19

Sean Hannity is coming out with a new book called Live Free or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink. At the bottom is a perplexing subtitle in Latin:

VIVAMUS VEL LIBERO PERIT AMERICAE

Here's the title page:

enter image description here

My question is simple: What does this Latin phrase mean?

  • 5
    Yes...I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but this is pretty hilarious – brianpck May 18 at 18:07
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    It certainly has a hilarious aspect to it, but I find it more saddening. They wouldn't have had to pay much to a Latin teacher or student to get something sensible. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 18 at 18:51
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    Oh dear, someone used google translate instead of finding an actual translator. What a hack job (I refer to the translation; I'll leave my feelings about what the book itself will be like unmentioned). – cnread May 18 at 18:52
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    @Joonas Ilmavirta He wouldn't have had to pay anything at all to the people here at the Latin StackExchange, or any other on-line forum about Latin. It frankly shows his contempt for his audience. – Jasper May May 18 at 19:01
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    "The people called Romanes they go the house??" – AakashM May 20 at 10:55
22

Perditianus on Reddit pointed out on May 16 that this is exactly what Google Translate gives for “Live free or America dies”. So it seems likely that this piece of text was not composed in Latin by any human author.

I don’t think “What does this mean” is a clear question when applied to a sequence of words produced in this manner. If you consider its meaning to be the meaning intended by the author of the English text that was entered into Google translate, then it probably means “Live free or America dies”. If you consider its meaning to be what a reader without knowledge of its (likely) origin would guess it means, that seems to depend on the reader. It doesn’t seem to have a clear single meaning in that sense.

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  • 1
    What would be the right way to translate "live free or america dies"? – Nacht May 19 at 4:33
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    @Nacht-ReinstateMonica Perhaps that'd work better as a separate question? It'd be a pity to bury such a question and its answer(s) in comments here. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 19 at 8:19
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    @JoonasIlmavirta I asked because I thought it would improve this answer, to show how wrong the nonsense Latin is. – Nacht May 19 at 8:54
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    @LarsH I think there's a more charitable interpretation: it's well known that Latin Google Translate produces gibberish, so the (understood) conclusion of this answer is: "It's a word salad that doesn't mean anything." – brianpck May 19 at 17:28
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    @LarsH You could say this is our (the internet's) best guess what the author intended to express with those words. So it does, sort of, answer what the sentence “means.” – Sebastian Koppehel May 19 at 18:37
18

As the other answers indicate, this is nonsense. But I think it would be helpful to provide (1) a parsing of the nonsense Latin, and (2) a good translation of the intended phrase.

Parsing of nonsense Latin

  • vivamus: 1st person plural subjunctive, "let us live"
  • vel: (inclusive) "or"
  • libero: this can either by the 1st person of libero ("I deliver/free") or the dative/ablative singular of liber, which is either an adjective meaning "free" or a noun meaning "child."
  • perit: 3rd person singular indicative: "he/she/it perishes"
  • Americae: genitive/dative singular or nominative plural of "America."

The phrase doesn't fit syntactically even into a nonsense sentence. But here's the best sense you could make of it, if you are generous with the dative "libero" and interpret "Americae" as genitive (h/t to Sebastian for pointing out that the locative wouldn't work for a country):

Let us live or it perishes for a free person of America.

What's a good translation?

I suspect that the intended phrase is just "Live free or die," and that "America" from the subtitle crept into it. This is the state motto of New Hampshire, used in English during the American Revolution. According to the linked article, this phrase in term comes from the French "Vivre Libre ou Mourir."

Cicero has a sentence in the Philippics 11:24 that is parallel:

nunc quod agitur agamus. agitur autem liberine vivamus an mortem obeamus, quae certe servituti anteponenda est.

My translation:

Now let's treat the issue at hand. The issue is whether we should live free or we should undergo death, which is certainly preferable to servitude.

Changing this a little bit, a concise Latin translation of "live free or die" is:

Aut vivamus liberi aut moriamur.

...which is:

Either let us live free or let us die.

An even nicer sounding alternative from the above Cicero quote, which strays a bit further from the English:

Mors servituti anteponenda

...which is:

Death is preferable to servitude.

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  • 2
    Mors servituti anteponenda said the slave owner Cicero. – user28434 May 20 at 17:01
  • @user28434: Many (most?) illuminists were slave owners since "some men cannot make good use of reason". It's not that easy. Not to mention that, in Cicero's time, slaves performed services which in modern times have been automatised or facilitated by technology. Of course that's not a justification, but it did take much technological and social progress to get rid of slavery. – Vincenzo Oliva May 20 at 17:57
  • @user28434 Jefferson faces similar rebukes. While we can and ought to hold historical figures to the standard of timeless moral principles, we should do so with caution: "canceling" Cicero because he believed some reprehensible things is hardly the proper attitude to the mistakes of those who preceded us. (Nor do I think you were suggesting that!) – brianpck May 20 at 19:24
  • One option would be a neuter, impersonal gerundive: "si serviendum erit, moriar Americae fidelis" = "If it must be slavery, let me die loyal to America". – tony May 21 at 11:18
  • How do you feel about a translation like "Aut vivamus liberi aut moritur America", in an attempt to recover what Hannity (or the intern at Hannity's publisher) was trying to say? – shadowtalker May 21 at 19:28
15

Nothing. I think it's Google Translate nonsense, but it's perplexing that it'd find its way to a cover.

The results may depend on the user, but I get these translations:

  • Live Free or Die: America > Free aut mori; Americae

  • Live free or Die: America > Liberum vivere aut mori; Americae

  • Live Free or die: America > Free aut mori; Americae

  • Live free or die: America > Mori aut liberos vivere: Americae

Capitalization alone changes the suggested translation wildly. Google suggests many translation variants for the individual words. Translating the words in isolation gives somewhat but not wholly different results; e.g. vivamus is one of the suggestions for "live" and you can get libero (the verb) from "free". It sounds very likely that the translation you quote came through Google, perhaps with someone trying to pick something that sounds nice.

While one can try and translate it, I would consider such an endeavor quite pointless; it was not put together as a coherent Latin phrase so I would not analyze it as such.

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  • 3
    No, it's not perplexing at all that it would end up on a Hannity book cover. Not even a little bit. sigh – T.J. Crowder May 19 at 8:29
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    @T.J.Crowder Perhaps you'd then count me blessed, as this question was the first time I heard of him. Better first impressions have been made to me... – Joonas Ilmavirta May 19 at 9:01
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    When translating back to English the translator gives me "FREEDOM OF AMERICA lives or perishes". – Mast May 19 at 13:23
0

To be generous, you could translate this, "Let us live or freedom dies for America." Literally, vivamus (1st person plural, active present, subj or indicative either will get give the right meaning - let us live or we are living - I think the subj is weaker, actually) = we are living - vel (conjunction) = or - libero = free {living} (Dat singular subject of perdit (pereo, perire a 'verb of dying' which takes a dative subject) - perdit (indicative, active present) = dies - americae (dative sing) = for America. I know you're supposed to translate the meaning not the words but perhaps, "without freedom we all perish" would have worked but 'live free or die' has a little more fight to it... Sounds like the writer spent too much time translating the words and not enough on the meaning. Or none of us would be commenting on it...

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  • 3
    There is no Latin verb that takes a dative subject. Can you clarify that part of your answer? – cnread Aug 4 at 22:34

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