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Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Jan 26, 2009
This week's theme
Latin terms in English

This week's words
ex libris
in medias res
dramatis personae
lares and penates
ex parte

Ex libris
ex libris
(Source: US National Library of Medicine)

with Anu Garg

The magic of technology is spreading. What we couldn't even imagine only a few years ago is now possible. With just a few clicks of a mouse, someone in one corner of the world can make contact with a fellow human being thousands of miles away and offer to sell her cheap Viagra.

In the beginning, most of the spam was in English, but now they are branching out. Can you imagine the suits in their boardrooms at Spam, Inc. plotting the strategy, "We have to diversify our offerings in local languages to broaden our reach."

There's a positive side to it though. Comparing these pieces of junk mail with the English version can improve one's knowledge of foreign languages. Example:

From: Mariam Abachha <ma@hotmail.com>
Subject: Envie d'associé avec vous

Translation: Nigerian loot now offered in exquisitely fractured French.

So far I haven't received any spam in Latin, but the day can't be far off. Until spammers catch up on Latin, let us this week peruse a few words from that ancient language.

ex libris

(eks LEE-bris, LI-)

1. From the library of (a phrase inscribed in a book followed by the name of the book owner).
2. A bookplate.

From Latin ex libris (from the books), from ex- (from) + liber (book).

Novelist and Nobelist Anatole France once said, "Never lend books -- nobody ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those which people have lent me." An ex libris inscription identifies the owner of a book, and supposedly prevents others from building their own libraries by borrowing. I've also seen bookplates that say "Stolen from the library of ..."
Typically an ex libris is placed on the inside cover or the front end paper. Earlier bookplates featured coats of arms. Like everything else, there are bookplate enthusiasts and collectors with their own societies, journals, blogs, and more.

"I found a copy of Mein Kampf with Hitler's ex libris bookplate."
Timothy W Ryback; Hitler's Secret Library; The Sunday Times (London, UK); Jan 11, 2009.

See more usage examples of ex libris in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

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