Yesterday’s complaint about 40K’s use of Latin to represent High Gothic seems to have inspired some discussion on the Tumblrsphere. A lot of folks simply do not care if the Latin is bad in 40K because it’s “not really Latin” and as such, doesn’t have to follow Latin rules. High Gothic really isn’t Latin; this is indisputable. It’s a language as far removed from any language spoken in the entirety of written history as the languages of the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon are from modern English. However, I feel that if all we can know is the analogy, we have to treat the analogy as the real thing - meaning that if the Latinate High Gothic is bad Latin, the real High Gothic is bad Gothic.
Again, this is perfectly in keeping with some folks’ vision of 40K and the Imperium! Even the supposedly highly preserved dead language has evolved and ‘decayed’ over the 10,000-20,000 years it’s been in use. But if you want High Gothic to be more pristine, you need more pristine Latin! If you have more than an English metalhead’s passing knowledge of Latin, High Gothic drives you batty. You want proper Latin, just so you’re not constantly forced to UNtranslate everything you read in High Gothic.
Today, I look at what initially prompted me to try to translate ‘High Gothic’ into ‘Low Gothic’ - Imperial Tithes. For those who don’t care about the language, there’re still some bits that might be useful in your tabletop role-playing in the 40K universe.
There are two primary series of tithes in the 40K literature - the Solutio series, and the Exactis series. Canonically, we mostly know of Solutio/Exactis Tertius, Prima, and Extremis. In context, and as borne out by fan sites across the web, players have also interpolated a Secundus grade. All well and good, Secundus does fit snugly between Primus and Tertius - 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
What’s less well and good is what Solutio and Exactis mean in Latin, the basis for our written representation of High Gothic. Solutio Tertius means “The Third Solution”, Solutio Secundus “The Second Solution”, and Solutio Prima means “The First Solution”. Nifty, but what’s the damned solution, then? If we read into the context a little more, one begins to suspect a different intended meaning for Solutio Tertius and Solutio Prima. If we assume the Administratum (I’ll get to the bodies of the Imperial Senate in another post) is taking a portion of a world’s output, then we don’t want ordinal numbers, we want fractions. And let’s be honest - a tithe grade probably isn’t a solution, it’s a payment. Therefore, we’re not looking at Solutio Tertius, we’re looking at Solucione Triens - "Payment of a Third". Solucione Prima then doesn’t mean “The First Payment”, it means “Payment of the Best” - the Adepts of the Administration are descending on a world’s production facilities, inspecting and taking only the best stuff, allowing everything else to be traded or used to support the planet itself. This interpretation also allows us at least three more tithe grades: Solucione Semis (payment of half), Solucione Bes (payment of two-thirds), and Solucione Omnia (payment of all). People with formal Latin education may still take issue with my conjugation, but at least I’m using the right words.
Exactis Tertius and Prima, strictly speaking, mean “Expulsion of the Third” and “Expulsion of the First” which… what? I expect the creators were thinking of “exacting tribute”, and most players are going to think “exactly” when they see Exactis - which then leads them to wonder what the difference between a tithe of “one-third” and “exactly one-third” really means. If you like your 40K Brazil-flavored, that’s perfect, and you don’t need to think any further! But here’s another thought, and part of why I’m writing this: Solutio grade tithes are associated with a single product of a world, so a world may specifically have a tithe of “Solucione Triens Populous” - One-Third of the people must be given to the Imperial Guard, or “Solucione Prima Tormentario” - all of the best ordnance pieces produced. On the other hand, Exactis grade tithes are for the entire production of a world, keeping with the hypothetical intended “exacting tribute” meaning. I still don’t like Exactis as a tithe grade - I personally use Omni (“all”, “everything”) here. Exactis Tertius becomes Omni Triens, Exactis Prima becomes Omni Primus, and so on. Several worlds in the fiction are seen with an Exactis Extremis tithe grade, meaning “Expulsion Ends,” which suggests the planet is being exempted from tithes, but it’s more reasonable to assume they want to convey “Extreme” or “the most” with Extremis. In this case, an Exactis Extremis tithe grade, should more reasonably be Summa Totalis, the sum total, or “everything that this planet produces is owed directly to the Imperial Administration.”
A lot wordier than yesterday’s complaint, but I hope it’s something to think about and if it improves somebody’s Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, or Deathwatch game even a little, I’ll be happy.