Trying to come up with a sort of wordplay phrase that translates to “power takes control” but uses a Latin word that can mean both takes as in requires and takes as in takes away from you. This is for a motto. It’s meant to be ambiguous. Used either as a warning that power will overwhelm you, or that you need to take control to have power. “Potestatem sumit imperium“ is what google translate gave me but I don’t know if it’s the right take.


Welcome to the site Kat; does this come close to your meaning?

Donatus, in Ars Major, listed ambiguity (in particular Amphiboly) as a fault:

  1. Amphiboly is ambiguity in sentences which is either done through the accusative case, as if someone said: audio secutorem retiarium superasse ‘I hear shield-man conquered net-man/ or vice versa’;

Plenty of people in politics and society disagreed about 'fault,' but made use of Donatus; and a suitable phrase could use 'I hear' audio; 'I know' scio; 'they say' dicunt:

Dicunt potestatem vincere imperium.
ambiguously "They say, Power conquers Imperium;" or equally, "They say Imperium conquers Power."

In indirect speech, (accusative and infinitive construction for statements) both subject and object are in the Accusative case.

You can ditch "It is said..." and keep the ambiguity, by using two neuter nouns. In addition regulum, forinstance, can mean 'rule,' and 'kingdom,' 'princedom,' and even the principle of 'law,' 'regulation.' More ambiguity.

Imperium regulum regit:
can mean: "Government controls Law."

which describes both dictatorship; and more generally 'principle overwhelmed by might'

but the same words, Imperium regulum regit:
can mean "The Law controls the Government;"

which is what most democracies aim for; and describes 'might curbed by principle.'

A 12/13th C. amphiboly (edited) on (a)the altruistic and (b)the greedy ruler runs:

Rex sum regens regulum mihi mundus totus.
(a) I am king when, faultless and uncompromised, I control my little kingdom. (meaning 'myself')
(b) I am king controlling the legislature, the whole world is mine.

  • 1
    Good idea with the double accusative and ACI! You should replace dicitur with an active form, though, because with passives you have NCI instead. It's dicitur potestatem vincere imperium or dicitur potestas vincere imperium depending on which one is the subject of dicitur. But with dicunt ("people say", "it is said") both are always accusative and you get the ambiguity. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 14 '19 at 20:26
  • changes adopted, – Hugh Feb 14 '19 at 21:07

This is very difficult, because the distinction between “power” and “control” that your “sort of wordplay” implies is rather modern. In particular, the latin word imperium could mean both (as well as “command”, “order”, and a bunch of other meanings...). Potestas is a similar case. However, if ambiguity is what you are looking for, my proposal is


which does not have a verb (as usual in mottos) and can mean almost anything. Without any antefact, I would probably translate it “Let the powerful take control” or “If they can take control, let them do”, but also “The powerful do rule” and so on and so on. “Power takes control away from you” belongs to the set of possible interpretations. “Power requires control” fits in with some effort, but I can’t do better.

As usual, Google Translate is of no value.

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