I came across this humorous Latin phrase on social media, rendered as:

Sumus semper in excretum, sed alta variat

...but when I searched it, I realised there was a more common rendering of it:

Semper in excretia, sumus solim profundum variat

Which of these more accurately conveys the intended meaning in the original Latin?

  • Why was this downvoted? – Hashim Aziz Jan 16 at 0:12

Neither is good Latin. The first one:

Sumus semper in excretum, sed alta variat

... translates as:

We are always in [excretum], but [alta] changes.

Excretum is the accusative of the supine of excerno 'to separate'; presumably excrementum is meant, but it should at least be in the ablative—excremento. (The English verb excrete does derive from excretum, but that's a late development.) Alta is some form of the adjective altus 'high, deep'; a noun is required, like altitudo, in the nominative as it's the subject of variat. (Latin doesn't distinguish between depth and height; they're two aspects of a single concept to a Roman.)

The corrected sentence is then:

Sumus semper in excremento, sed altitudo variat.

The second sentence:

Semper in excretia, sumus solim profundum variat

... translates as:

Always in [excretia], we are [solim] the depth changes.

Excretia isn't a word at all, and again excremento is meant. The comma is presumably misplaced, with the sumus belonging to the first part of the sentence. Solim is not a word either; it's probably a typo for the adverb solum 'only', possibly with contamination from olim 'then, often' to give it a more adverby feel. Profundum does mean 'depth' but not in the sense intended; it means 'the depth' in the sense of 'the abyss'. Again altitudo is the better choice.

The corrected sentence:

Semper in excremento sumus, solum altitudo variat.

The word order doesn't really mean anything in this case, and the only difference between the two corrected sentences is sed 'but' versus solum 'only'. If you want to match your English sentence closely, go with solum and omit sumus.

Really, though, this may be one of those things where the deliberately bad Latin is considered part of the charm, like "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" or "Semper ubi sub ubi".

  • 1
    I think I'd prefer sola over solum, but I've always liked adjectives more than adverbs in Latin. – Draconis Jan 15 at 20:51
  • 1
    According to OLD, except in a few specific contexts, variare is transitive, and if you want it to mean 'vary' (i.e., 'become different') here, you would need to use the passive variatur (or, I suppose, the reflexive se variat). – cnread Jan 16 at 1:32
  • 1
    @cnread I don't know why the OLD claims that because it's not true. – Cairnarvon Jan 16 at 8:38
  • Sorry, either I misread 'pass. or intr.' in def. 3b of the OLD entry, or my brain just completely failed to register the 'or intr.' part. I myself would still go for the passive, but this is your translation and does appear to be grammatically correct after all. – cnread Jan 16 at 19:44
  • Well, that's some profound shit – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 17 at 13:32

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