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What is an idiomatic translation of the English phrase "by the book", as in "We run our business by the book?"

I'm not sure if a very literal translation, e.g. "per librum," makes sense or has any historical precedent -- I'm looking for a translation that captures the sense of this English idiom.

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    Or iuste to say 'lawfully'. Apr 15, 2023 at 16:27
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    Maybe the adverbs "recte" and "rite".
    – user11898
    Apr 15, 2023 at 22:13
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    iuste et legitime and recte et ordine are also common pairings; I do however think that they do not quite capture the sense of "by the book," which tends to emphasize an (often overly) strict adherence to the written rules, and not just that everything is done right and properly. Apr 16, 2023 at 15:30
  • Unfortunately this English idiom does not have one sense but two, and they are antonyms. 1. Justly fulfilling every rule (not skipping any, not cutting corners). 2. unjustly fulfilling every rule (losing sight of the just outcome “the book” was intended to serve). The answers so far appear to be inclining towards the first rather than the second sense. Sticking a comparative in might tend towards the second sense (iustius?). With verbal forms a frequentative might do it. But as for a single verbal form which covers both meanings: there may not be one. Latin does not sit on fences. Jul 20, 2023 at 7:10
  • Good point @MartinKochanski! The second sense is captured in "following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law."
    – Jasha
    Jul 20, 2023 at 16:07

2 Answers 2

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In the Byzantine law book Corpus Iuris Civilis, the following sentence appears:

Iuris præcepta sunt hæc: honeste vivere, neminem laedere, suum cuique tribuere. The precepts of law are these: to live honestly, to hurt no one, and to give to each their own.

Thus the phrase "per praecepta iuris" comes to mind. (Praceptum is a second-declension neuter noun). The phrase "per praecepta iuris" means according to the rules of law.

You could also say, "per praecepta", which means, according to the precepts, or according to the rules. It often has the meaning, "according to the rules (precepts) of personal conduct."

In the same law book we get the passage:

Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique tribuens. Iurisprudentia est divinarum atque humanarum rerum notitia, iusti atque iniusti scientia. Justice is the constant and perpetual desire to give to each their own. Jurisprudence is knowledge of things human and divine, knowledge of what is just and what is not just.

There are so many good passages in this law book (I'm using Wikiquote as my source) that I'll reproduce another.

Iure enim naturali ab initio omnes homines liberi nascebantur. For by natural law, all people were born free from the beginning.

We see that in Roman and Byzantine law, the words ius (law), iure (by law), de iure (according to the law), praecepta iuris (precepts of law), and auctoritate iuris (by the authority of law) often appear.

The idiom "by the book" can mean "by the rules" or "in the proper way", which is one reason I am searching through Roman and Byzantine law books for suitable phrases.

We can also use the phrase "secundum praecepta", which is found in Vatican literature. It means "according to the precepts" or "according to the teachings".

It is important to point out that the word "praecepta" comes from the Latin verb "praecipio", which means to teach. Thus praecepta means teachings.

To do things by the book means to do things by the rules, the way that they were taught.

Suggestions:

  1. Secundum praecepta iuris. (According to the rules of law.)
  2. Per praecepta iuris. (According to the rules of law.)
  3. De praeceptis iuris. (By the rules of law.)

A few more suggestions:

  1. Secundum praecepta libri. (According to the rules of the book.)
  2. Per praecepta libri. (According to the rules of the book.)
  3. De praeceptis libri. (By the rules of the book.)

I would also like to point out that the phrase "per librum" might be a fine translation of "by the book". It is a natural choice for translating the English idiom, and even if it was never used in classical times, it is important to add new idioms to the Latin language.

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Another similar suggestion to @ktm5124 is: ad/per praescriptum.

While seems to mean the very much the same it feels like it can be also used more casually. Lets take a look of this examples from Seneca:

In illo feras me necesse est non per praescriptum euntem (In this discussion you must bear with me if I do not follow the regular course (i.e., don't go by the book). Loeb) SenPhil.Ep.88.18.1

Cur non ad praescriptum tuum cenas? (why don't you dine according to your book) SenPhil.Dial.7.17.2.2

Or from Caesar - note the contrast between ad praescriptum to libere:

alter omnia agere ad praescriptum, alter libere ad summam rerum consulere debet.

L&S (F.A/B) adds that we can use also use ultra praescriptum for someone that deviates from the book/rule/habit or course/path (even literally it seems as L&S shows in example intra praescriptum equitare)

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