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I’m in need of some help with a translation from English to Latin. I’m in the middle of designing a tattoo and the client wants the sentence ‘A moment in my arms, a lifetime in my heart’ to be written in Latin and has sent over the sentence ‘momento in arma mea vita, meum cor’ but has used Google Translate to swap the English to Latin (and we all know how Google Translate likes to butcher translations). I would greatly appreciate any help on the matter.

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    I'll write up a proper answer later, but first and foremost: that translation is, as you quite rightly surmised, nonsense. It literally means something like "[I give] my heart to the momentum inside my life weapons".
    – Draconis
    Jul 28, 2019 at 23:00
  • Will you tell us the placement of the tattoo? That might have some impact on the appropriate choice of words.
    – C Monsour
    Aug 2, 2019 at 1:14
  • Un momento en mis brazos y toda la vida en mi corazón. Nov 1, 2022 at 5:28

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You're quite right not to trust Google Translate! The sentence it gave you is nonsense.

A "moment" in Latin is either a punctum or a momentum; out of the two, I like punctum better. (Punctum comes from the word for pricking something with a pin, while momentum comes from a word for movement and motion, if that affects anything.) It's often found in the slightly longer phrase punctum temporis "moment of time", but in context it could be understood without that.

A "lifetime", as in a long span of time, would be a saeculum rather than a vita. (A vita is literally a "life", but it's more like a biography or a living soul than a span of time.) This can mean literally a human lifetime, or figuratively a generation, or figuratively a hundred years (which the Romans considered something like the maximum possible lifetime).

One standard word for "arms" is bracchia; Vergil and Ovid use this word when talking about embraces, so it seems good for your purpose. And "heart" is straightforwardly cor, both literally and metaphorically.

Putting it all together, with appropriate endings on the words: punctum in bracchiis [meis], saeculum in corde [meo]. You can swap in momentum if you like it better without changing the overall meaning. The meis and meo literally mean "my", but can be left off here where the context makes the meaning clear; leaving them off makes it a bit shorter and cleaner.

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  • Can't you dispense with the "in"s also, and interpret brachiis and corde as locatives? Or at least for "corde"? Locative maybe isn't quite right for the use of "brachiis" in this sentence
    – C Monsour
    Aug 2, 2019 at 1:16
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    @CMonsour Maybe, but to me the locative doesn't sound right for these nouns; I'm only used to it with place names and a few special words.
    – Draconis
    Aug 2, 2019 at 4:33
  • Normally a lifetime is aetas. Saeculum means an "age" like an age of civilization. Nov 2, 2022 at 4:20
  • Also, I hate to be a nudge, but if a Roman read your phrase, he would first think you were talking about something in the branches of trees. Although we say we hold someone "in our arms", that is not the way the Romans thought about a hug or embrace. In Virgil it says collo dare bracchia circum (to throw the arms around the neck), but that is a completely different expression that does not use the word in. Nov 2, 2022 at 5:24
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Building on Tyler Durden's answer, I'd go with:

paulisper in sinu
perpetuo in pectore

This very literally translates to:

briefly in the lap
forever in the chest

Which is less literal than Draconis' answer but I think captures the sentiment.

paulisper: There are a lot of words that mean 'briefly', and the two most common ones are probably parumper and paulisper. I went with paulisper purely because parumper sounds kind of goofy when an anglophone says it, which I don't think is the vibe we were going for.

in sinu: A sinus is fundamentally a curved surface and by extension a whole lot of things, including a person's lap or their bosom (cf. gremium, which also means lap or bosom), particularly when it provides shelter. It's a good choice.

perpetuo: Primarily means 'constantly' but also by extension 'forever'. Some other adverb could have been chosen but this works, and it alliterates with paulisper.

in pectore: Pectus is literally 'chest', but the chest was the seat of emotion to the Romans. Cor 'heart' was also used (so you could use in corde), but I like the contrast of in sinu, with a figurative chest used fairly literally, with in pectore, with a literal chest used figuratively. (There is no scope for confusion: sinus is not used for the chest as the seat of emotion.)

I would not explicitly express "my"; it's implied.

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This question is probably long dead, but it got some activity so I guess there is some interest in it.

A lifetime in Latin is aetas. The way you say someone is in your arms is in sinu, or sometimes just sinu poetically. When you talk about something happening for a moment in Latin, the word brevis is used, or sometimes parumper but that word is too long for a tatoo, and we probably want an adverb anyway, so brevis might be not perfect either. Especially given the romantic tone, maybe the appropriate word is paulum.

To connect your two clauses, you would not use sed (but except), but would instead should use vero which is used when the clauses are opposite to each in a symmetric way, especially emphatically, which is what we have here.

To say "in my heart" there is mi in pectore or in corde. Ovid wrote in corde meo but also meo pectore in the Amores. In the Tristia he used the poetic plural pectoribus.

Paulum Sinu Meo
   Vero
Aetas Corde Meo

This means, "A moment in my arms, but a lifetime in my heart." The vero can be omitted, but I think in this expression it gives it more power and emphasizes the antithesis of the couplet. I have omitted the preposition in to narrow the lines, but you can use in Sinu and in Corde, if desired.

Note that if you want the shortest possible expression, you can write Paulum Sinu Aetas Corde and the meaning is still captured.

(Note on vero: this is modern usage typically seen in mottoes, as below:

Innixus vero Validus (not supported, but standing strong)
   motto of the Lyons family in Ireland

Spiritus promptus vero caro infirma (The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak)
   popular paraphrase of the Vulgate

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    Vero in the sense that can sometimes be translated as 'but' is an adverb, not a conjunction, and isn't used like that. It's more helpful to think of it as 'however'; it's effectively a postpositive particle.
    – Cairnarvon
    Nov 2, 2022 at 21:12
  • @Cairnarvon In mottoes and short sayings in modern Latin sometimes vero is not postpositive, but treated as a more normal conjunction. Although it could be argued it is improper, in mottoes it is not unusual for the rules to be bent. I added a couple of examples to my answer. Nov 2, 2022 at 22:21
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    Innixus vero validus means 'supported by truth, strong'; vero is an instrumental ablative of the noun verum and the in- isn't privative. Spiritus promptus vero caro infirma is wrong; the actual phrase (and the title of the Dali painting) is Spiritus promptus est, caro vero infirma, with vero in the correct position.
    – Cairnarvon
    Nov 2, 2022 at 22:31
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    No, it's too strongly adversative and you really don't need it at all. I'd personally go asyndetically with Paulisper in sinu / perpetuo in pectore, probably; paulum without further determiners means 'a little' in terms of quantity, not time, and aetas is just a noun in the nominative (aetatem, as an accusative of duration, would be better, but I'd read it as 'for a lifetime' rather than 'forever' first). I'd omit the meo as implied but not the in for clarity.
    – Cairnarvon
    Nov 2, 2022 at 22:57
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    @Cairnarvon You should post that as an answer.
    – cmw
    Nov 3, 2022 at 0:46

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