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Practical Latin

If you want to make a powerful impression, you need a powerful vocabulary. The wisdom of the ancients can be found in many places, but nowhere is the treasure trove greater than that which comes to us in Latin. As a short-cut to making a study of this language and conjugating words until your eyes cross, here are some useful Latin phrases that are applicable to your adventures in the game business. Remember, the limits of your language are the limits of your world.

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ad captadum vulgus: "to win over the masses." Design decisions and feature creep that do not directly enhance gameplay, yet contribute to the entertainment value of a game, are included ad captadum vulgus.

alea iacta est (also iacta alea est): "the die is cast." A bold and irretrievable decision has been made. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river between Cisalpin Gual (where he was governor) and Itay to march on Rome and establish himself as leader through force of arms, he remarked "Iacta alea est." This event is also where the English expression "Crossing the Rubicon" comes from.

a posteriori: "from what comes after" (or, better stated, "from effect to cause"). This, 'inductive reasoning' (a logical process in which propositions are derived from the observation of facts, or in which principles are established from generalizations based upon facts), is based initially on experience. Thus, arguments to make changes to a game based upon playtesting are made a posteriori. Also see a priori.

apparatus criticus: "critical matter." This is generally used to designate supplementary scholarly information intended to assist the serious reader. Often abbreviated apparatus, explanatory information of this type can even exceed the length of the original text it is supplementing. A game's Designer's Notes, Playtester's Notes, Developer's Notes, Historical Notes, Optional Rules, Scenarios, Variants, Replays, and so forth are all apparatus criticus.

a priori: "from what comes before" (or, better stated, "from cause to effect"). This, 'deductive reasoning' (a logical process in which consequences are deduced from principles that are assumed), is based initially on assumptions that derive from prior knowledge. Thus, arguments to make changes to a game based upon a designer's gut instincts and past experience are made a priori. Also see a posteriori.

arcanum arcanorum: "secret of secrets." An ultimate secret of nature that supposedly underlies the work of the alchemist, astrologer, and magician. When you are asked sign a Non-disclosure Agreement, or learn a Truth about game design, it is often treated as arcanum arcanorum.

argumentum ab auctoritate: a proof derived from authority. When the boss says, "You're going to do it my way because I said so," that is the ultimate argumentum ab auctoritate.

argumentum ab inconvenienti: an appeal based upon the hardship or inconvenience involved. Engineers often plead this at the merest suggestion of another feature for them to implement, but you might resort to an argumentum ab inconvenienti when asked to work overtime or travel when you'd rather not.

ars est celare artem: "it is art to conceal art." That is, true art conceals the means by which it is achieved is a maxim from Ovid's Ars Amatoria. This means that in the best works of art the audience is not distracted by the artist's technique, but responds instead to the power of the work (as the artist intended). True art must appear artless and, thus, ars est celare artem is a high compliment.

ars gratia artis: "art for art's sake." This is the motto found above the lion roaring at the start of all MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) movies and is part of the MGM trademark. This is not the motto of the commercial artist, however, who must eat. (A better motto for the starving artist would be ars gratia pecuniae "art for money's sake" because it's being created lucri causa "for the sake of gain," meaning financial reward.)

aut disce aut discede: "either learn or leave." The motto for Mr. Emrich's classes.

consummatum est: "it is completed." What to say after you've finished a step in the process of creating a game, such as a milestone, document, table, routine, and so forth. Also Christ's last words on the cross (John 19:30).

dabit qui dedit: "he who has given will give." A maxim for fund-raising. When a partially completed project is in financial trouble, those who originally funded it are the first ones sought to put more money into it.

damnant quod non intelligunt: "they condemn what they do not understand." This is the lament of those who try to express their original, creative, and/or artistic impulses in a game only to have them shot down by their peers, reviewers, or the masses.

de asini umbra disceptare: "to argue about the shadow of an ass." From Disraeli's novel Sybil, this means to quibble over the trivial. Many design debates (particularly by the Monday morning quarterbacks online) generally devolve into huge discussions over the tiniest matters, at which point you can sigh and declare de asini umbra disceptare.

dis aliter visum: "it seemed otherwise to the gods." Put another way, "man proposes; God disposes." When cruel fate hands you a bad random event (either in a game or in real life) or you ponder the ruins of a failed effort, this expression from Virgil's Aeneid will come in handy.

doctus cum libro: "learned with a book." Having book learning only and no practical knowledge. This is the plight of graduates seeking jobs, but you'll find know-it-alls out there who tell you how to do your job even though they have no practical knowledge doing it themselves.

dramatis personae: "the persons of the drama" or cast of characters. In a game these would be the player characters and non-player characters in it. Also, the game's credits is a listing of the dramatis personae who created it.

dura lex sed lex: "the law is hard, but it is the law." When people complain about the rules to a game being too restrictive in some way they often don't see the design reason for that decision. Rather than explaining it, you can just say, "Dura lex sed lex."

exceptio probat regulam: "the exception establishes the rule." Derived from a legal maxim, it means that the existence of an exception to a rule provides an opportunity to test the validity of a rule. That is, it enables us to define the rule more precisely and confirm its applicability to those items truly covered by that rule. Game designers are well aware that fewer exceptions make for better rules, but the exceptions that must exist need to validate the rule itself.

exegi monumentum aere perennius: "I have raised a monument more durable than bronze." This is the type of game that you're trying to create, one that will stand the test of time and still be played in future ages. Horace started his final ode with these words; hopefully you can finish your next project with them.

exitus acta probat: "the result validates the deeds" or, more accurately, "the ends justify the means." This is the answer to the eternal question of "Why does the game's artificial intelligence cheat?" The answer is that it must in order to challenge and compete with human opponents. Even though 'cheating' is morally wrong, in this case exitus acta probat.

finis coronat opus: "the end crowns the work." This is how you should greet the end of the project when the game ships.

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit: "perhaps this will be a pleasure to look back on one day." This is the motto of those suffering through 'crunch time' on a project when the hours are long and the tempers are short.

fortiter in re, suaviter in modo: "resolutely in action, gently in manner." This is the credo by which success comes to a member of a project team. Be a person who unhesitatingly does what must be done but accomplishes the deed as inoffensively as possible.

Hannibal ad portas: "Hannibal is at the gates." This is an expression to use when the client comes through the door or a calamity is besieging your project. Hannibal was the tremendously feared Carthaginian general who ravaged Italy during the Second Punic War. Long after he was gone, his named continued to carry a portent of great or imminent danger.

homo doctus in se semper divitias habet: "a learned man always has wealth within himself." And that is why you learn.

ingorantia legis neminem excusat: "ignorance of the law does not excuse." You need to learn the rules of the office place where you'll be working. Many write-ups in personnel files happen because of ignorance of some obscure (but bureaucratic or legalistically important) workplace rule.

ignoti nulla cupido: "no desire (exists) for a thing unknown." For this reason, you never mention publicly about features cut (or features desired but not added) to a game. Leave them unknown.

in bello, parvis momentis magni casus intercedunt: "in war, great events are the results of small causes." Caesar's point from his book Bellum Gallicum (The Galic Wars) is that battles are usually won by the side that blunders least. When making games, it means pay attention to detail; it is often the small things that can make or break it.

in cauda venenum: "in the tail is the poison." A scorpion's sting is in its tail, so this Roman saying warns us to look beyond the obvious in judging potential danger. Usually a project's team members start out innocuously but gather spite and venom as their work climaxes during crunch time.

in loco parentis: "in the place of a parent." Anyone who may be considered to have responsibilities of guardianship, either formal or informal, over minors (such as your teacher in class) stands in loco parentis.

invita Minerva: "Minerva being unwilling." This simply means "uninspired." Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom and patroness of all the arts, someone you want on your team at all times. If she deserts you on a given day, your work will be uninspired and your excuse will be invita Minerva. Critics might also use this phrase to describe an artist or work of art lacking inspiration. However, this excuse won't cut a lot of slack at the workplace where, like Alfred Alistair Cooke, they believe "A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”

lex loci: "the law of the place." These are the school or office rules. Know them! (See ingorantia legis neminem excusat.)

locus in quo: "the place in question." When discussing a particular scene or level in a game, or where a specific passage in its documentation can be found, the subject is a locus in quo.

magister artis ingeniique largitor venter: "the belly is the teacher of art and the bestower of genius." This maxim from Persius we know today as "necessity is the mother of invention."

magni nominis umbra: "the shadow of a great name." An unworthy descendant of an illustrious family, any poor sequel to a major hit title is said to be magni nominis umbra.

magnum opus: "great work." One's crowning achievement, their masterpiece, is their magnum opus. One day, you will make that game.

minima de malis: "of evils, the least." That is, choose the lesser of two evils. Often this means cutting features rather than increasing a budget or lengthening a schedule.

multi sunt vocati, pauci vero electi: "many are called, few are chosen." If you get a job in the game industry, reflect on those who want your job but do not it as you recall these words from Matthew.

mutatis mutandis: "when what must be changed has been changed." Making games is an iterative process, so each new revision of a game exists mutatis mutandis; that is, after making alterations to fit the new circumstances (of additional playtester feedback).

nam et ipsa scientia potestas est: "for knowledge too is itself power." Francis Bacon's much repeated and often borrowed aphorism is better known today as "knowledge is power." (So never stop learning, either at school or at work.)

ne Aesopum quidem trivit: "he has not even thumbed through Aesop." This damning condemnation means that a person doesn't know beans about anything. No doubt you'll encounter critics for whom this epitaph fits.

non nova sed nove: "not new things but in a new way." This is the game designer's creed as most games designs are hybrids of previous game ideas and systems. Many hit games offer nothing really new, but do the old things well in a new way.

non omnia possumus omnes: "we cannot all do everything." This, the motto of all Producers in the game business, is Virgil's lesson from the Aeneid, where he explains that no one can reasonably be expected to become an expert in all things.

nunc est bibendum: "now it's time to drink." Thank God it's Friday and the work day's done. Now, where is the gang meeting tonight?

occasionem cognosce: "recognize opportunity." This is a memo to you: luck is when preparation meets opportunity. No matter how prepared you are, you still need to occasionem cognosce.

olet lucernam: "it smells of the lamp." This condemnation, which can also be given as redolet lucernam, means that one's work appears to have been done late into the night. Creative types should not not be laboring too long over a piece of work lest it 'smell of the lamp.'

omne trinum est perfectum: "everything in threes is perfect." When designing a game and deciding 'how many' of something there should be, always try the number 3 for your answer. This adage reflects the mystical power ascribed to the number three... three Fates; three Graces; three Muses; the Holy Trinity; three days for Christ's resurrection, three minutes without air, three days without water, or three weeks without food will kill you; three primary colors; three cheers; the list is endless.

parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus: "mountains will be in labor, and an absurd mouse will be born." This pungent line comes from Horace's Ars Poetica. It's a metaphor that means when something long awaited, much hyped and expensive (does that sound like some game projects you've heard of?) fails to live up to expectations it can be slammed with this damning review.

pauca sed bona: "few things, but good." This is how a game should be designed. A game is more successful when it has only three (see omne trinum est perfectum) highly polished and tested "A+" features than eight interesting "B+" features.

pecuniae obediunt omnia: "all things yield to money." Which is how games are made. An idea is worthless, it is the money that buys the talent and produces the game that has value.

possunt quia posse videntur: "they can because they seem to be able to." Expressed by Virgil in the Aeneid, this means that the appearance of power bestows power, which is how your team should always make a pitch presentation. Today, we would say, "act as though it were impossible to fail."

profanum vulgus: "the profane multitude." These, the common people, the 'great unwashed' masses, are your potential customers.

quae nocent docent: "things that hurt teach." This is the curriculum offered by the School of Hard Knocks (in which you have a lifetime enrollment).

quaerenda pecunia primum est, virtus post nommos: "money is the first thing to be sought, good reputation after wealth." This practical thought comes from Horace's Epistles and reminds us why this is called the game business. It's all about the bottom line first and reputation second (and always will be).

quid pro quo: "this for that." Something given in return for something. Never give your services away for free (pro bono). Always try to get something for them (even if it's only lunch).

qui scribit bis legit: "he who writes reads twice." This is why you should take notes of important things. It is very effective to write something out that you wish to learn.

quo animo? "with what intention?" Just as it's not what you say, but how you say it that gives the intention, so it is when writing rules to a game. One can state a rule matter-of-factly but sometimes they require a designer's commentary afterward so that those who must follow those rules know the designer's intention and won't misapply or misinterpret that rule.

quod cibus est aliis, aliis est venenum: "what is food to some is poison to others" or better said as, "one man's meat is another man's poison." This is why gaming is not a mass market business. It's a very big hobby, but it is full of subgroups and niches of players who will only play their type of games and no others. Now, you may not always agree with their tastes in games but remember de gustibus non est disputandum ("about tastes there is no disputing"); that is, one's taste in games is a personal matter and no amount of persuasion can succeed in changing a person's tastes (so don't argue about matters of personal tastes).

quod erat demonstrandum: "which was to be demonstrated" abbreviated Q.E.D. In the software business, one is often called upon to do 'proof of concept' work prior to getting the 'go ahead' for a project. Whether it is to demonstrate that some new technology or methodology will really work in practice, or to thoroughly research a market for a particular game, when the results are in, Q.E.D., the project can go ahead.

quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat: "whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes insane." You'll have days like this in the entertainment business, where insanity abounds and one worries that it's infectious. Keep cool, keep calm, and remember that you're in this business because you love it; try to remember that the worst day in show business is better than the best day selling retail.

quot homines, tot sententiae: "so many men, so many opinions." You'll sit in meetings where nothing seems to be agreed upon, particularly design meetings. This apt phrase from Terence's Phormio describes a group as far from consensus as possible.

res in cardine est: "the matter is on a door hinge" or better said as "we are facing a crisis." When the next twenty-four hours will decide a matter of whether a milestone ships or a project fails a green light meeting, it is res in cardine est.

respondeat superior: "let the superior answer." That is, a supervisor must take responsibility for the quality of a subordinate's work. This is why, sometimes, it's good not to be the team leader, director, or boss!

sic volo, sic iubeo: "this I will, thus I command." One day, when you're calling the shots, you can use this as your motto. It's right up there with a parent telling their kid, "because I said so."

si fecisti nega!: "if you did it, deny it!" Stonewalling is usually the right reaction if a player accuses your game's artificial intelligence of cheating.

sine qua non: "without which not." Anything that is absolutely necessary, such as the primary features of a game design, are a sine qua non. Remember this phrase when someone wants to cut a critical feature from your game.

spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur ut ipsae: "they come to see, they come that they themselves be seen." Whether 'beautiful people' at their social hot spots or geeks attending conferences and trade shows, people wish as much to be seen attending as to see the event for itself.

summa sedes non capit duos: "the highest seat does not hold two." There is only room for one at the top, whether it's a sole survivor victory condition in a game or at your company.

tacent, satis laudant: "they are silent, they praise enough." If you can get the audience's rapt attention, it can be more flattering than applause.

tarde venientibus ossa: "for latecomers, the bones." When you miss roll call, an exam, or project milestone, this is how you say, "Sorry, too late."

temporibus inserviendum: "one must pay attention to the times." That is, political correctness must be obeyed unless you seek controversy.

tempus fugit: "time flies." Milestones are like images in your car's side-view mirror, always closer than they appear.

tempus omnia revelant: "time reveals all things." So be patient. Don't pry too much; don't press to hard; don't get a reputation as an impatient person. Sometimes the best course is in the short term is to do nothing and let time reveal more to you.

terra incognita: "unknown territory." All of those unrevealed areas on a game map, as well as the pursuit of design, art, and engineering feats that have never been accomplished before, represent terra incognita.

ultima forsan: "perhaps the last." Every milestone is, perhaps, the last. Projects could be cancelled at any time for any number of reasons and every deliverable begets its own Judgment Day. A project is a mortal as we are, so inscribe on your clock, ultima forsan.

uses est optimum magister: "experience is the best teacher." Experience also pays better (just look at entry-level salaries versus those of experienced workers). Books can give you knowledge, analyzing your past deeds secures experience.

velis et remis: "with sails and oars." When making an all-out effort, such as at crunch time or to meet a critical sales effort or make a particular milestone, your team is working velis et remis.

verba volant, scripta manet: "spoken words fly away, written words remain." You cannot be at everyone's office or cubicle to explain things at their beck and call, neither can they put you in every box to leap out and teach players their new game. That's why documentation is written; this is how people in the game industry communicate. Your writing is a time capsule into the future and across the cosmos learn to use it if you want to prosper in the game industry!

veritas simplex oratio est: "the language of truth is simple." When others offer you complex excuses, your 'truth detector' should go off. With apologies to Sir Walter Scott, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!" If you would speak the truth when writing a critique or explaining thing to your boss, state it simply.

virtutis fortuna comes: "good luck is the companion of courage." Good things don't 'just happen;' you must be prepared to seize opportunities and make your own 'luck.'

vita brefix, ars longa: "life is short, art is long." Remember, you're creating a work of art that can outlive you.

vox calamantis in deserto: "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." This is how you'll feel (like Matthew in the New Testament, where this phrase comes from) whenever you give counsel about your project that is not heeded.

vox populi vox Dei: "the voice of the people is the voice of God." They are your target market and your customers. Listen to them.