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Suppose one writes, in English, a sentence in which some Latin is embedded, such as

Eventually, they declared the rodent to be a squirrel non grata in their garden.

Of course this alludes to the diplomatic phrase "persona non grata", but suppose one wants to be pedantic about the Latin, even though one mainly is writing in English and the reader of English may not care. How would one determine for which Latin gender to inflect nón gráta?

  • Would one use the masculine gender of sciúrus, for "squirrel nón grátus"?
  • Does it depend on the sex of the squirrel?
  • What if there instead are multiple squirrels of different sexes? (I assume masculine plural would be used traditionally?)
  • What if the thing not wanted in the garden is inanimate, such as a rusting car? ("squirrel", "rusting car", "garden", and the rest of the English example sentence are used only for example.)

Google isn't very helpful, because it wants to tell me about the gender of Latin words rather than of English words.

1 Answer 1

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First and foremost, it depends if you're writing in Latin or English! If you're writing in English, grammatical gender is generally not a concern, even with foreign words—just like we don't decline the words and declare someone personam non gratam, or talk about the status of a personae non gratae.

If you're inserting the English word "squirrel" into a Latin sentence, though, that's a good question—and one that may not be answerable, unfortunately. The vast majority of loanwords into Classical Latin came from languages with grammatical gender, or were put into a gender based on their semantics (e.g. a man's name would be masculine). I can't think of enough examples of loanwords specifically assigned an arbitrary gender by Classical speakers to derive a rule from them.

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  • Apologies, I edited my question to clarify that I meant embedding Latin in an English sentence.
    – user570286
    Mar 27, 2023 at 15:05
  • I'm not sure "personae non gratae" is unused in English.
    – user570286
    Mar 27, 2023 at 15:05
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    I'm not sure if it's considered pretentious, but doesn't German often decline Latin nouns? It seems to me that English uses the nominative not because it's non-Latin but because it's non-inflected.
    – brianpck
    Mar 27, 2023 at 15:15
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    @brianpck Right; I'm saying we don't inflect the words for gender or case in English, because English doesn't have those features on nouns, but often do inflect them for number, which English does have (one alumnus, several alumni).
    – Draconis
    Mar 27, 2023 at 16:30
  • @user570286 As plural (which English has), not as genitive (which it doesn't, as an inflectional marking on nouns).
    – Draconis
    Mar 27, 2023 at 16:31

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