Teneo vestri vox*

One can certainly trust the Post to select op-eds on the important issues of the day.  Richard Cohen edifies his readers with this gem:

Tattoos are the emblems of our age. They bristle from the biceps of men in summer shirts, from the lower backs of women as they ascend stairs, from the shoulders of basketball players as they drive toward the basket, and from every inch of certain celebrities. The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers. 

Losers: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, etc.

It gets better:

I asked a college professor what she thought of tattoos, and she said that for young people, they represent permanence in an ever-changing world. But how is that possible? Anyone old enough and smart enough to get into college knows that only impermanence is permanent. Everything changes — including, sweetie, that tight tummy with its "look at me!" tattoo. Time will turn it into false advertising. 

It gets better still, for the grumpy old man tattoo diatribe was merely a set-up:

The permanence of the moment — the conviction that now is forever — explains what has happened to the American economy. We are, as a people, deeply in debt. We are, as a nation, deeply in debt. The average American household owes more than its yearly income. We save almost nothing (0.4 percent of disposable income) and spend almost everything (99.6 percent of disposable income) in the hope that tomorrow will be a lot like today. We bought homes we could not afford and took out mortgages we could not pay and whipped out the plastic on everything else. Debts would be due in the future, but, with any luck, the future would remain in the future. 

I would say that getting a tattoo may be something remotely like what happened to certain people in debt, but I think it strains credulity to say that it "explains" the economy.  (For more on that topic, there's the almost–almost I say–equally shallow economic/social/political analysis of David Brooks in today's Times). Back to tattoos:

But the tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today's are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they're on. They don't represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today's whim will be tomorrow's joy. After all, a tattoo cannot be easily removed. It takes a laser — and some cash.


I have decades' worth of photos of me wearing clothes that now look like costumes. My hair has been long and then longer and then short. My lapels have been wide, then wider, then narrow. I have written awful columns I once thought were brilliant and embraced ideas I now think are foolish. Nothing is forever.

Seize the day — laser tomorrow.

What about your columns, Richard?  You can't undo those.

*Teneo vestri vox doesn't mean anything, but it appears as a tattoo on Angelina Jolie in a recent movie.  See here for more.  But in the meantime, since so many have asked, here's why it means nothing.  Latin words get their grammatical significance from their endings (not, as is often the case, from their position in the sentence).  So teneo means "I hold," vestri (a possessive adjective without an antecedant) means "of yours [all])," and "vox" means "voice" or "the voice" (in the nominative case).  Put them together this way and you have nonsense: there's no grammatical object for the transitive verb, vox is nominative but is not the subject, and the possessive adjective doesn't modify anything.  You might as well string any three words together–dog yours telephone–and tattoo that on your body, that's about how much sense it makes.



13 thoughts on “Teneo vestri vox*”

  1. It’s amazing that this guy knows so many of the intimate details of my internal and external life. He knows what tattoos I have (tacky ones), how big they are (gargantuan ones), their relationship between me and my skin (little), and my status (loser). Wow! He must be a mind reader. I sure hope he knows what I’m thinking of him right now.

    BTW, does he not know what “represent” means? If someone says a tattoo represents A, and then you criticize that view because the tattoo is not A, that’s likely either a deliberate straw man and a lie or the someone doesn’t know what it means “to represent.”

    He does do us a service though by pointing out that there are plenty of minorities out there that it’s OK to direct completely unsupported ad hominem abuse towards in major media outlets. More bigotry alive and well. Yeah!

  2. I especially like Cohen’s appeal to authority, where he asks a college professor (who obviously did her dissertation on tatoos) the meaning of body art, and then goes on to poorly knock down her overly generalized claim about what tatoos represent.

    Perhaps tatoos represent different things to different people…

  3. *Teneo vestri vox doesn’t mean anything, but it appears as a tattoo on Angelina Jolie in a recent movie.  

    Teneo, -ere, -ui, tentum in LATIN means to hold, keep, possess

    Vester, -tra, trum (can also be used in the form vestri depending on the declination) means your, yours

    Vox, vocis means voice, word.  

  4. Very nice “Wheelock”, but you have done what the author of the tatoo probably did: you looked up three Latin words and strung them together.  Latin, however, doesn’t work that way (as the first chapter or two of Wheelock’s Latin will tell you).

  5. Well, jcasey, we are all impressed that you know Latin so well…however, why do you care what someone else chooses to put on THEIR body.  Nobody is making you get a tattoo.  I have a single tattoo and as a loser I love it.  It is on the upper part of my back and is a Hine’s Emerald Green Dragonfly (an endangered species).  Also, tattoos provide jobs for individuals (such as my good friend).  Love all people, love humanity, love the culture that is presented to us, and be accepting of all people.  I understand where you are coming from (I’ve seen a lot of dumb tattoos in my day) but it is okay, breath!

  6. Gee Laughter–if you read the post, you’ll see that I’m criticizing Cohen for griping about the kids’ tattoos.  It’s ok–read.

  7. Sorry jcasey, typo, meant cohen (multitasking)…mistakes happen but thanks for the concern about my reading =)

  8. Clarification: however…why does cohen care what someone else…blah blah blah, make sense?

  9. I know that I have “stuck my foot in my mouth” or possibly my stomach (referring to the original comment I made); however I hope that my simplistic comments made in reference to the negative quotes (made my Cohen) are what count.  Skimming error =).

  10. I like this man and his comments. He shows me that all the schools he has been to , all the work he has done counts for nothing. He simply lacks passion and understanding, maybe if a clear cut answer in a book were in front of his large brian there would be more understanding. I’ve had friends like this, all logic, no sence. Tattoo are like scars, like a memory in ink a niche on a timeline. I’m sure this man is very smart and very mad, at all the things he wish he could do but he is weak and affraid.

  11. None of you leaving comments here are helping your argument. You can’t spell sense, (“sence”). A tattoo of a dragonfly? Might as well be a butterfly. If you have tattoos and you picked a piece of FLASH from the wall, you’d be better off buying a bumper sticker for your steamer trunk, man. Chances are better than good that someone already picked your tattoo from the wall like you did and is walking around with it, just like you. Why would you do that? I have plenty of tattoos and none of them are FLASH. You get a tattoo to help you feel like an individual, yet you pick something from a wall that thousands of other people already have. What is wrong with you? Using big words or pointing out this authors problems with latin will not change anything. He’s right, too many people are going out and getting bad tattoos that mean little or nothing to the person getting them. Tattoos should be a highly personal experience, and a very important decision that you come to over a long period of consideration. I’m going to close by saying that removing or covering up a previous tattoo is even worse than getting a stupid tattoo in the first place. If you don’t like it, or have changed your opinion on the inks subject matter, then keep it just how it is as a reminder of just how fickle you thought you weren’t. I have one that I no longer really care about, mind you I don’t hate it or anything, it’s just not really a part of me anymore. But, I keep it there just the same. I shant become a coward.

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