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WE have frequently observed not a few names of things which we cannot express in Latin by single words, as in Greek; and even if we use very many words, those ideas cannot be expressed in Latin so aptly and so clearly as the Greeks express them by single terms. Lately, when a book of Plutarch had been brought to me, and I had read its title, which was περὶ πολυπραγμοσύνης, a man who was unacquainted with Greek letters and words asked who the author was and what the book was about. The name of the writer I gave him at once, but I hesitated when on the point of naming the subject of the work. At first indeed, since it did not seem to me that it would be a very apt interpretation if I said that it was written De Negotiositale or “On Busyness,” I began to rack my brains for something else which would render the title word for word, as the saying is. But there was absolutely nothing that [p. 339] I remembered to have read, or even that I could invent, that was not to a degree harsh and absurd, if I fashioned a single word out of multitudo, or “multitude,” and negotium, or “business,” in the same way that we say multiiugus (“manifold”), multicolorus (“multicoloured”) and multiformius (“multiform”). But it would be no less uncouth an expression than if you should try to translate by one word πολυφιλία (abundance of friends), πολυτροπία (versatility), or πολυσαρκία (fleshiness). Therefore, after spending a brief time in silent thought, I finally answered that in my opinion the idea could not be expressed by a single word, and accordingly I was preparing to indicate the meaning of that Greek word by a phrase. “Well then,” said I, “undertaking many things and busying oneself with them all is called in Greek πολυπραγμοσύνη, and the title shows that this is the subject of our book.” Then that illiterate fellow, misled by my unfinished, rough-and-ready language and believing that πολυπραγμοσύνη was a virtue, said: “Doubtless this Plutarch, whoever he is, urges us to engage in business and to undertake very many enterprises with energy and dispatch, and properly enough he has written as the title of the book itself the name of this virtue about which, as you say, he is intending to speak.” “Not at all,” said I; “for that is by no means a virtue which, expressed by a Greek term, serves to indicate the subject of this book; and neither does Plutarch do what you suppose, nor do I intend to say that he did. For, as a matter of fact, it is in this book that he tries to dissuade us, so far as he can, from the haphazard, promiscuous and unnecessary planning and pursuit [p. 341] of such a multitude of things. But,” said I, “I realize that this mistake of yours is due to my imperfect command of language, since even in so many words I could not express otherwise than very obscurely what in Greek is expressed with perfect elegance and clearness by a single term.”
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