This phrase appeared in Nuntii Latini last December:

In causa erant discordiae inter praesidentem et vicepraesidentem ortae.

Is vice- a good prefix in Latin, and does it really produce the same effect as in English? That is, is vicepraesidens a good Latin translation of "vice president"? Is there any precedent for using vice- like this? I had not seen it before, and it feels a little off to me.

I don't think the prefix vice- was used with any title in the Roman system, but perhaps it was introduced later on.


It's Late Latin. From the OED:

Originally this governed a following word in the genitive, but in late Latin the tendency to use the phrase as a compound noun appears in vicequæstor (equivalent to prōquæstor of analogous origin). In medieval Latin such formations became common, as vicecomes, -consul, -decanus, -dominus, -princeps, -rector, -rex, etc.

As it mentions, pro was the more accepted prefix, though like vice- was also originally a preposition. The noun phrase later become codified and the preposition became a prefix. Examples: proconsul, propraetor, propraefectus, proflamen, pro quaestore.

I don't know of any Classical Latin titles with the prefix, and Lewis and Short record none under their definition of vicis.

My understanding is that the modern spoken Latin community doesn't like archaicisms like using consul for president, so they opt for Anglicized words. The ancients sometimes did that, but from what I read, they mostly did not. Considering the presidency was partially modeled after the consulship, I think a rendering of it as consul maior and consul minor would have made sense to a Roman audience, even if it's somewhat inaccurate.

  • Was pro originally a pronoun? I can't seem to find a source for it.
    – Anonym
    Apr 22 '17 at 1:47
  • @Anonym No, not at all. An exhausted brain wrote pronoun but meant preposition. Fixed, and thanks for the catch.
    – cmw
    Apr 22 '17 at 1:50
  • For what it's worth, Lewis & Short lists it as perhaps originally being ablative, with prae being the locative. So it could've come from a noun, if not a pronoun.
    – Anonym
    Apr 22 '17 at 2:09
  • But proconsul, for instance, is not what we would think of when we say vice-consul. A proconsul (or propraetor, etc) was a person (usually an ex- consul, praetor, etc) who was appointed instead of a properly elected magistrate. Vice-magistrates (except for a viceroy) aren't appointed "instead" of their ordinary counterparts.
    – Wtrmute
    Apr 23 '17 at 2:44
  • Question: does the OED say it was a preposition? It looked more like dative/ablative of vicis to me.
    – Rafael
    Apr 25 '17 at 13:46

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