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Following the common theme and story with my tattoos, I would like to do another one saying "I choose life" in Latin.

What I found is that a possible translation would be "vita lego" but it would be great to hear your opinions before it turns into a tatoo and means something completely different.

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    I am currently reading up on polite requests in Latin. To whom are you addressing your statement? And do you prefer the statement in your title (an imperative (a command)) or in your question (an indicative (stating the facts)).
    – Canned Man
    Jul 12 at 10:37
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    I am not sure that all contributors are aware that in America this slogan “choose life” is the battle-cry of people who want to outlaw abortion where it is legal, and keep it illegal where it is forbidden, people who have been known to fire-bomb abortion clinics. Just so everyone knows what we are talking about.
    – fdb
    Aug 5 at 17:36
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Life

Life is generally vīta, yes; and as Jack Gallagher wrote, you need for it to be in the accusative: vītam. A poetic alternative might be anima, which though it usually is meaning ‘soul’, also can be understood as ‘life force’ and ‘life’ poetically.

Choose

There are some other options for ‘choose’:

  1. optō, optāre, optāvī, optātum
  2. ēligo, ēligere, ēlēgī, ēlēctum
  3. dēligō, dēligere, dēlēgī, dēlēctum
  4. sortior, sortīrī, sortītus sum, —
  5. dēsignō, dēsignāre, dēsignāvī, dēsignātum
  6. sēligō, sēligere, sēlēgī, sēlēctum

Of these there are four groups:

  1. optō
  2. -ligō with the prefixed prepositions ē-, dē-, sē-
  3. sortior
  4. -signō with the prefixed preposition dē

optō

The basic meanings of optō include choose, select; wish, wish for, desire. The latter is by Lewis & Short denoted as being ‘the predominant signification of the word; cf.: “volo, cupio, desidero, aveo […]”’. As a noun (optātum) it signifies ‘a wish, desire’ (L&S).

-ligō

The different variants are constructed from lĕgō; the reason it became ligō when conjoined with the prepositions, is because the syllable becomes unstressed because it is short, moving the stress back to the preceding syllable, which causes the vowel to be raised from /e/ to /i/. The basic meaning of lĕgō (as opposed to lēgō) is to bring together, to gather, to collect.

Not surprisingly, this word has gained numerous nuances, such as to take out, remove; to pluck, strip; to wind up, draw together; to ‘take one’s self unjustly’, carry off, steal; poetically: to go, pass, wander through, and hence sail by or coast along the shore; to choose, pick out, single out. Further, it can mean to catch up (as in overhear); catch with the eye, observe, see; and from that we get to read or peruse something written; and thus to read.

ēligō

Adding the preposition ex (ē in front of consonants), adds variants of ‘from’ as in ‘out of’ to the meaning, thus ēligō means to pick out, thus choose, elect, select, and can be used for e.g. ‘to be chosen by God’, thus ‘saved’.

dēligō

Adding the preposition , adds variants of ‘from’ or ‘off’ to the meaning. Thus we get choose out, select, gather or pick off fruits, and a notion of distance, giving choose out and send, and rarely take away.

sēligō

Wiktionary’s entry on lists it as a prefix, presumably taken from de Vaan, but I cannot check this entry to confirm this. The entry lists apart-. aside-, away-; and privately without, lacking, wanting, and -less. Gaffiot & Lewis and Short simply lists this as accusative and ablative of suī, which expresses -self as in himself, herself.

The meaning of this word thus becomes ‘to separate by culling out’, thus ‘select’, which admittedly is harder to get from the definition of listed in the older dictionaries.

sortior

The verb comes from sors, which means ‘lot’, ‘chance’, ‘share’, ‘destiny’, originally from Proto-Indo-European *sers meaning ‘bind’. Thus we get meanings such as to cast, fix or assign by lots; and thus allot; and from Augustus onwards meanings such as share, divide, distribute, choose, select, obtain or receive.

dēsignō or dissignō

This verb is made from the preposition and the verb signō, which means to mark, sign, stamp. Thus we get to mark or trace out, describe, designate or define; to point out, mark or denote by speech; contrive, devise or perpetrate; and further to dispose, regulate, arrange, appoint, ordain, nominate, elect, choose.

How to select your verb

The first option, optō, seems to fit the bill quite well. L&S notes that ‘to wish, wish for, desire’ is ‘the predominant signification of the word’. Without knowing your background, it still seems to suit quite well given what we do know: Vītam optō means not only ‘I choose life’, but also ‘I desire and wish for life’. I would say that is a quite positive message to tell both one self and the world.

As I understand legō, it doesn’t seem to be the best option; it’s primary sense is connected to variants of plucking or gathering, hence the meaning to read (gather words from a page). The derived verbs, however, could possibly be worthwhile considering.

The first one, ēligō, could work, if you would like to express the notion of picking from some options; I would think it possible to use this (but would definitely need some input from someone more knowledgeable on the following) to express something along the lines of ‘between life and death, I choose life’. It is a strong statement, indeed. In Latin it would be Vītam ēligō.

In my opinion, dēligō would not work in this context; it seems to carry more of a meaning along the lines of ‘from these items I choose this’, quite neutral, and not really carrying something of strength.

I would not choose sēligō either; it appears to be completely mismatched here in its nuance.

Considering sortior, it may perhaps have an element of luck to it. It did gain the meaning to select, to choose in Augustan times, but maybe we are here dealing with a meaning along the lines of ‘I select by chance’. For that reason, I do not think it is suitable. However, if one uses the genitive, it might work:

  1. In gen., to obtain, receive a thing (mostly in the tempp. perff.; not ante-Aug.): […] Juv. 14, 96: “venerabile ingenium,” […] Pass. part. sortitus […] — Adv.: sortītō , by lot: “sacerdotem sortito capere,” […] — Transf., by fate, by destiny (= sorte, or lege naturae): “tibi sortito id obtigit,” […]

In general, it seems to mean choosing something more by chance than by will, and for that reason I assume you will find it unsuitable.

Finally, there is dēsignō or dissignō. This seems to indicate something with ‘order’, ‘putting in order’, similar to English ‘designate’. For that reason, I assume this too will be unsuitable for your purpose.

My suggestions

To me, the two best candidates are optō and ēligō. The first one indicates a desire; as I wrote above, ‘not only “I choose life”, but also “I desire and wish for life”.’ Thus: Vītam optō. The second one indicates having had to select between options, perhaps with a form of detachment to the process – perhaps before being mentally capable of having an attachment to it, but still consciously, rationally choosing it. It would perhaps express something about a previous state, which could serve as a powerful reminder. Thus: Vītam ēligō.

Of course, should you choose to go for the more poetic anima (which could need some explanation when people ask’, you would be in good company with the greatest of poets. Be that you choose that option, I would suggest either Animam optō or Animam ēligō.

Final remarks

I hope that anyone with more knowledge of Latin than me will point out any errors in what I have put forth; I will happily edit what I have written to make this as clear and informed as I possibly can.

Many scholars do not like macrons denoting long vowels, but diacritical marks similar to these were used by the ancients, and in some cases (such as lēgō vs. legō), vowel length is the only difference between the meaning of words. For that reason, I try to always include them. Should you choose to ignore them, I do not think anyone would consider that a mistake. They can of course also be stylised; in ancient times, they were more like long accents at the top right of the letter, an example of which you can see in the below image:

Altar of Augustus. By senza senso. Licence: CC BY SA 3.0

Detail from the altar of Augustus, showing apices over the long vowels: dédicátióne.

Note that in ancient inscriptions, they would not use apices for the letter I; instead they would use what was known as an I longa: a long I. Here is an example from the tombstone for the bones of Agrippina:

Detail from ossa Agrippina
Detail from the stone to the bones of Agrippina.

Notice how it says ᴅIᴠI, which in a modern font would be rendered dīvī. Given this, my suggestions, should you desire to render them in a script similar to for example Trajan’s column, it would be something like this:

  • Vītam optō: ᴠIᴛᴀᴍ ᴏᴘᴛᴏ́
  • Vītam ēligō: ᴠIᴛᴀᴍ ᴇ́ʟɪɢᴏ́
  • Animam optō: ᴀɴɪᴍᴀᴍ ᴏᴘᴛᴏ́
  • Animam ēligō: ᴀɴɪᴍᴀᴍ ᴇ́ʟɪɢᴏ́

In case the above doesn’t render properly, here is an image:
Demonstration of I longa and apices
Demonstration of I longa and apices in a modern font (Alegreya).

In any case, I hope you find help in this, that your tattoo becomes what you want it to be for you, and that I have been helpful. Finally, I have been dabbling with calligraphy for most of my adult life, and have on a previous occasion created a custom rune-inspired font for a tattoo for a friend of mine; if of interest, I could perhaps be of help in drawing up a suggestion based on your wishes; just PM me.

Notes

Where not otherwise noted, the main source is Lewis & Short.

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    Both in ancient and more recent times, it is rare to mark vowel lengths in texts. I find texts to have more solemnity and gravitas in the absence of diacritics. Those marks are useful in supporting material, but I would recommend against them in any use that is not educational. There is also the issue that the person to write or carve or tattoo the text might not be familiar with them and might end up improvising. A macron written by hand can easily to turn to an umlaut or any accent mark. That said, I do like your suggestions!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 10 at 12:36
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    What about using verb tenses like legate or optate, the dictatorial form of choose? Legate Vitam. Or Optate Vitam.
    – user139301
    Jul 10 at 14:03
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    @user139301 While the OP has "Choose life" in the title, they write "I choose life" in the question body. Jul 10 at 14:27
  • Very good point, @HagenvonEitzen; I will add that to my answer after having probed about in the chat for some pointers.
    – Canned Man
    Jul 10 at 18:15
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    @CannedMan But a) they're absent from manuscripts, b) they're only really become common after Augustus and are barely present before the 1st century BCE (one source I see mentions that it's not extant before 104 BCE), c) they're not even consistently employed within the same inscription, and most importantly d) macrons aren't apices and will look awful on tattoos (and stand out as a learner's thing). I second Joonas' caution here.
    – cmw
    Jul 10 at 19:19
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Elige ergo vitam is the line from the Vulgate, Deuteronomy 30:19.

It is an imperative, second person, singular. If you want it to mean "I choose life" in the indicative, you can change elige to be eligo, Eligo ergo vitam is not a bible quote, but it echoes one.

Latin has no first person imperative, but if you want to keep the imperative meaning, you can use the jussive subjunctive. Eligam ergo vitam can be thought of as a command you give to yourself.

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    I like this answer. It's succinct, offers a pithy phrase, and draws on an ancient source. +1.
    – cmw
    Aug 5 at 5:06
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Vita indeed means "life", but it is the nominative form (i.e. subject of the sentence). You want the accusative form, vitam (since "life" is the object of the verb "choose").

All else being equal, Latin generally places the verb at the end of the clause, so you're looking for vitam lego, which in terms of American English sounds is pronounced similar to WEE-tom LEG-go.

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    "LAY-go" -- more like "leggo" actually (unless you're sending your life as a legate). Legere isn't wrong, but an awfully ambiguous word. Since the OP already asked a similar question a while back and insinuated they want a second tattoo now, they might want to use the same word for both. Jul 9 at 19:27
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    To my ears, far from it; you are comparing a monophthong to a diphthong.
    – Canned Man
    Jul 9 at 21:24
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    Though this specific verb has a short vowel, and thus would be pronounced as in let, or the building blocks Lego.
    – Canned Man
    Jul 9 at 22:44
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    I'm aware how it's pronounced in Classical Latin, I'm saying that the transliteration into English necessarily must take into account that English's stress pattern works differently. Jul 9 at 22:54
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    To my knowledge it is pretty uncontroversial that stressed short e is pronounced /ɛ/. That vowel exists in English, so I see no need to approximate it with a different vowel. (Hey, even a certain YouTube personality agrees!) Jul 10 at 10:05

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