The corpus of Latin literature, while large compared with the corpora of many other classical languages, is also more or less finite; in many periods (e.g. classical) it represents some but not other registers of speech. Cicero's speeches are great examples of rhetorical style, for example, but they neither represent nor profess to represent colloquial style.

Take the word sícáre, for example, which I made up the other day (thinking it was a real word) as a back-formation from sícárius, "assassin." As far as I know (and as far as Lewis & Short tells me), the verb sícáre isn't recorded as having been used in Latin. But it doesn't seem impossible to me that there could have been a verb sícáre that nobody happened to write down.

Obviously, there's no way to prove non-existence of something—we can only prove or fail to prove its existence—so there's no way to answer this question definitively as a matter of epidemiology. But as a practical matter, if something isn't attested, should we assume it wasn't used?

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    I can eventually expand this into an answer, but two observations are telling: (1) the large amount of hapax legomena in the Latin corpus, and (2) the large amount of words that are only present in "lighter" works like those of Plautus and Terence. I would infer from this that many words have been lost.
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 14:27
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    While searching for sic- verbs, I stumbled across a great answer to Joonas's question about deriving verbs from proper names
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


Obviously there are lots of words that were used in spoken Latin which are not recorded in any text, classical or otherwise. You need only to open an etymological dictionary of any one of the Romance languages to see that perhaps half of the vocabulary of French, Italian etc. is traced back to a form with an asterisk in front of it, that is: a hypothetical Vulgar Latin reconstruction.

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    It is better not to change the question after it has been answered.
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 20:06
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    @JoelDerfner, it's up to you to decide what to do with your question. If you feel that this answer mostly misses your original point, it's ok to reformulate slightly to clarify your point. If this is a good answer (to something you think your question asks as written), it is better to ask a separate, more specific question. One option is to change this question to match this answer and make a new one that clearly asks for something else. Even if a reformulation makes an answer a non-answer, the answer might still remain a remark well worth keeping as an answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 20:31
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    I'll upvote if you provide examples of some hypothetical reconstructions :)
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 21:19
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    I think "perhaps half" is probably an exaggeration, but the point stands, of course. There's also the question of what period the OP is referring to: presumably many of these reconstructed forms existed in Late Latin but not in the classical period.
    – TKR
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 23:58
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    @fdb my point wasn't that you were wrong, but that you should include these examples in your answer (with citations).
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 0:19

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