Chuuutt!!! (Shh!), Mural near Centre Pompidou, Paris

Good evening, folks!

I’m in a hurry today, so I’ll be brief. The idea behind today’s featured word (or should I say expression?) by A.W.A.D. is somehow connected to my profession. I remember I expressed my point of view on the matter some months ago in a quite hysterical post on strict N.D.A.s and confidentiality agreements imposed by some customers and translation agencies. A translator on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Confidentiality is the word. I confess I didn’t know this expression, though derived from Latin, the origin of my native language. It’s related to secrets. Secrets and roses.

Hush-hush …

sub rosa


(sub RO-zuh)
adverb: Secretly, privately, or confidentially.
From Latin sub (under) rosa (rose). Earliest documented use: 1654. The English term “under the rose” is also used to refer to something in secret.
In Roman mythology, Venus’s son Cupid gave a rose to Harpocrates, the god of silence, to ensure his silence about Venus’s many indiscretions. Thus the flower became a symbol of secrecy. Ceilings of banquet halls were decorated with roses to indicate that what was said sub vino (under the influence of wine) was also sub rosa.
“‘Much of this goes on sub rosa and never comes to public view,’ said Wesley Wark.”
Peter Goodspeed; Vladimir Putin’s Support of Spying; National Post (Canada); Jan 23, 2012.
ITALIAN TRANSLATION: in confidenza, in segreto, in privato
Source Babylon
I’ve tried to research on the origin of this strange expression, first of all to remedy my unfamiliarity with this term, and I found out that the association of the rose to secrecy dates back no less to ancient Egyptians, it is said that it was the symbol of Horus, whose syncretic form was Harpocrates, or Horus the Young, regarded as the God of Silence. What’s syncretic? Another peculiar word, it defines the custom of merging different beliefs and traditions, even contrasting ones, into one –  in this case, Horus personified more deities, including Harpocrates. As a matter of fact, the association of Harpocrates to silence is probably a misunderstanding by ancient Greeks of his gesture in various portraits, which imitated the Egyptian hieroglyph for child (a figure with his finger on his mouth), but nonetheless he was worshipped as such. In Greek mythology, the rose was associated to cult of Aphrodite. The story goes that Aphrodite gave a rose to her son Eros, the God of Love, who gave it to Harpocrates, the god of silence, to induce him not to gossip about his mother’s amorous indiscretions. In ancient Rome, ceilings of banquet rooms were often decorated with paintings of roses to suggest that any confidence shared under the effects of wine (sub vino) should be kept secret. Roses were also used to signify silence and secrecy in the Middle Age and in Christian symbolism a five-petalled rose painted or carved on confessionals indicates that anything told during confession is covered by secrecy.
In recent times the expression sub rosa is used by Intelligence Services to indicate covert operations.
Talking about secrets, Italians have a curious expression, il segreto di Pulcinella (literally Pulcinella’s secret) referring to a ‘open secret’, something whose knowledge is restricted, but that indeed is broadly known. The expression is probably inspired by the Neapolitan fictional character of Pulcinella, who loves to mock at rulers and to disclose embarrassing situations. Italian history is littered with segreti di Pulcinella, conspiracies, uncomfortable truths and shameful secrets. One of them was subject of a long posts of mine of a few days ago on garbage and Terra dei Fuochi (Get rid of it quick!), so long that I don’t want to annoy you further. I suppose that ‘Pulcinella’s secrets’ are a worldwide acknowledged fact, but in my opinion, on this ground Italians rock!
As to me … though being Italian, secrets are not for me, I cannot tell lies and I speak sometimes too much, you can see it from my blog. As you can read on my introduction, I’m frank, even candid sometimes … but I love roses!
See you soon, folks!
Your passionate (Italian) Translator
Image courtesy of Antonin Climent

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