Tag Archives: Asterix

Oliver Kamm

The title of this book encapsulates my reasoning. It’s taken from the English edition of Asterix the Gaul. The indomitable Gaul has just bashed some Roman legionaries. One of the Romans says, dazedly: ‘Vae victo, vae victis.’ Another observes: ‘We decline.’ The caption above this scene of destruction reads: ‘Accidence will happen.’

You have to believe me that this is funny. The first legionary’s Latin phrase means: ‘Woe to the one who has been vanquished, woe to those who have been vanquished.’ The scene is a riff on grammar. It was made up by Anthea Bell, the English translator of the Asterix books. She is my mother and I have stolen her joke. I’ll render it leaden by explaining why it appeals to me. Victo is the dative singular and victis is the dative plural. The legionary is literally declining, in the grammatical sense. The aspect of grammar that deals with declension and conjugation is called accidence.

Oliver Kamm, Accidence Will Happen: the Non-pedantic Guide to English Usage, London, 2015, p. x-xi