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The literal translation of the Ames Family Motto [ link ] "Fama candida rosa dulcior" usually comes out to something like "Fame is sweeter than the white rose", however as a rank amateur latin speaker that doesn't seem to translate the intent of the motto.

It "feels" like the motto should translate to something like "Only the whiteness of a rose is sweeter than the reputation of this family" (ie: "A roses whiteness is sweeter than the fame/reputation of this family"). The literal translation seems to come out as "We're better than roses" (probably not intended), or "I prefer fame to a white rose" (also probably not intended).

However, I'm really not a latin expert so have no true basis for complaining about the accuracy of the translation. If I were to try and translate the idea behind the original latin motto, the best I've come up with is "Spotless Reputation", which has nothing to do with roses or fame, but seems to get to the gist of what I imagine the original motto is trying to say.

Any thoughts? Is there a better way of translating the motto that also includes the original desire to be compared to white roses?

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As written, the motto is ambiguous. The only word whose function is immediately obvious is dulcior, a comparative adjective meaning "sweeter."

The nominative ending (short -a) and the ablative ending (long -ā) are spelled the same, but make a huge difference in meaning. How should we fill in the blanks in the following template?

X (nominative) is sweeter than Y (ablative).

This also goes for the adjective candida, which could agree with a noun in either position. Candidus generally means "white" or "bright," but it can also mean "unblemished" or "upright." In the former sense it seems to fit better with rosa, in the latter sense with fama. (Fama in Latin is closer to "reputation" than "fame," as it usually understood nowadays; it can be neutral or positive when used alone.) So, it could mean any of the following things:

  • Fame is sweeter than the white rose.
  • An upright reputation is sweeter than the rose.
  • A rose is sweeter than an upright reputation.
  • A white rose is sweeter than fame.

Grammatical considerations don't compel any of these readings, but it seems clear to me that the second interpretation is the intended one. At least one book translates in this way ("Fair fame is sweeter than the rose.") and notes that this might be a pun where the candida is doing double duty based on its double meaning, i.e. "Fair fame is sweeter than the [white] rose." This also makes sense of the fact that the crest seems to feature a white rose.

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  • A conundrum, no? With the pun-like interpretation I feel it falls into a true "double entendre", "it is better to have a sweet rose than fame", along with "their fame is sweeter than (the fame of a) white rose", or "peerless to" ... I'm interested if other interpretations come through?
    – ramses0
    Sep 7, 2023 at 0:27
  • Or: "sweet fame, but a roses is sweeter" ...since the words "agree" in so many places it feels like there's a few layers of meaning.
    – ramses0
    Sep 7, 2023 at 0:33
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    The "white rose" could possibly also be an allusion to the House of York (although Wikipedia says the White Rose of York is Latinized as rosa alba). Sep 7, 2023 at 7:31

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