Wednesday, June 13, 2012


One of my students asked me yesterday if the Romans had a word for fun. I didn't know. I still don't. The concept of fun is a... well, a funny one I suppose. Easy to recognise, but hard to define. Romans played and laughed and enjoyed themselves just like humans throughout history, I assume, but did they have a specific word for fun? I suspect that someone like Cicero would have been a bit scornful of the notion of fun (virtue is much more important), while for an Epicurean such as Lucretius pleasure had a much more nuanced meaning than simply fun. No doubt Catullus or Ovid appreciated the concept, but what words did they use to express it? How would you say 'This is fun!' or 'I am having fun!' in Latin?

Here is a list of some fun related words (thanks to William Whitakers Words), none of which I'm sure suit the meaning of the English perfectly:

delicia, deliciae: pleasure/delight/fun (usu. pl.), activity affording enjoyment, luxuries; toys;

ludus, ludi: game, play, sport, pastime, entertainment, fun; school, elementary school;

delicius, delicii: pleasure/delight/fun, activity affording enjoyment; curiosities of art;

ludibundus, ludibunda, ludibundum: having fun; carefree;

derideo, deridere, derisi, derisus: to mock/deride/laugh at/make fun of; be able to laugh, escape, get off scot free;

irrideo, irridere, irrisi, irrisus: to ridicule, mock, make fun of; laugh at;
Any thoughts?


Seumas Macdonald said...

I think ludus carries a fair bit of 'fun' in its range, the idea of game; ludibundus sounds like a medieval neologism but I could be wrong (Whitaker lists no source or age);

I would think ludus + rideo would provide the heavy lifting for fun-related words, rideo not carrying the denigrative connotation of derideo, irrideo.

Ryan Mease said...

I'm making guesses on a limb here, but perhaps the Romans simply lacked fun as a concept, and stuck with a means of describing the way in which they behaved, rather than related that some standardized conceptual figure.

I'm sure there are words in the reverse--words where Latin leans on a conceptual noun, but English leans on adverbs and adjectives that describe actions.

Can you think of any?

'Pietas' might be one, insofar as the concept of filial piety isn't something we talk about often. We're more often to say that someone behaves respectfully to their father, rather than say something like 'manet pietatem'.

jm said...

my lewis and short gives examples of ludibundus from Plautus, Livy, Suetonius and Cicero, but lists its meanings as playful, sportive, frolicsome, wanton.

the pietas analogy is a good one. desiderium is a bit similar, i think. i always think it means 'the feeling you have when you miss someone or something'. we obviously have the verb 'to miss', but not a noun to describe that feeling. 'desire' is not quite right, 'longing' is closer, 'homesickness' works for a place, but not for a person.

Mike Salter said...

I'd unhesitatingly suggest "lusus" (rather than "ludus", which is a bit more specific). 4th declension FTW!

Manuela said...

What about divertio,divertionis?