A long time ago, probably when I was auditing botanical Latin, I recall someone saying what the Latin word for motorcycle would be. It was a long and literal description of what one is given that such machines didn't exist when Latin was "alive." Online searches aren't helping. Anyone familiar with this and care to share? Gratias tibi.

3 Answers 3


Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis has birotula automataria. Quite similar to Canned Man's answer.

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    This--well, actually birota automata, without the diminutive--is also what the Neo-Latin Lexicon suggests, citing EGGER S.L. 29; and Bacci IOE 21.
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 12:12
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    @brianpck And the Romans likely would have defaulted to just birota (or I suppose birotula, but maybe that for scooters). Can you imagine the Romans saying currus quadrigarum every time they referred to the quadrigae?
    – cmw
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 12:36
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    Maybe birotula then could be a good word for a (motorised) scooter or a moped?
    – Canned Man
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 12:36

I will make a suggestion. Prīmum, ecce Pondus, composuit et pīnxit Frode Øverli:

Fābula dē Pondō quī birotam cōnstruit.

Fābula dē Pondō quī birotam cōnstruit. – The story about Pondus who builds a bicycle.
Composuit et pīnxit: Frode Øverli. In latīnum convertit: Tor Ivar Østmoe. © Øverli 2007. MareSilva.

The word bicycle and bĭrŏta are almost literally the same. The prefix bi- stems from the Latin counting adverb bis, and note that:

The word bis (“twice”) drops the s when making compositions, like the Greek word δίς (dís, “dis”).

English cycle stems from Greek κύκλος: circle, ring. The Latin rota, -ae means wheel. Now we can get some inspiration from Whitaker’s Words for how to make it automatic:

autocinetum, autocineti N N 2 2 N [GTXDK]

autocineticus, autocinetica, autocineticum ADJ [GXXDK]
car-; of a car;

autoraeda, autoraedae N F 1 1 F [GTXDK]

The first, autocinētum, -ī, is from Greek αὐτοκίνητος, which I believe translates as self-propelling; the second, autocinēticus, -a, -um from αὐτοκινητικός, means self-putting-in-motion; the final, autoraeda, -ae is simply self-cart, as in self-acting or self-moving cart. Auto- is thus a useful prefix.

Hence my suggestion for motorcycle in Latin: autŏrŏta, -ae, in short aurŏta, -ae.

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    According to Google, "motor" (mover) is Latin, and "cyclus" is Late Latin. Thus, why wouldn't it be some derivative of motor+cyclus?
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 21:11
  • Certainly a valid question, @RonJohn. Were one to go for that solution, it would be more likely to be some derivative of motor + birota, as cycle compares to bicycle as rota does to the already established birota. Now why not choose motor? Indeed why not? Cp. DE auto with EN car or automobile to NO/DA/SV bil and we can see how which new word for a new thing sticks, is quite unpredictable (motorcycle is motorsykkel in NO, despite automobile > bil). Will the new word be built off an existing one, or be a translation? Cp. EN computer to NO datamaskin (data machine).
    – Canned Man
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 7:29
  • I suggest you write up an answer with your suggestion.
    – Canned Man
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 7:29
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    The only Latin I know is the roots of English words, (I had to verify that motorcycle didn't only have Greek origins before making the comment.)
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 8:12
  • Well, you already have the basics for you answer ready, so why not add it? You can tag one of us in a comment or in Conloqvivm, and we can have a quick look at it and see if there are any errors to correct. I feel it wrong to write up your suggestion as an answer and get the rumour points you would well deserve.
    – Canned Man
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 18:54

Being in the territory of New Latin, any term can be of questionable authority. If an author doesn't like the terms used before and prefers a neologism instead, they can easily justify said neologism.

Some of the terms I'm suggesting are already mentioned in other answers. The commonness of any term could be on account of many different reasons, so keep them in mind.

Adumbratio, a site full of New Latin and timeless Latin terms, gives birota automata and birota automataria, as well as bicyclula motoria and autobirota. These variations are due to variations in authors, though if you go to the website, it does cite the sources.

The Vatican's Parvum Verborum Novatorum Lexicum does not give a translation for motorcycle, but it does give a translation for motoretta— which means motor scooter in Italian—as birotula automataria, where birotula is a diminutive of birota.

I personally find autobirota to be my favorite, as it is a single word and makes sense. That being said, birota automataria seems to be holding its ground as a considerable option.

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