I found this line in "The Man Who Laughs", by Victor Hugo, and would like to know what it means. I think it has to do with a horrific kind of surgery/body modification performed on children, so warnings for that.

Bucca fissa usque ad aures, genzivis denudatis, nasoque murdridato, masca eris, et ridebis semper.

I can guess about half of the nouns because of the resemblance to French. My best guess would be something like "mouth split [...], stripped gums, ruined/dead nose,[...] and always laughing". Could someone give me the full translation?

  • 1
    Welcome to the site! Could you edit your post to include the part that you think you might know?
    – Adam
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 18:47
  • Victor Hugo opens the next Chapter with the following (a face which banishes boredom): "La nature avait été prodigue de ses bienfaits envers Gwynplaine. Elle lui avait donné une bouche s'ouvrant jusqu'aux oreilles, des oreilles se repliant jusque sur les yeux, un nez informe fait pour l'oscillation des lunettes de grimacier, et un visage qu'on ne pouvait regarder sans rire. Nous venons de le dire, la nature avait comblé Gwynplaine de ses dons. Mais était−ce la nature?"
    – Hugh
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 21:14
  • @Hugh Thank you, that gives the passage more context. what edition are you reading? I have about 60 pages of rambling about British history between this line and the passage you cite.
    – KitKatKit
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


This is a long series of ablative absolutes, followed by two main verbs.

Bucca fissa usque ad aures,
With your mouth split all the way up to the ears,

genzivis denudatis,
with your gums exposed,

nasoque murdridato,
with your nose crushed,

masca eris,
you will be a mask,

et ridebis semper.
and you will always be laughing.

This definitely doesn't look Classical; masca "mask" is a fairly late word, for example, borrowed from Germanic in the 600s. A few of the other words are also unfamiliar.

Genzivis looks like the ablative plural of a word like *genziva that I don't recognize at all. Many sources seem to quote it instead as genezivis, but I don't recognize that either, and can't find it in any dictionaries; it certainly doesn't seem to be a Classical word. This book translates it as "gums" (as in the things holding the teeth; Classical gingivis > French gencive) which makes sense given the context.

Murdridato, similarly, seems to be the participle of a verb like murdridare that I also don't recognize at all. Murdrum is another late loan from Germanic (cognate with English "murder") and so this is probably a verb derived from it, but "crushed" makes more sense for a nose than "murdered". The book linked above gives "battered", but this doesn't seem quite violent enough for a verb derived from murdrum (in modern English at least).

  • 1
    What about something like "butchered nose"?
    – cmw
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 18:56
  • @cmw That works! I'm searching for any other attestations of murdridare right now but if I don't find anything I might swap that in.
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 18:57
  • Yeah, I have no idea about the actual meaning. It's far too late for me, but I thought it would get the point across a little better than crushed or especially battered. This is assuming though it's more than merely cognate with "murder."
    – cmw
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 19:00
  • It's very helpful, thank you! I think the unfamiliar words can be put down to Victor Hugo making it up as he went along. Interestingly, I found genezivis in English translations but genzivis in French editions.
    – KitKatKit
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 20:22

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