Malaysian musings on Latin

From the Star

Some lessons in LatinAlong the Watchtower: By M. VEERA PANDIYAN

A LONG-awaited animated movie and a much fussed-over book prodded me
towards an interest in Latin. It began with the discovery of two
mottos: Corruptus in extremis and Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.  

The first, which means “the extreme corruption”, is the tenet of the Springfield mayor’s office in The Simpsons. The second translates as “a sleeping dragon mustn’t be tickled” – the maxim of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School.  

Last Sunday, just as the brain was picking up such fascinating Latin phrases, an old Javanese word to describe the dim-witted was flung into works, courtesy of our country’s insightful Information Minister. 

Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin warned Malaysians to be wary of certain goblok (stupid) political bloggers. 

He said the people should wise up to goblok bloggers, who, he claimed, had become tools of foreign countries bent on destroying Malaysia. 

Describing them as having “limited knowledge and evil intentions”, the
minister bewailed that such dangerous people had been around since

“These writers do not have an Asian mentality but lean towards Western
thinking because they were educated overseas,” he said.  

Personally, that part of it was quite a relief. As a locally schooled
semi-literate hack, it was comforting to know that I won’t fit his
billing of a goblok, if I decide to butt into blogosphere. 

Zam’s tirade against bloggers came in the wake of earlier rebukes from
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Deputy PM Datuk Seri
Najib Tun Razak, Deputy Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaludin and Energy,
Water and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik. 

If these bloggers are really guilty as they are being made out to be, I
suppose this is a chance to exercise my paltry knowledge of Latin and
ask two questions: Cui bono? (For whose benefit?) and Cui malo? (Bad for whom?) 

Who stands to benefit if these bloggers spread lies and falsehoods? And
if they are being used as tools by foreign countries, which nations are
we talking about? After all, information is power. 

The Cui bono question
can be traced to Marcus Tullius Cicero, reputedly the Roman Empire’s
greatest orator, philosopher and campaigner against corruption. He had
apparently flogged it repeatedly on a jury while defending a man
charged with murder and eventually vindicated him. 

Today, the legal principle of cui bono
is the basis of criminal investigations for determining credible
suspects and for assessing the strengths of motives, according to
benefits to be gained. 

As for Cui malo, I must
confess that I really don’t know any eminent person associated with it.
But it sounds like a brilliant blend of the terms for the devil (in
Hokkien) and shame (in Malay) and I thought it would be a pity not to
use it here. 

But seriously, isn’t Cui malo pertinent
now that Malaysia is already getting so much bad press over
blogger-bashing? Wouldn’t it bad for our leaders to appear that they
are going against the grain of current global information flow

The Information Minister chided those who leaned
towards Western thinking. But what is the current trend of thought in
the West? The people are actually getting fed up with what they see and
read. There is mounting resentment against the powerful corporations
that control the airwaves and print publications.  

Michael Parenti, one of the Western world’s leading social critics notes in his latest book, Democracy For The Few,
that in 1983 about 50 giant corporations controlled the major
television and radio channels, newspapers, magazines, book publishers
and movie studios. 

Today there are only seven – Time Warner,
Disney, General Electric, Viacom, Bertelsmann, Rupert Murdoch’s News
Corporation and the cable-TV colossus Comcast.  

Parenti says these media giants determine what is to be aired and what isn’t, whether it's news or entertainment. 

Those entrenched in the industry stick to playing by their rules
because it pays well to do so. Their job is to spread the “proper”
message, which excludes all the ugliness that is harmful to ordinary

It’s about time our leaders realise that absolute control of anything
can be repulsive. This is among the main reasons blogs are becoming
more popular in the West and elsewhere in the world.  

People want to have access to as much information available, evaluate
it and if possible contribute their views, instead of just taking it
from whoever is dishing it out. As such, rulings by fiats or decrees,
such as declaring that an issue or a debate has been closed is hardly
effective these days.  

Some bloggers may be guilty of being misguided or pushing their own
narrow agendas. Those who have succeeded in acquiring a huge captive
audience may also be guilty of delusional pomposity. Rightly or
wrongly, they see themselves as the final saviours of media freedom,
both from state and corporate control. 

Demonising them, shutting their sites down or threatening to invoke the
Internal Security Act against them, is not going to make them go away.
If they are spreading lies, take them to court, using the existing laws
in the country.  

So, to go back to Latin, a language that is supposed to be dead but still very much alive, perhaps we should all learn to audi alteram partem (hear the other side).  

After all, its the legal principle of fairness, which is also written as audiatur et altera pars (let the other side be heard too).  

We should always be compos mentis (in control of the mind) rather than appearing to be non compos mentis (not in control of one’s faculties) or talking ad absurdum (to the absurd, or in logic, to the point of being silly or nonsensical). 

Let’s bring back Cicero for a concluding quote: Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare (Anyone can err, but only the fool persists in his fault.) 

I can’t resist the temptation to put in the last word. It’s dixi (I have spoken). 


  • Among
    the cute Latin phrases that M. Veera Pandiyan, Deputy Editor, New
    Media, learned recently is: “Ad praesens ova cras pullis sunt meliora”
    (Eggs today are better than chickens tomorrow).
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