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I came across the word tantibus while reading this page (as part of a bigger word, amalgotantibus), where it's claimed to be Latin for "nightmare"; a little bit of digging also revealed that it's the basis for the name of a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic character. However, I cannot find this word in Wiktionary or any other online Latin dictionary that I know of (Numen: The Latin Lexicon is my usual go-to), and while googling the word does turn up a lot of results (over 150,000, last time I checked), many of which similarly claim the word is from Latin and means "nightmare", none of them are reliable sources of etymology (e.g. reputable dictionaries like Merriam-Webster, official scientific publications).

Is tantibus really a Latin word, or is this a made-up one (i.e. "neo/pseudo-Latin") that someone somewhere mistakenly believed to be real Classical Latin, and their mistake propagated over time?

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    It's certainly not a word I've ever seen, though it could easily be an incorrect form of tantus "so much". I'll have to poke into it more tomorrow.
    – Draconis
    Oct 2, 2018 at 5:41
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    Searching Perseus and PackHum for tantibus also turns up nothing. I'm guessing it's a made-up word.
    – TKR
    Oct 3, 2018 at 1:53
  • No hint of tantibus or thant- etc. for nightmare. Did the Romans have a word for nightmare? Somnium, Sompnium is a dream.
    – Hugh
    Oct 3, 2018 at 3:04
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    @Hugh: my amateur research into the matter gives me incubus and suppressio, with Witkionary additionally claiming that masca / mascha / mascus can mean "nightmare, ghost".
    – MarqFJA87
    Oct 3, 2018 at 13:25

4 Answers 4

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FDB's answer seems accurate: it's not actually a Latin word for "nightmare", but has been mistakenly believed to be one.

Where does "tantibus" = "nightmare" orginally come from? It seems attested no earlier than 2000

On the USGS website, I found an artistic image of elevation data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission that was released by the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center. It is titled "Tantibus" and appears with a note "Tantibus is Latin for nightmare." This appears to have been distributed as part of the "Earth As Art" series (e.g. in the Earth as Art 5 collection, November 2018). The webpage has an earlier date, but I'm not sure exactly what that means (see the following section).

I'm not sure this is really from 2000; its origins are mysterious

The web page gives the date of January 31, 2000. It's not clear what this is supposed to mean (the date of the photography the image is based on, or the final image itself?), and I'm not sure how to verify that it is the correct date of either of those things. There is some reason to suspect that the image might actually have been created at a later date: according to Wikipedia, "The SRTM was flown on an 11-day mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in February 2000"; so if the image is in fact from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, it seems impossible for an image from that mission to have been posted online on January 31, 2000. I noticed Google search also shows January 31, 2000 as the date of the web page, but unfortuately, it seems that Google doesn't have a single procedure for determining which date to display for search results, so it doesn't tell us anything much since Google might be just copying that directly from the text on the present-day webpage. The oldest copy on the Internet Archive is only from 2020. This does provide the useful information that January 31, 2000 was previously listed in a "Date Taken" field.

The image is public domain, probably as a government creative work; I haven't found any attribution of the artist who selected the image, gave it this title or wrote the description.

If the date isn't too far off, this would be the earliest example I've found so far, and I'd guess it was the direct or indirect inspiration of all subsequent examples. If the date is just (approximately) for the photography, I have no clue where it fits in relative to the following examples, and there's a possibility that the author of the title and caption as well as others got "tantibus" from a statistical machine translation service like the old version of Google Translate.

Other examples through the years

I initially thought this mistake originated in the name of the nightmare-themed My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic character Tantabus that you mentioned (appearing in Season 5, Episode 13 "Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?", July 11, 2015). However, after I did a bit of digging on the edit history of wiki articles for the My Little Pony character and other possible examples of "tantibus", I found the following examples from before the introduction of the MLP character:

The relevant MLP wiki edits are as follows:

  • The text "Tantabus is Latin for the word 'nightmare'." was inserted on the Villains Wiki article "Tantabus" on 29 July 2015.

  • This was edited on 3 October 2015 to read "Tantibus (Alternate spelling for Tantabus) is Latin for the word 'nightmare'.", with the edit comment ""Tantabus" is not a latin word, "Tantibus" is."

  • The text "The name "Tantabus" is a corruption of "tantibus", a Latin word for "nightmare."" was inserted on the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic Wiki article "Creatures" on 18 March 2016. Therefore, the timeline is consistent with this article being based on the Villains Wiki article.

At some point, it made it into Google Translate in some fashion

Currently, Google Translate does not suggest "tantibus" if you enter "nightmare" in the English-to-Latin direction.

However, if you enter "tantibus" in the Latin-to-English direction, it does translate it as "nightmare". So in some manner, Google Translate sees a connection between "tantibus" in Latin, and "nightmare" in English.

Unfortunately, I don't know the technical details of how Google created Google Translate for Latin. However, it seems possible that at some earlier point, it offered "tantibus" as a translation in the English-to-Latin direction for "nightmare". Many people trust Google Translate when they shouldn't; that would help explain some of the spread of the belief that "tantibus" means "nightmare" in Latin. However, this is just a hypothetical scenario; I'm not certain that Google Translate ever did this.

According to Wikipedia, Google Translate was only launched in 2006, and Latin was only added in September 2010, so if Google Translate was the source of this error, the final image shown on the USGS website must have been created more than ten years past the date when the original source image was taken.

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  • This really isn't a surprise. The same nonsense happened with scelerisque. Google Translate is garbage when it comes to Latin, and the whole company should be embarrassed by just how bad it was.
    – cmw
    Jun 2 at 2:13
  • @cmw: The remaining puzzling question is how someone at the USGS/(EROS) Center got the idea that "tantibus" is Latin for "nighmare" in 2000. I was considering trying to contact them, but it seems like the chances are slim that anyone would have a record of the process used to create that image's title and caption
    – Asteroides
    Jun 2 at 2:20
  • Did Babelfish have a Latin translator?
    – cmw
    Jun 2 at 2:30
  • @cmw: It doesn't look like it (here's an archive of babelfish.yahoo.com from 2006
    – Asteroides
    Jun 2 at 2:41
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"Tantibus" is not Latin, it is a made-up word, apparently originating in the murky world of computer games. We have been told that it means "nightmare". There is a Latin word for "nightmare", namely incubus (it does not occur in classical Latin, but is used by Christian authors beginning with Augustine). It looks as though someone has simply replaced incu- by tanti-.

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    It's actually tantabus. I should think it's a nonce-word, got from something like tantalus-incubus.
    – Tom Cotton
    Oct 4, 2018 at 15:45
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    @TomCotton. Yes, very likely. tanta(lus) + (incu)bus = tantabus.
    – fdb
    Oct 4, 2018 at 16:39
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    @TomCotton, funny you should say that, because the MLP:FIM character that I cited is named "Tantabus", but whose name is said to be a corruption of tantibus.
    – MarqFJA87
    Oct 4, 2018 at 20:28
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    @fdb: What is the Classical Latin word for "nightmare", incidentally?
    – MarqFJA87
    Oct 4, 2018 at 20:29
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Some Romans employed Greek tutors. Greek was useful (Euclid's Geometry), culturally important (Homer and Plato), and provided many technical terms.

Amalgotantibus looks like a loan word from Greek, and it adds scientific gravitas.

Ancient Greek μάλαγμα, málagma, from μαλακός (malakós, “soft”) via French, algama, became the English 'amalgam,' which is the squidgy mixture of mercury and silver, or mercury and zinc that used to be used for repairing teeth. But in Byzantine documents μάλαγμα also specifies very pure, soft gold: see Table 5. (p.189 –page4 in pdf) Malagma.

In combination málagma becomes málagmat- using the '-t-' stem and the latinised form amalgo- adds a '-t-' by epenthesis, in preference to elision or crasis which are alternative ways of sorting out two consecutive vowels.

The second half of the word is now not 'tantibus,' but antibus. αντιβίος –α –ον. (also έναντιοβίος)
αντι means 'against.'
βίος,means 'life.'
antibus, a possible latinised form; 'anti-life.'

I think Amalgotantibus describes the Spider as 'Mixed/ Amalgam hostile to life.' Does that fit?

Postscript:
It has been fun trying to sort out in-universe etymology. And just like in futuristic Biology, it was common for 13th Century alchemists to swap letters around; μάλαγμα and algama are mediaeval and not classical. A discussion of amalgam's origins can be found at 'Word Reference Forum.'

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    I question interpreting amalgo- in any way that deviates from the usual meaning of "amalgam", given that the creature in question is explicitly described in-universe as exhibiting traits from multiple different kinds of spiders. That said, even if one takes αντιβίος as dubious, it's still very fitting, considering how much of a negative impact the Araneo had on the mental state of narrating character Helena (in-universe writer of the creature dossiers).
    – MarqFJA87
    Oct 3, 2018 at 1:46
  • The -malagmat- analysis seems a bit dubious because of the use of the spelling -got-. If it were something like amalgamatantibus I would be more convinced that -mat- is relevant
    – Asteroides
    Oct 3, 2018 at 4:23
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    I am lost. Is there such a word as "Amalgotantibus"?
    – fdb
    Oct 3, 2018 at 13:48
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    fdb Yes, you yourself have written it (53 minutes ago). Secondly it can be found in print via the link in line .1. Thirdly that link provides a definition and context for the word, which appears to be part of a fantasy game site. The word is formed regularly according to the standards of mediaeval alchemical texts. If the word Amalgama is acceptable to you, a Latin transcript of Arabic Greek, for which there is no evidence before CE1000, then you should find no problem with "Amalgotantibus" although there is no evidence for it before CE2000. I very much hope you can agree.
    – Hugh
    Oct 3, 2018 at 15:00
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    @fdb: It's almost as if I didn't provide a link in the OP to where I found the word that you're asking about.
    – MarqFJA87
    Oct 4, 2018 at 20:31
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Not sure anyone will believe this, but I'm the person who named the creature in ARK that caused this discussion. I did my best to create words from latin, but I didn't always get it right. It's supposed to be a portmanteau of "amalgam" (a modern word that means a combination) and "tantibus" (one spelling of a latin word for "nightmare", specifically one caused by a demon that causes sleep-paralysis). The idea is that the spider in the game is a nightmarish combination of a bunch of different spiders... so it's a combination of nightmarish spider qualities that would paralyze you in fear (the spiders in-game have knockout poison).

I had two general ways of finding words: 1. I ask my brother for a few words that mean something. He's a historian with a PhD in Ancient Roman something-or-other, and can speak Latin 2. If I was in a hurry, or my brother wasn't available... Google Translate. I'd find some Latin words and use those. However, since I don't see "tantibus" (or "tantabus") on Google Translate, I may have been using another site. It was years ago, so I don't remember which of the two it was. If it's a word no one's heard of, probably just something I found on Google Translate.

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    Hello! While we don't have a way of checking your identity, this is an interesting comment. The area where further elaboration would be helpful is the following: "'tantibus' (one spelling of a latin word for 'nightmare', specifically one caused by a demon that causes sleep-paralysis)". As fdb said, the latin word for "nightmare"/"demon that causes sleep paralysis" is incubus. There's quite a difference between "incu" and "tanti", and I've never seen "tantibus" with this sense before; do you remember where you encountered or heard of it?
    – Asteroides
    May 24 at 18:55
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    I had two general ways of finding words: 1. I ask my brother for a few words that mean something. He's a historian with a PhD in Ancient Roman something-or-other, and can speak Latin 2. If I was in a hurry, or my brother wasn't available... Google Translate. I'd find some Latin words and use those. However, since I don't see "tantibus" (or "tantabus") on Google Translate, I may have been using another site. It was years ago, so I don't remember which of the two it was. If it's a word no one's heard of, probably just something I found on Google Translate.
    – CBCB
    Jun 2 at 0:00
  • Thank you! I've edited my answer to update it based on that information. It looks like in the present day, Google Translate does not offer "tantibus" as a Latin translation for "nightmare", but it is possible that it did in the past. It does translate "tantibus" into English as "nightmare"
    – Asteroides
    Jun 2 at 0:52
  • It gets trotted around a bit, but in general Google Translate is not good for Latin. Sadly, mistakes abound.
    – cmw
    Jun 2 at 2:11
  • Ya... it's not great, but we didn't have the funding for an on-call/consulting Latin speaker back then. Sorry if it bothers people :-|
    – CBCB
    Jun 2 at 23:35

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