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Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. LXVII

April 30, 2010

I don't know how it is where you are living, but here in North By God Carolina (and back home in Indiana), the primary season is upon us. This means that we, as voters, are supposed to go to the polls and select one person from the myriad of names on the ballot so that that person can become the candidate for the real election in the fall. Right. We're having a vote to see who we are going to vote for again in the fall.

What's that I smell (this pun will become evident in a moment)? A circumstantial relationship to voting and today's Latin lesson? You better damnwell believe it!

So, we are going to go and punch a ballot for a certain candidate. The word "candidate" itself comes from the Latin word candidus, candida, which means "bright white". This is opposed to the word albus, alba which simply mean "white", usually without a luster (think "albino"...and Dumbledore's beard).

Of course, Candida is also a type of fungus (Latin name? Candida albicans, so...white white) and the infection caused by said fungus. And, as I learned in college long ago, Candida infections of the skin, okay; infections of the lip, kinda gross but still okay; infection in the lungs, you're fucked.

What does all this white stuff have to do with elections, you ask? Well, when people were trying to get elected to the Senate in Rome, they wanted to look their very best while making public appearances and speeches. In order to do this, they would wear their very finest togas, and to show that they were of impeccable social class and of good character, the whiter the toga, the better.

Also, the word "candid" comes from the same root, for many of the same reasons.

But, how does a candidate get their toga to gleam in the midday sun in a society that hasn't quite discovered sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide? The simple solution is to find another compound or molecule with bleaching properties, one that is ready prepared and collected so that it is not expensive to get the whitest clothing possible. The short answer is ammonia.

Where do you find ammonia in Ancient Rome? Why, you get up and piss it out every morning[1].

In order to get their togas the whitest they could possibly be, the Roman candidates would wash (or, more precisely, have their slaves wash) their togas and then soak them in a bucket of piss (presumably watered down), and the ammonia in the urine would help to make the fabric of the toga as white as the candidate's spotless voting record and personal life.

But wait, it doesn't stop there.

If you're going to wear your best toga, you should also look your very best with the brightest, whitest smile. The prescription for this was to swish your mouth out with the day's first urine. Why the first? Presumably, it was because that was the most effective way to achieve maximum results, which makes sense because the ammonia would be most concentrated in that first stream of tinkle that you passed upon rising in the morning. So, in Ancient Rome, you would know that the person with the brightest smile had also been rocking the urine listerine the hardest.

Which brings us to today's Latin phrase:

Hi sunt dentes candidissimi vidui!

Pronounced: "Hee soont den-taze con-dee-dee-see-mee wee-doo-ee!"

Glowing translation in the hovertext!

You can use it as a pickup line; you can use it as a double-entendre. Whichever you decide. Just use it! Awaken the echoes of a dead language this weekend!

Oh, and look! Here is an actual follow up based on a question I had in the comments section once. The lovely and talented Beckeye mentioned the city of Coraopolis, PA in relation to my story about the wedding in Charleston here. Since I've been doing some actual research, I thought I'd let you know that "Cora" (or Kore, since the Greeks preferred the K) is a Greek term meaning "young woman" or "maiden", and usually was in reference to Persephone, Demeter's daughter who was kidnapped by Hades and eventually became the Queen of the Underworld for six months out of the year. So, "Coraopolis" means "City of Persephone" or, in a broader sense, "City of the Young Maidens".

Now, if you'll all excuse me...I'm flying to Pittsburgh. Anyone know where I can pick up some Jesus Juice along the way?

[1] We don't actually piss ammonia, as that's quite toxic and would really screw our kidneys up. We pass liquid nitrogenous waste from our bodies in the form of urea dissolved in water and cleverly called "urine." The urea will readily break down into ammonia if given the chance to sit around for a while. This is why usually you get a "stale" piss smell, as fresh urine typically doesn't stink, unless you've been drinking coffee and/or eating asparagus.


Adam L. said...


Also, thanks for putting in the follow-up on ammonia. The whole time the med student in me was saying "but ammonia is toxic!". A lesser man may have forgotten to mention urea.

SkylersDad said...

There is a golden shower joke in there somewhere, but I haven't had enough coffee yet.

Eric said...

This is exactly why I chuckle whenever I hear a song advertisement played for the Dallas 'Fuller's Jewelry Store'.

Good info about the teeth cleaning, I had not heard about that use in ancient times.

carissa said...

I read your post a bit ago but hadn't gotten to comment yet. Then I saw your facebook update and almost choked on a saltwater taffy. I really hope you didn't try this.

BeckEye said...

Awesome! Thanks for the answer about Coraopolis. I've always just thought of it as "that area out there near the airport." So see, if you flew in, you wouldn't have far to go to find those young maidens.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

when a preggers woman read this certain post on a sunday morning (she's a little behind in her reader) she vomited in her mouth more than a little.

throwing up was bound to happen. morning sickness is an evil bitch. you just helped it along, vita b. thanks for that. :)

Wynn said...

Don't forget that us girls get all up in that candida buisness with our cooters once in a while too. I really cannot understand people who name their daughters "Candida". I swear, some people do it. Poor daughters.

Nej said...

Drinking urine.

Hmmm.....that's truly disgusting! :-)~