I want to make a parody of the famous “for dummies” in Latin.

How could it be translated?

I thought ad nulli to mirror the French version “pour les nuls”, but I’m not sure it actually works.

4 Answers 4


This is a review/comment on the other suggestions here more than a standalone answer (it started out as a comment to the answer by Kingshorsey).

First of all, in/ad ūsum alicuijus 'for use, enjoyment by X' is clearly the expression to go for here; another option is alicui dēstinātum 'designed, intended for X,' and the two can even be combined.

  • The bare dative would make for an abruptly unfinished, un-Latin and clearly translated book title, because it normally expresses relation or ownership, while the 'goal' meaning needs to be supplied by some predicate: liber puerīs est 'the book belongs to the kids'; liber puerīs cārus 'a book dear to children'.
  • prō aliquō would read as meaning 'a book arguing in favour of', although it's found in a few Renaissance book titles, clearly a "medieval student Latin" usage translated from German/French.

Next, on to the choice of the nominal, which with in ūsum will appear in the genitive case (all in -ōrum except rudium, tīrōnum), and in the dative before dēstinātum (all in -īs except rudibus, tīrōnibus). And if you're using the latter with another Latin noun, it will need to agree in gender as well, e.g. liber...dēstinātus. If not, leave it neuter:

  • imperītī was my initial thought, but it's opposed to perītī/doctī, while dummies are opposed rather to geniuses or even more so to sharpies. While the Latin word is circumspect and totally lacking any connotation of subpar intellectual abilities - although it can be used disparagingly, of course.
  • Unlike the former word, I had't seen rudēs used on its own, and a google books search gives only a couple of occurrences where it isn't joined at least with another synonym. This is because its use in reference to people is felt as a metaphor from fresh shoots; consequently rudēs puerī is its usual collocation.
  • ignārī would seem to be the best option combining enough contempt with a possibility of substantival use; however, a search for "in usum ignarorum" nets nothing at all. Plus, it's way too blunt.
  • stultī is quite a bit milder than 'fool' or even 'stupid', rather corresponding to 'silly, naïve' or indeed the almost gentle 'dummy'. It's opposed to sapiēns and so in principle can be applied to anyone whom you would be hesitant to put in the latter category. All in all, an option to consider, but lacking a certain je ne sais quoi.
  • in ūsum tīrōnum is without question the standard expression in book titles, but it corresponds to the neutral 'for beginners, novices'.

So do I have any better suggestions? I noticed that Cicero metaphorically used the pairing peregrīnī atque advenae to refer to outsiders to a certain discipline. And the ultimate word for an outsider lacking all familiarity with the customs and culture of the host nation is, of course, barbarus, a word which besides referring to non-Greeks or Latins (i.e. all cultural foreigners) is also synonymous to rudis, incultus and thus standing in opposition to hūmānus, ērudītus. I think therefore that in ūsum barbarōrum would play nicely on this Roman cultural opposition, being both ironic (since that opposition is - ehem - foreign to, and in fact targetting most of us) and unironic at the same time (since we can understand and appreciate it), a tension very much like that in the English 'for dummies'. As such, I think it would make for an excellent translation.

Apart from that, there actually is a specialised condescending word for someone who belongs to the uneducated vulgus, synonymous to indoctus, illitterātus, and that word is idiōta (see Forcellini to get a better sense for its usage and connotations). Its closest English equivalent is 'layman', while 'idiot' is a notorious false friend. The only problem is that it's in no way humorous or colloquial, but rather haughtily educated. It would be phrased as in ūsum idiōtārum and idiōtīs dēstinātum.

  • 1
    One can read a lot about the Romano-Greek concept of foreigners, but 'forgeigners' is essentially what barbarī refers to, only less in reference to ethnicity (as in our nationalist age) and more in reference to (literary) culture. The imagery that the word conjures up for us rather speaks about our own conceptions of all the ancient peoples who weren't Roman or Greek. There's been a lot of effort in the academia to modify these conceptions.—The "gentler" ways have the problems that I describe - they're too circumspect and involve no humour or double take; the latter is what makes the English Apr 19 at 9:40
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    As I say, the bare dative is not used in Latin book titles, and would look like clumsy translationese. Someone who's translating a book title into Latin has the luxury of having unlimited access to the vast early printed book output in Latin, and there's no excuse for not knowing how the target audience is expressed in the language.—There's no neuter tīrō, it's an animate noun, so it's not the gender that's the problem, it's that the bare dative gives an abruptly unfinished book title. Apr 19 at 9:48
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    Unbrutal_Russian: Understood. Someone's given a "-1"; I've put it back to zero--best I can do.
    – tony
    Apr 19 at 9:48
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    I personally would not be able to resist idiota, since the goal is to produce a parody book in the modern context. Bringing to mind "idiot" is an advantage, a nod to the original "For Dummies," even though the words aren't real synonyms. I also like your suggestion of barbarus, though. Apr 19 at 11:21
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    Quick note modern connotations of idiōta / Eng. "idiot" in this specific context, i.e., a parody of the IDG Books / Wiley Publishing ... For Dummies reference books franchise. The books actually have a fairly successful, imitative competitor, the Complete Idiot's Guide To... series by Alpha Books / DK. It's not unlikely someone looking at idiōta might think of the orange books as quickly as the For Dummies books. Apr 19 at 14:48

A single passage of Cicero gives us three near synonyms worth considering:

imperiti homines rerum omnium rudes ignarique (inexperienced men, unfamiliar with and ignorant of everything)

All three words denote lack of knowledge stemming from lack of experience. All three also have something of the derogatory connotation in "dummies," although raw intellectual capacity isn't at issue.

I'm partial to rudis because it's in the title of one of St. Augustine's treatises: De Catechizandis Rudibus (Catechizing the Uninstructed)

Whichever word you choose, you will need to use it in a particular case that depends on the form of the rest of the title. Perhaps we could riff on a classic series, in usum Delphini (for the use/benefit of the Dauphin).

So, Cooking for Dummies might come out Institutiones Coquinariae, in usum Rudium.


One Latin word worth considering is tiro, meaning a beginner. A beginner is not quite the same as a dummy, but perhaps close enough for many purposes. I'd be happy to use it in a book title along the lines of "Latin for dummies".

To say "for dummies", you need the plural dative of this word: tironibus.

Let me also comment on your suggestion ad nulli. With the preposition ad you would need the accusative, so it would have to be ad nullos. But this means "to nobody". It's quite different to say that the audience is non-expert than to say that it is non-existent!


The simplest expression could be, "stultis" = "for the stupid", from the adjective, "stultus". This reminds me of the amusing, "stulto stultior" = "more stupid than stupid", in which "stulto" is an ablative-of-comparison; "stultior", a comparative.

Much depends on how offensive you wish to be. Joonas's text would be entitled, "tironibus"; mine, "stultis".

Mind, some of the mistakes that I have made would consign me to the latter work.

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