Saturday, 21 June 2008

Is this a pun?

If forced at gunpoint to name a favourite book, I would choose Jingo, by Terry Pratchett. Its many merits I will not extol here, but will instead speculate on a throwaway line near the end:

"Veni, vici ... Vetinari".

Vetinari is the name of a character who has been around for some twenty books prior to this, and spent the duration of the book attempting to prevent a war (and succeeding). Knowing TP's propensity for punnery, especially in (sometimes approximate) Latin (cf. Feet of Clay), I find it hard to believe that he lazily stuck one of his characters' names on the end of a well-known phrase without considering what it means. I am far from an expert in Latin, so looking into this involved electronic translation tools, with all the attendant problems. Using the downloaded tool QuickLatin I punched in the offending phrase. There is apparently no exact translation, but the only close match is vetare, which is "To prevent" (deriving from veto), making the phrase approximately "I came, I conquered to prevent".

Accepting the speculation inherent in using such a tool, and my own incompetence in the language, this is a very compelling translation - it is precisely what the Vetinari character did in the book. It follows that TP probably thought of the pun first, and then wrote a book purely to have the perfect opportunity to use it. If this is true, then the crowning glory comes earlier in the book, where he riffs on the subject of General Tacticus' use of the phrase "Veni Vidi Vici", stating that he must have thought of this pithy phrase first and then looked for somewhere to go and conquer so that he could use it. If TP has indeed written a (marvellous) book around a three-word pun, and told us that was what he did, then I am hopelessly lost in admiration.

I can't find anywhere on the web that attempts to translate this phrase, and if anyone reading this is more competent to comment then I would be delighted to hear from you.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's worth pointing out that Havelock Vetinari is itself a pun. A havelock was a device for protecting the neck from the sun that could be attached to a cap. Vetinari is a variant of vetinary which comes from the latin for cattle. Havelock Vetinari literally means protector of the cattle

Veni Vidi vetinari

I came, I saw, cattle

Just more cattle to be driven and to be milked. Rather fitting and very clever don't you think?