What Exactly Does Sine Die Mean?

Published: Friday, May 22, 2020 - 1:51pm
Updated: Friday, May 22, 2020 - 2:38pm
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MARK BRODIE: As you've heard, there's a Latin phrase on the tip of a lot of people's tongues today. But what does sine die actually mean, and are we even saying it right? Steve. I might come to you on this because you actually took Latin, right?

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Four years of Latin, Mark. And, you know, our colleague Bruce Drummond also was a Brophy-ite, but I don't think he took Latin. Sorry, Bruce. 

BRODIE: Well, that's alright. So, to find out, KJZZ's Jimmy Jenkins talked to an expert on the Latin language to find out more about these ancient words and the role they play in modern day governance. 

JIMMY JENKINS: Paul Arena is a classics lecturer at Arizona State University. I asked if he had heard the way lawmakers refer to the end of the legislative session in Arizona and other states.

PAUL ARENA: How, how do people usually say it?

JENKINS: Uh, "SIGH-nee die"?

ARENA: Oh yeah, no, no. That is, that is pretty incorrect.

JENKINS: But he says this Latin phrase is thousands of years old. So, it's understandable that the common pronunciation would change over time.

ARENA: Like, if I was going to be, like, super pedantic, Latin pronunciation [is] "SIN-eh DEE-Ay". So I want the I and the E in Sine to be short and I want the I in Die to be short and the E in die to be long. So, "SIN-eh DEE-ay."

JENKINS: Arena says "SEEN-ay DEE-ay" is probably OK, too, if that's easier for some folks. So, now that we know how to say it, what does it mean?

ARENA: Sine die literally means "without a day," a prepositional phrase. Die is is Latin for "day" and Sine is Latin for "without."

JENKINS: He says it's like if you have an appointment with someone, but you're not ready to set a firm date yet.

ARENA: So with our Legislature, right, if they do a sine die, they're recessing without a fixed date of return. 

JENKINS: Arena says the fact that lawmakers are still using the term is a testament to the lasting power of linguistic imprints.

ARENA: Our cultural legacy is pluralistic. I mean, there are so many other things that influence our culture. But there is still a little piece of it that goes all the way back to the Greeks and the Romans.

JENKINS: No matter how you say it, Arena says he's just happy that Latin is still a part of the conversation.

ARENA: Well, I guess sine die for us. We're done.

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