Sometimes people are warned of slippery surfaces with signs saying "slippery when wet". I would like to know how to phrase such a sign in Latin. Translating a full sentence is easier:

This road is slippery when it is wet.
Haec via lubrica est quando madida est.

This might not be perfect, but I think it works. (Feedback is welcome.) The thing I have trouble with is squeezing this into a more concise form suitable for a sign.

In English one would write "slippery when wet", and in Finnish (directly translated to English) "slippery as wet", and I guess other languages have other constructions. Therefore I see no obvious choice of structure in Latin.

Like many Latin adjectives, madidus has a corresponding verb: madere. Using that, I would write lubricus madens. Is this a good way to phrase it, or is there something better?

I would also like to know how to do this for adjectives without a verb. How can I translate short expressions of the form "<adjective> when <adjective>" if there is no corresponding verb? I don't know a suitable structure.

  • 2
    Well, I think it is important to keep in mind that "slippery when wet" is merely a shortening of the full sentence "This surface is slippery when it is wet," which you kind of alluded to in your question. When one thinks about other Latin phrases and mottoes in the modern world, they too are often shortened forms of more elaborate sentences. So, I think it is perfectly apt to say something along the lines of lubrica cum madida, as compared to the implied, full sentence (Haec cutis est lubrica cum madida sit.). At least, that's the way I look at it. (Sorry for the long comment...)
    – Sam K
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 14:03
  • @SamK That's a good way of looking at it. Can you write that as an answer? Seeing the short expression as a shortening of a full sentence and forming it accordingly makes a good answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 14:26

1 Answer 1


Oftentimes on warning signs, or signs of any type really, a short phrase will be used. These phrases, such as "slippery when wet," are incomplete sentences, so translating them can be a bit tricky. In actuality, these phrases are actually parts of longer, complete sentences, so if one can translate that sentence, and then isolate the part that is actually used, a decent translation can be found. For the example

Slippery when wet

one can assume the context of the phrase, and thus the complete sentence is

This surface is slippery when it is wet.

This is possible to translate with relative ease.

Haec cutis est lubrica cum madida sit.

The bolded part of this phrase is the translation of the original warning, and can thus be isolated and used in its stead.

lubrica cum madida

I used cum here because the "cum madida sit" explains why the surface is slippery, making this a causal cum clause. There may be other methods of translation (you suggest quando) that can also work. All one has to do is isolate those words that correlate to the English, as long as the meaning is reasonably preserved.

Now, I did not pull this method out of thin air. Oftentimes, the reverse process is used for translating Latin phrases into English. Take the Latin motto of the U.S. state of West Virginia, Montani semper liberi. In English, we say the translation is "Mountaineers are always free." The Latin leaves out the form of esse, which is quite common in Latin poetry as well. So leaving out extraneous words that are easily implied is not at all unprecedented, and it makes sense to use that logic here.

  • 1
    I tend to disagree that "lubrica cum madida" works in this context. Although ellipsis is certainly common in Latin, I have never seen cum used alone with an adjective or noun.
    – brianpck
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 0:44
  • 1
    @brianpck Well, this isn't exactly a true Latin idiom. And there are a few different ways to translate it, I am just most familiar with the using cum clauses. Do you have a suggestion to improve it so that it would be more in line with traditional Latin form?
    – Sam K
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 23:44

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