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Hello fellow native speakers,

For a tattoo with my sisters I wanted to translate the Latin motto “Fluctuat nec mergitur”, used by the city of Paris, into English.

Searching for the correct translation I found different versions, such as “It is tossed by the waves but it does not sink” or “It gets tossed by the waves but does not sink”. I wonder how I could correctly translate it. Would “tossed by the waves but not sinking” be correct?

I really dont want to have the wrong translation on my body and the tattoo means something very special for me.

Thank you in advance for your replies!

Sincerely

a non native speaker <3

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2 Answers 2

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The translations you list are correct, but what I think you should go for is something that catches the spirit and feel and, at least to some extent, the melodiousness of the original.

I suggest “Rocked by waves but never sunk”. It's not my translation, but one of those that I have seen tossed around. These are the reasons I like it:

  • It contains the same number of syllables as the original, and has a similar prosody (can be read with the same rhythm).
  • It conveys what I believe is the deeper meaning of the motto, namely “although we (the Parisians) have been shaken by the circumstances (or attacked by our enemies), they have never been able to bring us down”.

Alternatively, you could use the variant “Tossed by waves but never sunk”, as seen in the below clip from New York Magazine.

Clip from New York Magazine quoting a translation of Fluctuat nec mergitur

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  • Hey, first of all many thanks for your well-thought suggestions! I really like both of them! Ill probably go with rocked or tossed by waves... It makes the sentence shorter and therefore easier to read in a "flow". One more thing I now have to ask is if the part "but never sunk" directly refers to the past. Bc I kind of want it to be present, always. Would "Tossed/Rocked by waves but never sinking" be correct too? Thank you very much, I really appreciated your answer and it helped me very much already! Oct 17, 2023 at 19:16
  • “Never sinking” would also be correct, and I've seen translations that use those words. However, because sunk is here not the past tense, but (just like tossed) the past participle of the verb, I feel that “never sunk” refers more to the present than to the past. The implied meaning is in fact “(Has been) tossed by the waves but (has) never (been) sunk.” In other words, “We’re still floating!”
    – Segorian
    Oct 17, 2023 at 22:44
  • Thank you very much again! Oct 20, 2023 at 17:10
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    You're very welcome! It seems to me you have a few things to choose from now.
    – Segorian
    Oct 20, 2023 at 17:26
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Well, first of all fluctuat nec mergitur is Latin, not French.

Secondly, "it is tossed by the waves but does not sink" is indeed a possible translation.

I guess that is a bit lengthy for a tattoo, though, so some rephrasing like "wave-tossed yet unsunken" might also do the job.

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  • Well, first of all thank you, maybe we r misunderstanding each other or it's my english.. But I called it a "latin motto used by the city of paris. I get you with the length, it was one thing I did not really liked about it. Thank you very much for your time and recommandations as well! Oct 17, 2023 at 19:20
  • @ChantalHill No, you called it "the French motto", as can be readily checked in the edit history of your question. The current (correct) wording of the question was added by Segorian.
    – gmvh
    Oct 18, 2023 at 6:12

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