She was sui generis

Chris S.

New Member
I was thinking of putting the words “Sui generis” on the gravestone of an aunt, meaning that she was unique, one of a kind, in a class by herself. (She certainly was.)

Then it occurred to me that it might be better to put “She was sui generis”, but with the entire phrase being in Latin. People who do not know Latin (I don’t) will recognize the term “sui generis” since it is a term used in English.

My problem is, first, I do not know if the meaning of “sui generis” is exactly the same if used in a Latin-language context. Second, if I put “Erat sui generis” (assuming this is the correct verb tense to use – I don’t know) would that be mixing an Anglicized Latin phrase with the Latin “erat” in a way that is not grammatical or idiomatic in Latin?

An analogy from French would be this. Suppose someone wrote “tarte tatin à la mode” thinking that the text in French means a particular kind of apple pie accompanied by ice cream. “A la mode” is used that way in English, but it would have nothing to do with ice cream if the phrase were used in a French-language context.

In short: How would I write “She was sui generis” in correct Latin – for a gravestone? And would the correct and best idiomatic phrase in Latin still include the words “sui generis”?
 

Adrian

Civis Illustris
I would personally avoid sui generis in reference to your aunt.
I was thinking of [nulli/ nullius] similis neque ulli secunda - similar to no one , nor second to anyone.
 
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Agrippa

Active Member
Alternatively:

In suo genere erat singularis /

In Roman capitals:

IN SVO GENERE ERAT SINGVLARIS

or without preposition 'in':

Suo genere erat singularis / In capitals:

SVO GENERE ERAT SINGVLARIS

i.e. word for word: In/With her kind she was singular (unparalleled, unique).

(Cf. Cic. de orat. 3, 16: in suo genere perfectus)
 
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Chris S.

New Member
I would personally avoid sui generis in reference to your aunt.
I was thinking of [nulli/ nullius] similis neque ulli secunda - similar to no one , nor second to anyone.
I thank you all for these suggestions. Even though Agrippa’s suggestion may be closest to the literal meaning I had in mind, I think Adrian’s proposal captures even better the spirit of what I was trying to convey.

Before deciding to commit this to granite for hundreds of years (even worse than a bad tattoo), I have several questions, for Adrian and for anyone else who wishes to comment.

(1) I assume that in caps (normal for a gravestone) the inscription should read:

[NVLLI / NVLLIVS] SIMILIS NEQVE VLLI SECVNDA

Correct ?

(2) Can you explain what the considerations should be in deciding between “NVLLI” and “NVLLIVS”? Is there complete indifference between the two, grammatically and otherwise? Any preference, perhaps just for the way it sounds? (e.g. better or worse to have the first two words end with an “s” sound?).

(3) Very important: Is there any ambiguity in the statement – when read by a Latin scholar? Is the meaning absolutely clear, or might someone who is an expert interpret it in a way that is not intended? Or worse: Might the intended meaning be puzzling in some way to someone who is an expert?

(4) Does it resemble anything from literature, or was it built up from scratch? (Nothing wrong if it was. Here, I’m simply curious.)
 

Adrian

Civis Illustris
(1) I have seen "V" used instead of "U" in majuscule inscriptions - the choice here is yours, but I personally prefer U
(2) construction with adjective similis incorporates genitive or dative case; gen. nullius; dat. nulli.
Personally, in such construction I prefer dative.
(3) I tried to avoid any ambiguity (at least in aspect of gender) - I would advise you wait for opinion of other, more experienced memebers of the forum.
(4) No, at least not to my knowledge
 
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Agrippa

Active Member
NVLLI SIMILIS
NVLLI SECVNDA

or

NULLI SIMILIS
NULLI SECUNDA

would be a lapidary inscription
enriched with anaphora and asyndeton (omission of conjunction 'neque..'.)
 
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Chris S.

New Member
I like Agrippa’s lapidary style (above); it suits the context well.

My remaining question is whether to use the letter “V” or “U”. Does anyone have a preference? I tend to think “U” might be better. After all, I’m not trying to pretend that I’m in Ancient Rome or Medieval Europe. But of course one could retort: Then why am I using Latin at all? Any leanings one way or the other?

Also, I might wait a few days to see if anyone else (knowledgeable and wise) has comments. Given that this will be etched in granite, the more feedback the better.
 

Bitmap

Civis Illustris
My remaining question is whether to use the letter “V” or “U”. Does anyone have a preference?
It's up to you basically. You still find a few inscriptions from more modern days that still go with the old style of not using "U" (and not using "J"), like this one in Munich from 1812:


It feels to me like most modern inscriptions make the u-v distinction, though, even when they are written in capital letters. This is probably one of the most famous examples:

Inscriptions do not necessarily have to be in capital letters, though. This rather humorous inscription from the graveyard in Munich uses minuscles. It also makes both the u-v distinction as well as the i-j distinction. It is from 1881:

So the choice is entirely up to you.

(3) Very important: Is there any ambiguity in the statement – when read by a Latin scholar? Is the meaning absolutely clear, or might someone who is an expert interpret it in a way that is not intended? Or worse: Might the intended meaning be puzzling in some way to someone who is an expert?
The phrase nulli similis, nulli secunda would be unambiguous.

(4) Does it resemble anything from literature, or was it built up from scratch? (Nothing wrong if it was. Here, I’m simply curious.)
It is a rather common phrasing that can be found several times, but it's not a direct quotation.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
It's up to you basically. You still find a few inscriptions from more modern days that still go with the old style of not using "U" (and not using "J"), like this one in Munich from 1812:


It feels to me like most modern inscriptions make the u-v distinction, though, even when they are written in capital letters. This is probably one of the most famous examples:

Inscriptions do not necessarily have to be in capital letters, though. This rather humorous inscription from the graveyard in Munich uses minuscles. It also makes both the u-v distinction as well as the i-j distinction. It is from 1881:

So the choice is entirely up to you.



The phrase nulli similis, nulli secunda would be unambiguous.



It is a rather common phrasing that can be found several times, but it's not a direct quotation.
Lol, iacet, tacet, placet. I like that.
 

Chris S.

New Member
Nothing wrong with sui generis... from Roman Law sui iuris

My impression from the other commentators is that, although "sui generis" might well be correct in its literal meaning, it just would not be the best phrase -- not a particularly idiomatic phrase -- to use in Latin to refer to a person. I thought of it first, as an English speaker, because I know of its use, especially in law and philosophy. Is that correct (addressed to all)?
 

Chris S.

New Member
Lol, iacet, tacet, placet. I like that.
Thanks so much for these illustrations. Very instructive. Now I think I'll go whole hog and use "V". It will add to the mystery when her great, great, great grandchildren visit the grave and puzzle over why on earth the inscription is in Latin -- in a cemetery in New Jersey.
 

Chris S.

New Member
Thanks so much for these illustrations. Very instructive. Now I think I'll go whole hog and use "V". It will add to the mystery when her great, great, great grandchildren visit the grave and puzzle over why on earth the inscription is in Latin -- in a cemetery in New Jersey.
Whoops. That reply was meant for Pacifica.
 

Chris S.

New Member
It's up to you basically. You still find a few inscriptions from more modern days that still go with the old style of not using "U" (and not using "J"), like this one in Munich from 1812:


It feels to me like most modern inscriptions make the u-v distinction, though, even when they are written in capital letters. This is probably one of the most famous examples:

Inscriptions do not necessarily have to be in capital letters, though. This rather humorous inscription from the graveyard in Munich uses minuscles. It also makes both the u-v distinction as well as the i-j distinction. It is from 1881:

So the choice is entirely up to you.



The phrase nulli similis, nulli secunda would be unambiguous.



It is a rather common phrasing that can be found several times, but it's not a direct quotation.
Thanks so much for these illustrations. Very instructive. Now I think I'll go whole hog and use "V". It will add to the mystery when her great, great, great grandchildren visit the grave and puzzle over why on earth the inscription is in Latin -- in a cemetery in New Jersey.
 

Chris S.

New Member
By the way, most of the contributors to this forum probably know this, but I just learned it from a friend of mine, an architectural historian. A Latin inscription (in stone) really must be done in a serif font. That was the style used; in fact it's the origin of the serif font. It would look decidedly weird in a sans-serif font.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread!
 
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