I just found that the motto of the Free University of Brussels (VUB) in Belgium is the following:

Scientia vincere tenebras

This should stand for "conquering darkness by science". This can be found on the Wikipedia page of that university.

When I read this, I almost fell of my chair: "by science" is not to be translated by "scientia", but by "scientiā" (mind the bar on the 'a' because of the ablative case).

Am I wrong here or does this mean that a university in Belgium is even not capable of writing a correct expression in their own motto?

  • 1
    'out of my chair' Ex cathedra ..?
    – Hugh
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 19:31
  • @Hugh: falling of my chair is the literal translation of a Flemish proverb. I don't know its origins.
    – Dominique
    Commented Nov 28, 2020 at 8:35
  • Why the downvote? What's wrong with this question?
    – Dominique
    Commented Nov 28, 2020 at 8:35
  • Most organisations (companies and institutions) are incapable of writing their own name correctly on their own home page. It is not uncommon to find three different spellings on the home page (the same page), one of which may be correct. Commented Nov 28, 2020 at 11:43
  • @PeterMortensen: is this the case for the VUB I mentioned?
    – Dominique
    Commented Nov 28, 2020 at 20:54

1 Answer 1


The macron (the bar over the a) is a modern reading aid, not a compulsory orthographic convention. It's not usually written outside of dictionaries, grammar, and text editions prepared specifically for introductory Latin courses, even when it leads to ambiguities in interpretation like this.

(The Romans did sometimes distinguish long vowels epigraphically with a diacritic called the apex, which served the same purpose as the macron, but that wasn't universal either.)

  • 4
    In the context of a motto macrons are very rarely used, and one could even go as far as to say that it is not only not compulsory but not allowed. Using macrons seems to have a flavour of helping beginners and is avoided in formal situations.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 13:55
  • In any event, with macrons it should be sciēntiā vīncere tenebrās. Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 16:25
  • 3
    @SebastianKoppehel I don't think that's right. Definitely tenebrās, but AFAIK it's sciēns but sciĕntia (), and vīci but vĭnco.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 19:00
  • 2
    @Cairnarvon Argh, you're absolutely right, I knew this but wanted to be absolutely sure (would be embarrassing to get this wrong, no?), so I double checked with Collatinus and trusted it over my own intuition :( What in the world is going on there? Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 20:15

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