SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
How’s your Latin? Satis, satis? Well, Spencer Alexander McDaniel’s Latin is really, really good.
SPENCER ALEXANDER MCDANIEL: I’m a straight-A student, so I think it’s pretty good. There are people who are better at Latin than I am, but I’m OK at it, I guess.
SIMON: He’s being modest. Mr. McDaniel is a junior at Indiana University. He’s majoring in history and classical studies.
MCDANIEL: People always ask me what is classical studies. A lot of people think it’s classical music. So I have to explain it’s the study of ancient Greece and Rome, and that includes the languages. So I’m studying Greek and Latin.
SIMON: And helping to educate others, whether they like it or not. Mr. McDaniel noticed a Latin phrase that followed the subtitle of Sean Hannity’s new book called “Live Free Or Die: America (And The World) On The Brink.”
MCDANIEL: Before the book was released, they released an image of the front cover of the book. And emblazoned across the front cover at the bottom was the phrase, vivamus vel libero perit Americae, which supposedly means live free or America dies in Latin. And I say supposedly because that’s not really what it means. The first word is intelligible. The rest is just gobbledygook.
SIMON: Which is not Latin, if you wondered. Spencer McDaniel, who, of course, has a website, and some other Latin scholars got busy writing and tweeting about it.
MCDANIEL: I think someone said, who came up with Hannity’s Latin motto, Monty Python? And so what I found particularly amusing about this is not only is it completely unintelligible, but if you type the phrase, live free or America dies, into Google Translate, the exact phrase that it gives you is, vivamus vel libero perit Americae. So it was blatantly obvious that whoever came up with this phrase just typed it into Google Translate, took what came out and put it right on the front cover of the book without bothering to check with anyone who actually knows anything about Latin.
SIMON: Finally, the publisher or somebody in Sean Hannity’s camp took notice and fixed the phrase.
MCDANIEL: They’ve gotten rid of the old motto and replaced it with, vivamus liberi ne America pereat, which is perfectly intelligible Latin. It means, let’s live free so that America does not die.
SIMON: Spencer McDaniel of Indiana University, who someday hopes to become a classics professor. And as we say every week on this program, BJ Leiderman, musica non exquirimus (ph). You know, I doubt I pronounced that correctly, but, I mean, who’s going to correct me, Julius Caesar?
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN”)
JOHN CLEESE: (As Centurion) What’s Latin for Roman? Come on.
GRAHAM CHAPMAN: (As Brian) Romanus (ph)?
CLEESE: (As Centurion) Goes like?
CHAPMAN: (As Brian) Annus (ph)?
CLEESE: (As Centurion) Vocative plural of annus (ph) is?
CHAPMAN: (As Brian) Anni (ph)?
CLEESE: (As Centurion) Romani (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.