little about this way of proceeding though is the principle behind it: that we are bending the Latin chiefly to suit the layman's expectations of how the Latin should or shouldn't be phrased. It is as if the true meaning of the phrase were less important than its superficially perceived meaning. It is only a small step from this to sanctioning expressions of the kind "ne illegitimi carborundum", rather than more genuine Latin, on the grounds that the audience, being monolingual English speakers, will find it more readily intelligible.

    I know you would never seriously sanction something as extreme as this, C.N., but I mention it to illustrate the view that producing acceptable Latinity should always be the first consideration, satisfying the preconceptions of the uninitiated should be of secondary importance.
    Cinefactus likes this.
  17. Nikolaos schmikolaos

    Probably easier to understand as "non Latin-scholars-such-as-yourselves", with the "such as yourselves" qualifying "Latin scholars", and being unconnected to "non".

    qui non sunt discipuli latinitatis ut estis
    Cursor Nictans likes this.
  18. km2002 New Member

    I'm wondering if, as at the present moment, I wrote the phrase "non-Latin scholars such as yourselves" late at night (or extremely early in the morning) while exceedingly tired. On second reader, with some three months passing since I was here last, I think I should have not used the qualifier "such as yourselves." Obviously, everyone who weighed in on my translation request is much more conversant in Latin than am I. Nikolaos and Cursor Nictans apprehended the sense, that I was intending this translation for the benefit (or more likely, amusement) of those who, unlike yourselves, are not Latin scholars.

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