Noli turbare circulos meos

by John Holbo on May 2, 2012


Daddy: What did you learn in school today?
Zoe: Some Greek guy said if he had a big enough lever, he could move the world. That’s pretty cool.
Daddy: Possibly not even the coolest thing he ever said! (Reads relevant portion of Wikipedia entry to Zoe and Violet).

Saturday [events reported by Zoe to Daddy]:

Mommy: Don’t you think you’ve been playing “Cooking Mama” on your Nintendo DS long enough [or words to this general effect]?
Violet: Don’t mess with my circles. [Bonus points awarded because play in “Cooking Mama” consists largely of making little circles with your stylus.]

Advantage: Daddy!

I have now given Zoe a harder assignment. She is to wait until life affords her the opportunity to utter “Go Tell The Spartans”, appropriately. (Per this thread, we’re working through E.M. Gombrich’s Little History of the World [amazon], which turns out to be surprisingly good and age appropriate.) This may take a while. Then again, her school has about as many silly little rules as the next school, so maybe it won’t take too long. If it works, I’m hoping the effect will be like a classic “Peanuts” strip. I feel “Go Tell The Spartans” is the sort of thing that Linus might have said, after being bossed around by Lucy.

What other sayings do you think every 8-10 year old girl should have at her disposal, to baffle and amaze those around them?



Karl Narveson 05.02.12 at 5:43 am

What Herodotus says Solon taught Croesus:

Count no man happy until he is dead.


Mauricio Maluff 05.02.12 at 6:01 am

After receiving praise for something they did:

“You forget the greatest thing about me, that no Athenian was ever put to mourning because of me.”

I bet it’s true of most children. It was said by Pericles, though this is paraphrased. Original: “οὐδεὶς γάρ,” ἔφη, “δι’ ἐμὲ τῶν ὄντων Ἀφηναίων μέλαν ἱμάτιον περιεβάλετο.”


Merp 05.02.12 at 6:30 am

About some authority figure:

“She has made her decision. Now let her enforce it.”

To be a little shit at school:

“non vitae sed scholae discimus” – we are taught for the classroom, not for life – Cicero

“Great minds are skeptical” Nietzsche

“I love to doubt as well as know” Dante

“It is because of teachers that so little is learned, and that so badly” Big N again

When asked to tattle / getting tattled on:

“It is annoying to be honest to no purpose.” – Ovid

All-purpose reading / book / doing enriching stuff statement:

“I’m hacking at the frozen sea inside me” refurbished Kafka

And the crown jewel, which can be adapted to so many different situations:

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” – Adm. Farragut ordering his fleet to sail through a minefield in Mobile Bay during the Civil War. The Animaniacs did a great bit where they re-enacted the scene and then had Farragut accosted by the censor, if you like that sort of thing.


John Holbo 05.02.12 at 7:14 am

I probably should have called this post ‘the benevolent dictatorship of cliches’, just to reassure Bob McManus that I really am, above all, concerned to suck up to Jonah Goldberg.


Eric 05.02.12 at 7:28 am

I highly, highly recommend Larry Golnick’s Cartoon History of the Universe series… my 5th grade teacher gave me the first one and it instilled in me a lifelong love of history. To this day when I consider the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis, my imagination draws from Golnick’s artwork and not, thankfully, from that abomination of a movie.


Z 05.02.12 at 7:49 am

Noli turbare circulos meos

Possibly not even the coolest thing he ever said! I mean, it might spring from my line of trade but

There are some, king Gelon, who think that the number of the sand is infinite in multitude; and I mean by the sand not only that which exists about Syracuse and the rest of Sicily but also that which is found in every region whether inhabited or uninhabited[…]. But I will try to show you by means of geometrical proofs, which you will be able to follow, that, of the numbers named by me and given in the work which I sent to Zeuxippus, some exceed not only the number of the mass of sand equal in magnitude to the Earth filled up in the way described, but also that of the mass equal in magnitude to the universe.

is pretty cool, as addresses to king go. Harder to use as a snap retort to your mother, though.


sven 05.02.12 at 7:53 am

For use when she feels her father is being particularly pushy or demanding:



sven 05.02.12 at 8:17 am

How about Diogenes of Sinope to Alexander:
Stand out of my light!

(These comebacks won’t seem nearly as impressive when she has to explain them to the other 8-10 year olds… or her teacher for that matter!)


chris y 05.02.12 at 9:14 am

Πᾶν ἐφήμερον, καὶ τὸ μνημονεῦον καὶ τὸ μνημονευόμενον. (Everything is temporary, stardom and stars alike) – Marcus Aurelius. To be thrown into discussions of Justin Bieber.


ajay 05.02.12 at 9:37 am

This is a great thread. It’s like the John Charity Spring Guide to Childrearing.


Ginger Yellow 05.02.12 at 9:56 am

Parva leves capiunt animas


Eugene Marshall 05.02.12 at 10:11 am

My 2.5 year old son likes to construct towers and structures and then proceed to destroy them, so that no two blocks remain stacked. Thus I’m trying to get him to declare “Carthago delenda est” beforehand.


John Holbo 05.02.12 at 10:15 am

Good one, Eugene! If only that could be his first sentence, but I presume he’s past that. Still, a worthy project.


candle 05.02.12 at 10:26 am

“Eppure si muove.”

I spend far too much of my time trying to work that into conversations.


John Holbo 05.02.12 at 10:31 am

Eppure si muove.

Appropriate to some extremely early Piagetian stage at which the child realizes that movement is possible, perhaps?


Matt 05.02.12 at 10:49 am

I worry that if you aim for “Go tell the Spartans” you might end up with “This is Spartaaaaa!”

This story will be made perfect if inspiration ever strikes Zoe while she’s taking a bath, with the appropriate results.


John Quiggin 05.02.12 at 11:08 am

Give him a coin, since he must profit by what he learns

Could easily be adapted as a response to parental urging of future benefits from current study


Barry Freed 05.02.12 at 1:03 pm

just to reassure Bob McManus that I really am, above all, concerned to suck up to Jonah Goldberg

Actually, now is his chance to impart some quotable Sorel and Blanqui to the children.


rea 05.02.12 at 1:09 pm

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” – Adm. Farragut ordering his fleet to sail through a minefield in Mobile Bay during the Civil War.

All very well, unless you were on the USS Tecumseh . . .


the dude 05.02.12 at 1:25 pm

I hate to be all contrarian, but it might cause problems if you use your education to arm your child with esoteric barbs (at least for eight-year-olds). These are all witty, funny things to say and hear (especially for any adults listening), but she’s trying to navigate delicate social rules and this is almost certainly not a part of the dynamic she’s trying to figure out (if all the parents do this with their kids, I guess go ahead.) Not to mention, it’s absolutely no fun to be on the humiliating end of this. It gives your daughter liscence to embarrass anyone who offends her by showing how much better and smarter she is. I’m not saying she should take meanness lying down, but you can communicate that you will not tolerate pettiness or bullying without invoking Sparta.


Karate Bearfighter 05.02.12 at 1:49 pm

For math homework:

I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.


bob mcmanus 05.02.12 at 2:02 pm

…just to reassure Bob McManus that I really am, above all, concerned to suck up to [Republican scum]

Paul Krugman has a new book out, and is even willing to debate [wingnut scum] on TV to promote his new book, because any publicity is useful. Paul Krugman is a good guy, and roughly on my side, so I am happy to help his NEW BOOK get a little attention. And I am not even getting paid to do it!

Oh and the title of Krugman’s new book? End This Depression Now


Watson Ladd 05.02.12 at 2:19 pm

When an insufferable bore is speaking:”Quo usque tandem abutere patientia nostra?” (Translation: “How much longer are you going to abuse our patience?”)


Barry Freed 05.02.12 at 2:29 pm

When asked to pick up her room: “Adde parvum parvo magnus acervus erit” – Ovid (adding little to a little you get a big pile).


John Holbo 05.02.12 at 2:30 pm

Bob, doesn’t debating the likes of Ron Paul just legitimize and draw needless attention to them? I thought that was your view about this sort of thing.


John Holbo 05.02.12 at 2:39 pm

“but she’s trying to navigate delicate social rules and this is almost certainly not a part of the dynamic she’s trying to figure out”

I agree that teaching your child to emit a steady, low grade, suppressing fire of Latin tags could backfire, socially. But kids find esoteric stuff fascinating. It’s like Pokemon cards. Zoe, for example, was very curious about what ‘go tell the Spartans’ could mean, because she didn’t get the sense of it at first (not surprisingly.) ‘Don’t mess with my circles’, on the hand, is the simplest concept in the world. Like a nyan cat carved on an ancient stone.


ajay 05.02.12 at 3:08 pm

I’m not saying she should take meanness lying down, but you can communicate that you will not tolerate pettiness or bullying without invoking Sparta.

“This aggression will not stand, Dude.”


Patrick 05.02.12 at 3:11 pm

I was educating my son on what I thought was a fairly straightforward ethical rule. After mulling it over a bit, he said, “You know, Dad, I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve decided you’re full of shit.”

That gets a grown-up’s attention.


Barry Freed 05.02.12 at 3:33 pm

“the dude” pwned by ajay.


patrick 05.02.12 at 3:45 pm

To continue the nautical theme started upthread and handy in this country for a female of any age: John Paul Jones- I have not yet begun to fight.


Substance McGravitas 05.02.12 at 3:47 pm

“This bag needs filling” – Samians to Spartans more or less – works especially well at Hallowe’en.


Jeff R. 05.02.12 at 4:08 pm

“Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses”


the dude 05.02.12 at 4:15 pm

I heart you ajay. That was le awesome.


Salient 05.02.12 at 4:22 pm

My advice is to not impart sayings that are facetious contortions of existing canonical sayings until the child is well-versed in the canonical sayings. When I was that age my sixth-grade teacher introduced me to the malapropic phrase “I respect that remark,” and I used it religiously all that school year with no awareness whatsoever that it was a derivative of the corresponding bonapropic saying “I resent that remark” — until I deployed it earnestly in a contentious family conversation and left my parents doubled over laughing and gasping for air for what felt like a solid five minutes.

(In my defense, quite a lot of sayings make no literal sense.)

I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

I pulled that trick in tenth grade by changing the margins to be about three inches wide so that the statement of the problem took up the entire page. The red-pen response from the instructor was something like “If your proof of this statement can’t fit within these margins, then something must have gone severely wrong somewhere in your proof!” (It was glorious. Had it taped to my computer monitor for years. It really is widely applicable.)


Salient 05.02.12 at 4:39 pm

“I suppose it is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both” is a pretty brutal response to a bully; the bully won’t know it’s Machiavelli, but they’ll get the gist of it.


Aulus Gellius 05.02.12 at 4:51 pm

oderint, dum metuant? All right, maybe not appropriate.

But of course, everyone has to say “forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit” once in a while.


Aulus Gellius 05.02.12 at 4:55 pm

Oh, and if she has too much homework, she could exclaim, “vellem litteras nescirem!”


Felix 05.02.12 at 5:10 pm

I don’t know about old Greek and Latin stuff, but I was particularly proud of my 9 year old today when I was expressing irritation at the way she was demanding answers to impossible questions and she said, “Mama, I just like to ask rhetorical questions sometimes.”


joel hanes 05.02.12 at 5:30 pm

“I refer you to the reply given in the case Arkell v Pressdram”


Greg Hays 05.02.12 at 6:17 pm

Those Samians. Always four words where just one would do.


Gene O'Grady 05.02.12 at 6:35 pm

I was taught the si tacuisses line by a rather obnoxious monk (who nevertheless taught me quite a bit); a rather more beloved monk taught me “quod licet Iovi non licet bovi” — which is of course more suited to be directed at the daughter than the father, just as I used to crack my kids up by saying “Because I’m the mom” when otherwise at a loss for explanation and not trying to push things beyond where they should be pushed.


Interrobang 05.02.12 at 6:53 pm

I’m not one for Latinisms, but I really like Division Commander-General Tony McAuliffe’s canonical “Nuts!”

I also like “I’ve been called worse things by better people” as a generic response to name-calling.


Data Tutashkhia 05.02.12 at 7:17 pm

“There’s nothing quite like urinating in the open air.” — Special Agent Dale Cooper


adam.smith (was Sebastian(1)) 05.02.12 at 10:54 pm

@ 12 (Carthago delenda est) – to make it more impressive, use the more elegant ACI (carthaginem esse delendam) – but your kid will only be a true nerd if she is able to point out that this actually isn’t a Cato quote, but a quote most likely reconstructed from Plutarch’s greek account (who himself relied on Pliny and/or Livy) in the 4th century AD.


matt regan 05.02.12 at 11:10 pm

All the latin tags I know are from Flashman or O’Brien, but how about some of Twain’s more useful expressions: Always tell the truth, it’s easier to remember.


Matt 05.02.12 at 11:19 pm

I also like “I’ve been called worse things by better people” as a generic response to name-calling.

It’s a bit hard to work out exactly how to do it in different conversations, but I like to put this more like Epictetus did: “If someone reports back to you that so-and-so is saying back things about you, do not reply to them, but answer, “Obviously he didn’t know my other bad characteristics, since otherwise he wouldn’t have just mentioned these.”


John Holbo 05.02.12 at 11:26 pm

This is all very amusing, but I regret the Latin in the post title because I think it has caused some people to think the bar is raised a bit high. It wouldn’t occur to me to teach my children any such thing except in translation. (Also, I don’t know Latin, except for little tags I’ve picked up here and there.) So do feel free to participate in this game in English.

You Latin scholars, persevere. “Sed obstinata mente perfer, obdura.” That sort of hoo-ha.


rf 05.03.12 at 12:04 am

‘A wise man associating with the vicious becomes an idiot, a dog traveling with good men becomes a rational being.’

The next time she sees someone reading a Jonah Goldberg article


matt wilbert 05.03.12 at 1:01 am

“a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” can be highly useful to children looking for some kind of exception to the established order.


garymar 05.03.12 at 1:56 am

“If”, replied the Spartan.

Don’t know how to say it in the original.


Meredith 05.03.12 at 6:12 am

Maybe it’s just because of some weird placement of the stars, which leaves me teaching two very different plays in two very different courses within a matter of hours from now, but I read all this and try to imagine Zoe (now and in some future yet to be), and I ponder where I may have gone wrong and where I may have gone right as a mother of my own equally precious (to me and mine) Zoe’s. So, truly, for Zoe, let me quote Ajax (in Sophocles’ play after his name), speaking to his little little Eurysaces — yeah, Ajax an odd source of wisdom on children (Deianira in Trachiniae says much the same, if she seems preferable as font of wisdom):
And yet, even now in this, at least, I have it to envy you, that you have no awareness of these terrible troubles here. For in understanding nothing, most sweet is life…, until you know feeling joy and pain. When you arrive [at that “until” point]…, in the meantime, feed your fresh breath of life with light breaths of air, frolicking [ I especially cheat on atallon — a wonderful word].
The ellipses here…. The passed over portions worth attending to. Our challenge as parents is to do all and everything while — letting go?


rf 05.03.12 at 11:04 am

I always liked Kurt Vonnegut’s response to his wife that he should just buy 100 envelopes and lock them in the closest to save himself a trip to the shop every other day. Unfortunately the situation doesn’t arise very often where it can be repeated verbatim, but there a lot of good parts to it.
(Felix -thats hilarious, I might use it myself, but promise to give the source. Patrick 28- I wouldnt get disheartend. I tell my father that everytime I see him)

“I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.”


rf 05.03.12 at 11:06 am

That line shouldnt be there


Joshua W. Burton 05.03.12 at 2:45 pm

“Todo el mundo es como Dios lo hizo, y a veces peor.” (Everyone is as God made him, and sometimes worse.) – Lazarillo de Tormes

“We have to believe in free will, there’s no choice.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer?

“Kill them all; God will select.” – Abbot Arnold de Citeaux (Siege of Beziers, July 1209)

“Albert, stop telling God what to do.” – Niels Bohr

“I didn’t do it, nobody saw me, you can’t prove anything.” – Bart Simpson

“To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood.” – George Santayana

“I am ashamed to tell you to how many places of figures I carried these computations, having no other business at the time.” – Newton, Methodus Fluxionum

“Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.” – Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra

“The problem with the guilt-free society is that we have all this unallocated blame lying about.” – Judith Martin

“Read the best books first: you may not have the chance to read them all.” – Thoreau?

“Live each day as if it’s your last, and one day you’re bloody sure to be right.” – Harry H. “Breaker” Morant

“The bun is the lowest form of wheat.” – Martin Gardner

“Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, and money takes wings. The only thing that endures is character.” – O. J. Simpson, 1981

“It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.” – Tom Stoppard

“Creativity is what happens when you suddenly run out of stupidity.” – Ed Land

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice dog’ while you find a rock.” – Talleyrand

“In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, what no one ever knew before. In poetry, it is the exact opposite.” – P. A. M. Dirac

“No man should marry until he has dissected a woman.” – Balzac

“Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.” (With stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.) – Schiller

“Nothing is often a good thing to do and almost always a clever thing to say.” – Will Durant

“Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur.” (Desire for glory is the last infirmity cast off even by the wise.) – Tacitus

“When an idea is wanting, a word can always be found to take its place.” – Goethe

“Hier liegen meine Gebeine: wenn wären sie nur deine! Heine.” (Here I lie because I’m dead, I wish that you were here instead. Fred.) – Heinrich Heine’s epitaph.

Many, many more on tap; keeping my kids oversupplied with these was a decade-long family exercise. I may post again tomorrow if the thread is still going.


chris y 05.04.12 at 7:22 am

“If”, replied the Spartan.

Don’t know how to say it in the original.

Roughly transliterated: “Eh”, replied the Spartan.


Katherine 05.05.12 at 9:29 am

The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around.

I think that particular excerpt would do just fine for all sorts of occasions, rf.


Merp 05.05.12 at 11:37 pm

Oh my god I just realized the perfect source for this project. The Buddy Rich tapes.

I would be shocked, amazed, and reduced to ecstatic cackling if I ever heard a child say anything from the Buddy Rich tapes.

“Your deciding is wrong!”

“I feel that’s fairly much English.”

“We’ll see how you do out there without all the assistance

“You’re not a tough guy so why don’t you just sit down.”

“Stop doing that or I’ll show you what it’s like!”

Oh man. That would be so great. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

For those unfamiliar:

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