The motto for Concordia University Saint Paul (MN) reads: "In litteris proficere volo, malo diligere Jesum."

The CSP website, magazine (Spring 2009), and various internet sources offer these translations—some literal and some interpretive:

-I wish to be proficient in academics, but even more I wish to know Jesus.

-It is good to pursue knowledge, better to know Jesus.

-Will Prosper in Academics and Be Diligent in Christ.

And even this interesting adaptation:

-Lord, give us joy in education especially knowing the love of Christ.

I'm having a hard time fitting "malo" into this, because everything I've found or learned relates it to bad or evil. I've tried my Cassell's, and the Latin Dictionary.

Is there a comparative or superlative at work (or play;) here, that I am not comprehending?

Any insight would be much appreciated! Thank you in advance.

  • In your dictionary malo in the sense 'prefer' is listed as malle, the infinitive.<latindictionary.wikidot.com/search:site/q/malle> – Hugh Oct 22 at 1:26
  • Yes, there it was right where you noted. I sailed right by it somehow. This is why it takes a village, and I will endeavor not to perform the function of said village's idiot henceforth! Thanks. – Verbiwhore Oct 22 at 1:53
up vote 7 down vote accepted

malo here is the first-person singular active indicative form of malle, which means “I prefer”. It has nothing to do with either malus “bad” (or, for that matter, malum “apple”). I believe that the verb is a contraction of maius “better” and velle “to want”.

EDIT: Lewis & Short says that it's actually from magis "more" + velle.

  • Thank you, NRitH, for your answer. Please see disclaimer in my comment above. However, I wanted to let you know that I learned something else (beyond my momentary myopia when attempting a search this arvo) interesting from your post, namely the idea of the "contraction of maius 'better' and velle 'to want'" that I had not considered. Cheers! – Verbiwhore Oct 22 at 1:59
  • @Verbiwhore like I said, that’s my guess as to its etymology, but I haven’t looked it up to confirm it. – NRitH Oct 22 at 2:02
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    @Verbiwhore and NRitH: Figuring out the exact etymology of malle and the evidence for it would make a nice separate question. There are people here with the knowledge to shed light such things. – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 22 at 7:33
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    No need. It's actually from magis + velle, according to Lewis & Short. I was close! – NRitH Oct 22 at 11:35
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    @NRitH You weren't really wrong, though—*majus* and magis are built on the same stem, and it's that stem (without either suffix) that led to malle, iirc. – Draconis Oct 22 at 18:16

To add to this, there's an old mnemonic rhyme for the word malo:

Mālō, I would rather be
Mālō, in an apple tree
Mālō, than a ship at sea
Mălō, in adversity

It's a confusingly ambiguous word! In the first line, it's a form of mālle, "to want"; in the second line, it's the ablative of position of mālus, "apple tree"; in the third line, it's the ablative of comparison of mālus, "upright beam, post, mast" (or "ship" by synecdoche); in the fourth line, it's the masculine ablative of mălus, "bad". The fourth of these is the only one that looks any different, since it has a short ă rather than a long ā.

  • This is wonderful! – NRitH Oct 22 at 22:34
  • What a fascinating word pond! Charmed I am to be / sprouting cognitively / at sea in synecdoche / enlightened incredulity! – Verbiwhore Oct 24 at 1:31

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