How do you propose an idea for someone else to accept, reject, or counteroffer, as in this conversation?

A. Where would you like to have dinner tonight?

B. How about Rex Aztecorum on Fourth Street?

I'm thinking that visne is not quite right, because the idea here is not simply to ask if the other person would like do it, but to toss out an idea, perhaps to elicit a better idea. Also, I think visne wants an accusative object, whereas often this type of construction fills in a blank that would go in another case. The example above seems to want to be in the ablative case, as does, "When would you like to meet?" "How about Tuesday morning?"

In English, one can indicate that one is offering an idea to kick around, perhaps in hopes of eliciting alternatives, rather than merely asking "yes or no", by the "vaguifying" particle about, as in "How about 8:00?" or "What about seeing a movie?" The relevant sense of about seems to be that of directing attention to its object, made infamous in the last couple years in the phrase "What about Hillary?"—i.e. "Please direct your attention to Hillary Clinton" (and away from whatever iniquity of Trump's was just described). Another way to make this conversational distinction is to say "How does ____ sound?"

All of these can receive an answer that accepts the proposal, though. They give the other person a way to indicate consent to a shared decision immediately without pushing for it. In English, "Do you want to eat at 8:00?" is really a yes-or-no question, not a request to negotiate a time to eat favorable to both you and your interlocutor. The conditional mood with no apodosis also changes the meaning from yes-or-no to "Please give consent or suggest an alternative", as in "Would you like to eat at 8:00?"

On the other hand, maybe visne can carry the meaning of asking for alternatives as much as for consent; I'm afraid I still haven't read Plautus or Terence, so I don't yet have a feeling for this sort of conversational subtlety. ;) Does conversational Latin have a way to make this distinction? Does it work with cases other than the accusative?

  • I'm not quite sure that "what about" became more well known, for good or for bad, due to politics. :) EDIT: It took me a minute, but I believe you are referring to whataboutism, which has always been prevalent, but this odd term for it came about more recently.
    – Sam K
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 2:34
  • curnon vel quidni
    – Anonym
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 3:17

1 Answer 1


I think quid si will work. Plautus uses this a lot.

It reminds me of the French construction si on + imparfait? for making suggestions to do something: si on allait à l’exposition? / how about we go to the exhibition?

Of course, it's also exactly like the English "what if ...?" which can sometimes be used in the sense of "how about ...?" So, using your example above, in reply to A, B could say "what if we tried Rex Aztecorum?" All of the Plautus examples below could be translated like this. The Terence excerpt uses both options to sound natural. The Cicero examples only sound right using "what about".

quid si evocemus huc foras Agorastoclem, ut ipsus testis sit sibi certissumus?

How about we call Agorastocles out, so that he himself may be his star witness?

Plautus, The Little Carthaginian, 708-9

quid si eamus illis obviam?

How about we go meet them?

Plautus, The Little Carthaginian, 1163

quid si igitur reddatur illi unde empta est?

How about we return her then to the guy I bought her from?

Plautus, The Merchant, 418

Here it is in Terence:

Antipho: obsecro, quid si assimulo? satinest? I beseech you, what if I pretend [to be brave]? Would that do?

Geta: garris. You're joking.

Antipho: voltum contemplamini. em, satine sic est? Look at my face. There, will that do?

Geta: non.

Antipho: quid si sic? How about this?

Geta: propemodum. Close enough.

Terence, Phormio, 210-215

And two examples from Cicero:

Quid si utroque? num peius est?

What about each of the two? Isn’t that as good?

Cicero, Academica, II.60

Quid Servilia? iamne venit?

What about Servilia? Has she arrived yet?

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 323 (XIII.16) Arpinum, 26 June 45, Cicero to Atticus

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