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In his answer to Q: How to say “Go all the way” in Latin?, Joonas provided a quote from Titus Livius (9.8.6):

"ne quid obstet..." =

"let nothing obstruct...".

How does "quid" come to mean "nothing"? (There is a well-known example at Wells Cathedral: an inscription on the clock:

"ne quid pereat." =

"Let nothing perish.")

I cannot find a listing for this. Does it arise from the neuter form ("quid") of the interrogative pronoun, "quis?"= "Who?"?. A person cannot be a neuter therefore it came to mean "nobody" or "nothing"--is this guess correct?

In a Comment (the same question) Joonas pointed out that if the obstruction is a person, then "ne quis obstet..." would be correct. This indicates, I think, that the neuter form "quid" would give the required "nobody"/ "nothing" meaning.

Any thoughts?

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2 Answers 2

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The negated quid or quis is essentially short for aliquid/aliquis, so the meaning is "not anything shall obstruct" and "not anything shall perish", and "not anything" means of course "nothing".

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  • Thank you. When reading Joonas's Q: latin.stackexchange.com/q/12872/1982, I wondered why "quid pro quo" was never given as "aliquid pro aliquo", which seems to be a much more correct way of translating "something for something".
    – tony
    Apr 9, 2021 at 11:16
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    What is the difference from nihil as in the indicative nihil obstat? Apr 10, 2021 at 10:56
  • @VladimirFГероямслава The big diffference here is between obstat and obstet. One is indicative, the other subjunctive. The distinction between the two subjunctives ne quid obstet and nihil obstet is likely in the type of subjunctive it is. Ne quid obstet is likely a final clause, "lest anything obstruct," while nihil obstet might indicate an unintended result, "things just happened in such away that there was nothing obstructing.
    – Figulus
    Jan 23, 2023 at 3:41
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@gmvh gave you the answer, but I want to elaborate some. There's a commonly heard mnemonic in Dutch schools:

Na , nisi, num en gaat ali- niet met quisje mee.

A equivalent but slightly less elegant rhyme in English might be:

After , nisi, num, and , aliquis's ali- falls away.

To this canonical list should be added at least ut and alius: in constructions with these words, you should never find aliquis (noun or adjective), but always quis. Outside of these situations, quis as an indefinite pronoun is very rare. (You point out quid pro quo, which is an example, but keep in mind that that's not just post-Classical, but actually post-Medieval.)

The analysis in traditions that follow this mnemonic is that that quis is exactly equivalent to aliquis, but that's not universal: Allen & Greenough consider quis to be less definite than aliquis, at one end of a scale that goes from quis over quispiam and aliquis to quīdam. I don't think I agree with that.

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