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The phrase semper eadem, "always the same", is a fairly popular motto. It is easy enough to interpret semantically, but I could not convince myself about the exact grammatical interpretation of the phrase.

What is the word eadem in this phrase? It could be neuter plural nominative or accusative, meaning "always the same thing". It could be feminine singular nominative, but then some feminine noun should be understood. It could be feminine singular ablative functioning as ablativus viae, meaning "always along the same path". Semantically all these are more or less the same, but I wonder if there is a canonical grammatical reading of the phrase.

The ideas behind different uses of the motto may be different. Answers about individual uses are welcome.

Here are some auxiliary questions answering which might shed light on the phrase: Are there sources that indicate the length of the 'a' in eadem? For example, if it appears in hexameter, then the 'a' is long. Is the phrase considered part of a longer phrase? Are there official, authoritative or canonical sources that indicate how the phrase should be understood?

  • Don't you mean "if it appears in hexameter then the a is long"? – TKR Jun 1 '16 at 19:44
  • @TKR, yes indeed. Corrected. (I was about to eat dinner, but I suddenly realized that I might have written that the wrong way and came back. Now I'll go and eat.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 1 '16 at 19:49
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    Cursory googling suggests that the earliest use of the phrase is as a motto of Queen Elizabeth I, which would imply a nominative feminine reading. – TKR Jun 1 '16 at 19:49
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    Some interesting info here: thefleece.org/semper.html – brianpck Jun 1 '16 at 20:08
  • @TKR, that would mean that eadem refers to the queen herself. For some reason I never considered that option. If that is the case, I would expect to find the motto semper idem for some male rulers. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 1 '16 at 20:08
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Semper eadem was the motto of my school, a Queen Elizabeth's grammar chartered in 1561, and it came from the queen's heraldic device, quartered England and France. It simply denotes constancy. The 'a' is long and the pronoun is ablative, used adverbially (as in other cases, e.g. una, together).

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    Does your school have a canonical English translation of the motto? I think it always denotes constancy, but that still leaves room for different grammatical interpretations. With a long 'a' I think something like "always along the same path" is a likely reading, but not the only option. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 18 '16 at 12:28
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    Yes, a source would be nice for this. This does make sense as a counterpart to "qua" (long a) and "hac" (= by which/this way). – brianpck Jul 18 '16 at 18:08
  • Joonas, I don't think the school had anything that you could call a canonical English translation. The motto would have originated with the coat of arms devised for Elizabeth I by the College of Heralds at her accession. The quantity of the 'a' when the pronoun is used adverbially is long; in scansion it may, of course, be either, according to the intended meaning – Tom Cotton Jul 20 '16 at 10:14

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