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In conversation, we often introduce a new topic or make a transition with a little introductory word, like "Well, …" or "So, …" in English or "Allora …" in Italian. For example, if previously we've talked about meeting somewhere, but that topic has been brushed aside for a while, I might bring it up like this:

So, where would you like to meet?

Well, where would you like to meet?

The little introductory word softens the transition to the new topic. Omitting it would make the sentence seem abrupt or officious. Even at the start of a conversation, these softeners are often appropriate.

How do you make the corresponding softening in conversational Latin? With autem or enim or some related word? Or does one not do this in Latin?

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  • I don't know if it counts, but there is a lot of enim and autem working as connectors (as the second word in the sentence) in the Vulgate. Autem is adversative. – Rafael Aug 4 '17 at 20:34
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It seems that nam can be used like this, "to resume the course of thought after a parenthetical interruption".

In practice, however, it was hard to find examples that actually capture the full sense of "so, as I was saying/to get back to the matter at hand". Instead, nam is more often used (even in the examples cited by Lewis and Short) to say something more like "so, because of what I just said, this follows".

Nevertheless, here are the examples I thought best illustrated what you're after:

nam, simulac me Dyrrhachium attigisse audivit ...

so, as I was saying, as soon as he heard that I had reached Dyrrhachium ...

Cicero, Pro Plancio, 41.98

nam et ipse vobis rem horribilem narrabo

well/and so, I'm going to tell you something horrible myself

Petronius, Satyricon, 63

nam meus pater intus nunc est eccum Iuppiter

well, look, my father Jupiter is inside now!

Plautus, Amphitryon, 120

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Porro (Lewis and Short)

I Literally straight on, directly

II Transf.

2. In partic., in discourse. a. In the progress of an argument, or in a sequence of ideas, then, next, furthermore, moreover, besides:

'Porro,' is used twice at the beginning of a sentence in that sense in the CCC ms which gives instructions for 'Alea Evangelii,' linked to the Google page.

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I think that "corresponding softening" is a more informal parlance, because you don't really see that in written Latin text. If you were just speaking Latin aloud, then, yes, I would probably use "enim."

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    A great many written Latin texts are anything but formal! Do you have any reason for suggesting enim? – brianpck Aug 3 '17 at 15:11
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This answer is based on what I would do in Latin, not on any rule I know.

It depends on context. If you have both been silent for a while, then the introductory word indicates that you are about to say something; without it the other party is likely to miss your first actual word. To this end, I often start simply with a "hmm...". If you want something more formal, I would remind of the topic: "De conventu illo: Quando tibi placeat convenire?" In my experience and knowledge (which are both admittedly limited!), Latin does not have proper softener words for this kind of thing, and I don't think anything could match the English "so" or "well" in tone.

If you want to wrap up the conversation you've just had, the situation is a bit different. Consider: "So, we'll meet at the graveyard gate at midnight?" In this use I would go with "ita" or "itaque" or nothing at all. I have nothing to support "ita(que)" other than my own idiosyncrasy.

I feel I should read some Plautus for insights into conversational sentence structures. Although I haven't had the chance to do so in proper detail, I dare recommend taking a look. My quick impression that there are few if any such softeners.

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  • I'm actually pretty sure that ita can't be used in this way. You'd get my upvote if you can find an example though! – brianpck Aug 3 '17 at 15:27
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    @brianpck Well, I can use it in this way. :) I couldn't find any examples of anything (my personal Latin correspondence won't count), so the idiomatic thing seems to be to say nothing. The suggested word is nothing but a personal preference. I clarified the answer a little regarding that point. I'll add more if I find something, but my hopes aren't high. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 3 '17 at 15:32
  • I'm going with Et ubi convenire vis? in the text message I'm about to send, unless someone tells me that's wrong quam primum. :) – Ben Kovitz Aug 3 '17 at 16:09
  • @BenKovitz I won't oppose to et here. I have a feeling that the Romans did have some introductory or softening sounds, but perhaps not proper words (like my hmm...) and therefore not indicated in writing. (I'd be happy if there was any evidence regarding these aspects of classical speech.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 3 '17 at 16:32

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