9

As a joke, I'm imagining someone being confused about the US motto, and thinking it was "e unum pluribus", which hypothetically might mean "out of the one, many" or similar. But I bet that isn't grammatical. So (just as info) what would be grammatical? And could the confused version even sorta, kinda, have the hypothetical meaning?

  • The TV comedy show Community made such a joke. I'm not sure if this is appropriate as a full answer though :p – JAD Jan 21 '18 at 10:40
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    Spoiler alert: I am a German, and the first time I heard that the U.S. motto is "E pluribus unum" was in a Jack Reacher novel about a money counterfeiting operation where $1 bills were "laundered" until they were blank paper, then had $100 printed on them, in an operation called "ex unum pluribus" ("many [dollars] out of one") by the counterfeiters. (On a side note to this side note; to prevent this, every other currency uses bigger notes for higher denominations.) – Alexander Jan 21 '18 at 10:51
16

E unum pluribus has just the same meaning as the original (though you might better use the ex form of the preposition when it precedes a vowel).

The reverse, 'many out of one', would merely require the cases to be reversed, giving ex uno plures.

9

I like Tom Cotton's suggestion, and I will offer a variant of it. In the original motto e pluribus unum the "one" is neuter. By analogy, I prefer to make the "many" of the new version neuter:

Ex uno plura.
From one, many.

The reason why the translation suggested in the question does not quite work is Latin case inflection. For example, the preposition e(x) requires ablative.

In this neuter reading "many" means "many things" without further specification. If you want it to refer to "many people", "many peoples", or something in that direction, then Tom's suggestion is better.

  • But doesn't the pluribus refer to hominibus or gentibus, for either of which plures is correct in the reversed version? – Tom Cotton Jan 21 '18 at 10:38
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    I've always taken the pluribus to refer to the various states, and the unum to be the confederation of them (The "United States"). I don't think unum stands for any definite neuter noun, just an abstraction, "one thing/entity". – varro Jan 21 '18 at 16:38
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    This is really making me scratch my head. Words for 'state' are generally feminine, but the most sensible meaning for the original, neuter unum seems to be imperium, in which case Joonas's suggestion of plura is the more proper. – Tom Cotton Jan 21 '18 at 17:28
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    As I understand it, the Founding Fathers looked to the Roman republic for inspiration in creating the new nation, but not to the later Roman empire, so calling the union a res publica would have been congenial to them, but calling it an imperium would not, with its echos of the British empire. I'll still maintain that one should not look for any understood neuter noun for unum to agree with, but to simply accept it as an abstract, "one thing". – varro Jan 21 '18 at 22:00
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    @varro I think you are quite right. There's not really any option to what you suggest. – Tom Cotton Jan 21 '18 at 22:22

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