I occasionally want to say something like:

Did you see the sign? It says: beware of the dog.

How can I phrase "it says" in Latin?

In English one can say "it says" or "it reads", and the direct translation of the Finnish phrasing would be "there reads" ("siinä lukee"). I would prefer to have something equally light. Something like "it is written there" sounds too heavy and clumsy.

I could always say ibi scriptum est, but I am not sure if this is the best choice. Is this the idiomatic choice? Is there anything lighter? Does such a concise phrase appear somewhere in Latin literature? I would guess Satyricon is a good place to look, but I am not familiar enough with the book to be able to say where.

  • Saw "CAVE CANEM" in Pompeii. It exists! (House of the Tragic poet.) Have you been? It was an early example (for me) of Latin using an accusative (canem) when the (English) instinct is to use the genitive, canis, of-the-dog.This has nothing to do with your Q; which, has been well-answered, already.
    – tony
    Jul 2 '19 at 9:18

I would say ait (literally "it says"), based on legal usage in the Digesta:

Dabit autem, ut ait Lex [Julia], quod ad eum pervenit. Pervenisse accipimus, sive iam exegit sive exigere potest, quia actio ei delata est.

And he shall give up, as the [Julian] Law says, whatever "falls to him". We take "falls to him" to mean "he either extracts or is able to extract, because a writ of permission has been provided to him".

(Digesta, translation mine)

This is from a summary of the Lex Julia et Papia, which uses the phrase ut ait Lex whenever it cites some literal phrasing. If the Lex Julia can ait its wording, I'd think a sign could too.

  • This is a nice find, and certainly wins the conciseness competition!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 1 '19 at 18:25

The Satyricon actually contains your exact "Beware of the dog" example, in chapter 29:

Ad sinistram enim intrantibus non longe ab ostiarii cella canis ingens, catena vinctus, in pariete erat pictus superque quadrata littera scriptum "Cave canem".

On the left hand as you came in, not far from the porter's room, a huge dog bound with a chain was painted on the wall, and above it in capital letters was written "Beware of the dog".

So it looks like scriptum est is at least one idiomatic way of phrasing this. (I'm more doubtful about scribitur -- that seems to suggest "it is being written now".)

Another relevant passage appears a few sentences earlier in the same chapter, but the phrasing is less "light":

Sequimur nos admiratione iam saturi et cum Agamemnone ad ianuam pervenimus, in cuius poste libellus erat cum hac inscriptione fixus: Quisquis servus sine dominico iussu foras exierit, accipiet plagas centum.

We followed, full of admiration, and came with Agamemnon to the door, on the post of which was fixed a sign with this legend: "Any slave who goes out without the master's orders will receive a hundred strokes".

  • Of course! scriptum est.
    – Tom Cotton
    Jul 1 '19 at 17:38

I should think that as one says dicitur for 'they say', 'it's said' etc. you might also use scribo impersonally, as in

scribitur cave canem

  • I would have thought "dicitur" would introduce a proverb or a saying, not a signpost. The suggestions of "scriptum est" and "ait" make much more sense.
    – C Monsour
    Jul 2 '19 at 2:50
  • 1
    Try reading it again. I don't suggest that dicitur is appropriate here, but merely use it as a well-known instance of the impersonal use of a verb, before proposing a form of scribere to be appropriate in this case.
    – Tom Cotton
    Jul 2 '19 at 5:28
  • Still, I would agree with the previous poster that "scriptum est" would better capture a single instance. If you are expressing that people often post signs that say "Beware of dog", then "scribitur" would make sense.
    – C Monsour
    Jul 2 '19 at 12:53
  • If you like. Why not look at my (earlier) comment to @TKR's answer?
    – Tom Cotton
    Jul 2 '19 at 13:46
  • With respect to the comment on TKR's answer, did you see that scriptum est is in the question? Jul 2 '19 at 16:21

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