6

The phrase "not even wrong" is thought to have originated from Wolfgang Pauli. The phrase was allegedly spoken in German before becoming a meme:

Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig; es ist nicht einmal falsch!

This is not only not right; it is not even wrong!

How would one say this in Latin? More generally, is this a type of fallacy that has a name in Latin, not unlike "post hoc ergo propter hoc" or the tangentially related "reductio ad absurdum"?

  • This isn't worth a separate answer given the way the post is titled, but to address your second question: Pauli was famously harsh and harshest to scientific work that was so unclear as to be untestable. The Greeks and Romans didn't think in those terms and don't have a catch-all for 'non-scientific thinking' or 'unfalsifiable' (in/nonfalsificabilis) statements. – lly Apr 5 at 20:41
  • You'd need to specify which logical mistake the other person was making. You'd describe it differently if the statement was not addressing the original question, if it employed circular reasoning, if it used a single term in multiple ways, &c. Lots of these mistakes (but not all) could fit under non sequitur: "it doesn't follow" (from what you were looking at or from what you said before). – lly Apr 5 at 20:46
6

As in other languages, and as with the original quotation, you would want to clarify it by saying something like "not only not right, but not even wrong", which in Latin would be non modo non verum sed ne falsum quidem.

If you literally just wanted merely to say "not even wrong", you could say ne falsum quidem, but I find that horribly unclear without context....Consider talking about a politician's statement, for example, where you might say that when he surprisingly told the truth. Furthermore, the non modo non construction is good idiomatic Latin (which is why it's in all the textbooks)--and not slightly awkward the way it sounds in English. Presumably Latin speakers liked to be able to provide the additional clarity. Take advantage!

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    According to google, this directly translates in English to: "not only did not, indeed, is true, but do not lie". – user6527 Apr 5 at 3:45
  • 11
    If you trust google to translate Latin, you are going to have problems. Anyway, you can find the relevant construction on p 305 of Gildersleeve's Latin grammar. books.google.com/… – C Monsour Apr 5 at 3:49
4

I would suggest the simple ne falsum quidem, which is quite literally "not even false". I have been trained as a physicist, and the phrase "not even false" in the field — Pauli was a physicist — is almost exclusively used in isolation, not prefaced with "not only wrong".

Without knowing the origin of the phrase or the typical uses, the English phrase "not even wrong" can be confusing. I think it's better not to explain it in translations and leave it as succinct as it is.

Depending on the gender and number of what you are referring to, it would be ne falsus/falsa/falsum/falsi/falsae/falsa quidem. Do ask if you have a specific use case in mind and wonder which choice is most appropriate! I went with neuter singular, which is good for referring to a single abstract (unnamed) thing.

The translation of "not even X" is ne X quidem, always with ne instead of non. See Allen & Greenough 217(e).

Finally, I should point out that I wouldn't think of "not even false" as a fallacy. It's simply a way of pointing out deeper flaws in reasoning. Your answer to a question can be true or false, but if you have studied the wrong question, it makes sense to say that the answer is "not even false" — irrespective of whether the wrong question was answered correctly.

| improve this answer | |
  • Perhaps. But that's not how Pauli said it. And it does lack context....e.g., very different from "not only not a big lie, but not even false", which might be the sense of "not even false" when a politician surprisingly says something true. Also the non modo non construction is much less obscure in Latin than in most languages, and this is a perfect time to use it for clarity – C Monsour Apr 5 at 13:37
  • 2
    @CMonsour True, but the OP asked for a translation of "not even wrong" so I aimed specifically at that. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 5 at 14:34
  • 1
    @CMonsour Yes, the fixed expression "not even" seems to be ne ... quidem without non, although I do find that counterintuitive. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 5 at 22:02
  • 1
    @Joonas llmavirta: When translating dialogue from "I Claudius" recall "...ne filio quidem Caeseris." = "...not even by the son of the Emperor.". This use of "ne...quidem" confirmed by Pock. Ox. Lat. Dict. Therefore, "non falsum quidem" is incorrect"? – tony Apr 6 at 9:58
  • 1
    @CMonsour You can find the construction in Allen & Greenough 217(e) – brianpck Apr 6 at 14:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy