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In Cambridge, a pair of £1.25m homes have been spray painted with the slogan "Locus in Domos Loci Populum", which the BBC translates as "Room in the house. Local people". Prof of Classics, Mary Beard notes "This is a bit hard to translate". It is suggested in the article that the intended meaning was "Local homes for local people.", which google translates thus.

Is the BBC translation correct? How should you write "[There should be some] local homes for [the] local people." in Classical Latin? Google suggests something like "Sit ibi locorum domos ad loci populum."

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    I love how many of the quoted people opine with good-natured head-shaking, "Only in Cambridge!" when in fact even a basic understanding of Latin shows even less knowledge than Monty Python's satirical "Romanes eunt domus" – brianpck Apr 4 '17 at 17:35
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    @brianpck: Perhaps the idea was to echo Monty Python's style and produce corrupted Latin on purpose... – Cerberus Apr 5 '17 at 22:22
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    @Cerberus Perhaps, though I would have expected the process to have involved more than a blind copy of Google Translate if that were the case – brianpck Apr 5 '17 at 22:42
  • @brianpck: Hmm I see, that is true. – Cerberus Apr 5 '17 at 23:51
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The translation given by Google Translate is, as typical with Latin, gibberish. Neither the BBC translation nor the intended meaning get close to what the Latin says. The quoted professor is being polite; it's a bit hard to translate nonsensical text. I really wish people stopped relying on Google Translate in matters of any importance.

Trying to use similar words, I offer these translations:

  • "Room in the house. Local people." — Locus in domo. Populus localis.1
  • "Local homes for local people." — Domus/domos locales hominibus localibus.2
  • "There should be some local homes for the local people." — Domos locales hominibus localibus offerre debemus.3

I would translate Sit ibi locorum domos ad loci populum. somewhere along these lines: "May there be houses of places to the people of the place." But it is ungrammatical; with sint domus it would really mean what I interpret to mean, with sit domos I don't know how to parse it. Mocking Google Translate again is left as an exercise.

As C. M. Weimer points out in the comments below, the adjective localis is not classical. I still think consider it correct, but if you want something more classical, replace all occurrences of localis, locales, and localibus by huius loci ("of this place").


1 The word locus might not be the optimal choice, but I think it can be used this way. The best choice of words depends on what is exactly meant: is there a room in the house, or is there room in the house? And I'm not sure what the added "Local people." is supposed to signify…

2 The choice of case depends on intended nuance. If it means "here are local homes", I would go with the nominative domus. If "we offer local homes", then the accusative domos.

3 The Latin means more literally "we should offer local homes for local people". This sounds more natural to me than a more direct translation.

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  • The plural nominative of domus is domus (long u), while localis doesn't really mean "local" in Classical usage (as far as I can tell). Smith gives plenty of examples of in loc- meaning "local", though. – C. M. Weimer Apr 4 '17 at 17:27
  • I like that you consider graffiti a "matter of importance"! Your third translation seems to the one that was meant, except perhaps changing to "You should offer...". Can the translation be made "snappier", since the original isn't a complete sentence, to render "Local homes for local people" in a phrase suitable for daubing? – James K Apr 4 '17 at 17:31
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    @C.M.Weimer Thanks! I corrected the plural domus. I didn't know that about localis. Perhaps huius loci would be a good replacement. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 4 '17 at 17:32
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    @JamesK If you want "you should offer..." instead, change debemus to debes (singular you) or debetis (plural you). For something snappier, I would use my second translation with accusative: Domos locales homibus localibus. Or if you want to be more classical: Domos huius loci hominibus huius loci. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 4 '17 at 17:37
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    Re: localis, Ammianus Marcellinus uses it as such, so depending on what @JamesK defines as "Classical," it's not necessarily wrong. – C. M. Weimer Apr 4 '17 at 17:39
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Mary Beard is right: It's bad grammar through and through. Latin nouns and adjectives change their ending depending on how they're used grammatically (not unlike the English who, whom, whose or he, him, his). For some reason, Google Translate cannot grasp that idea, and so they should not in any circumstance be trusted, and probably not for a long time, too.

To correct it to what BBC thinks is the intended meaning, there are several options. I'd offer:

Domus in hoc loco populo in hoc loco.

This would means "Homes in this place for people in this place." The repetition is a bit of an rhetorical flourish emphasizing the locality (in hoc loco). You do not need a verb, though adding one would emphasize ownership; i.e. putting a sunt at the end of the line would change the meaning to, "Homes in this place belong to [i.e. are owned by] the people in this place." More than that, though, it's unnecessary, as it is in English.

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    Not sure if I can get behind your proposed translation: it's tough to translate "local" though. Maybe "Tecta vicina vicino populo" – brianpck Apr 4 '17 at 17:38
  • @brianpck It faces a hurdle as a general idea (i.e. 'all local homes for all local people' would demand a different translation), but in this particular instance I think it works, and is what Smith suggests at any rate. Vicinus means more "neighboring". I'm not so sure that fits, either, though the chiasm is pleasing. – C. M. Weimer Apr 4 '17 at 17:45

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