he/she/they didn’t die in vain
Posted: 17 June 2016 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]
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’die in vain’ is one of those expressions which captures a sentiment there are kinda no words for. I am sorry you died, but your death may be of value to the world.

Is it from Shakespeare?

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Posted: 17 June 2016 07:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The works of Shakespeare do not contain the phrase “die in vain”. The phrase “in vain” appears with plenty of other verbs, though.

OED dates the phrase “in vain” to the 14th century, and notes that it is an adaption of the Latin phrase in vanum, or the French phrase en vain.

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Posted: 18 June 2016 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In vain appears 48 times in the King James Bible, from Exodus 20:7 ("Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”; Hebrew: שָׁוְא shav’ ) to James 4:5 ("Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain”; Greek κενῶς kenōs). There is at least one use of dying in vain in the KJV: Galations 2:21 (”...then Christ is dead in vain”; Greek δωρεάν dōrean). There may be other Hebrew and Greek words that are being translated as in vain in the KJV—I’m not going to look them all up. So that’s probably the inspiration for most uses of the phrase since 1611 and what has kept the phrase alive in English.

But for dying in vain, there is a much more recent, and probably for most Americans more familiar, source. Lincoln in his 1863 Gettysburg Address said, “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Generations of American schoolchildren have had to memorize that speech.

And then there is this from The Firesign Theatre: “Abraham Lincoln didn’t die in vain. He died in Washington, D.C.”

[ Edited: 18 June 2016 03:28 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 18 June 2016 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you for your kind replies.

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Posted: 18 June 2016 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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In vain appears 48 times in the King James Bible

Perhaps most resonantly in Psalm 127:

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except The Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

Nobody with any feeling for the English language at all could hear that in church, chapel or Sunday School, as centuries of English- speakers did, and not remember it.

I can’t answer for the Hebrew, but the KJV is a straight translation of the Vulgate Latin: ”in vanum laboraverunt”.

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Posted: 18 June 2016 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The second in vain in that verse is frustra in the Vulgate. (And if you’re looking it up, it’s Psalm 126 in the Vulgate—the numbering of the Psalms is a bit different.)

The Hebrew is שָׁוְא shav’ in both cases.

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Posted: 18 June 2016 04:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it

A favorite verse in the Habitat for Humanity organization.

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Posted: 19 June 2016 05:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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And the Latin “Nisi Dominus” has been set memorably many times; I’m very fond of the Monteverdi.

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Posted: 28 June 2016 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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"Nisi Dominus frustra” was my old school’s motto, and the school song included the distinctly odd line “Nisi Dominus frustra” for ever!”

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Posted: 29 June 2016 02:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Lots of school songs have a tendency to fatuity, but your quotation looks like a real masterpiece. Congratters!

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Posted: 29 June 2016 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Nisi Dominus frustra

What’s it supposed to mean? It doesn’t look like good Latin.

Frustra can be a verb, but it’s second-person singular imperative. If you mean “unless you disappoint the Lord,” that’s wrong because dominus is nominative. If you want to mean that, is should be nisi dominum frustra.

If you take frustra as an adverb meaning “in vain,” then the phrase lacks a verb that tells us what the Lord could be doing in vain.

And in any case I agree with Lionello, this is a really odd phrase for a school song.

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Posted: 29 June 2016 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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‘Nisi Dominus Frustra’, just those three words, is quite a popular civic motto - Cambridge and Edinburgh both use it. Everyone who is educated enough to understand the words is assumed to know the whole quotation. That’s not unusual with Latin mottoes:  ‘Ecce quam bonum’ quite often does duty for ‘Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum’ ("Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity") .

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Posted: 29 June 2016 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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What’s it supposed to mean? It doesn’t look like good Latin.

It’s just a pocket version of the opening of Psalm 127 in the Vulgate: “nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem frustra vigilavit qui custodit.” It’s no more “good Latin” than “ex post” or any other similar abbreviations, but back in the days when everyone knew Latin one didn’t have to come out with entire quotations, a mere hint was enough.  Similarly, in prerevolutionary Russia people referred to psalms by the first couple of words in Church Slavonic, whether they made sense as a unit or not.

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Posted: 29 June 2016 06:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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‘Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum’

I didn’t know this was a popular catchphrrase in Latin.  It certainly is in Hebrew: Hineh mah tov umah na’im, shevet ahim gam yahad --- in that language, it’s usually sung (around campfires and such)

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