Latin Language Lapse

Every once in a while, I have a moment of insight. “Brain splats” I call them, as the word “storm” (as in “brainstorm”) connotes a scale far greater than what I’m willing to accord the occasional connections among synapses in my head.

Fortunately, there is usually someone more intelligent and better informed around to set me straight.


tony wu photography logo and motto
ars gratia scientiae, art for the sake of knowledge


Such was the case with the Latin subtext I started to use after relaunching my site back in June.

Taking inspiration from MGM’s Latin motto “ars gratia artis”, which means “art for the sake of art”, I thought that the phrase “art for the sake of knowledge” would be a pretty good description for what I do.

Photography, of course, is at the heart of my profession, but I’ve never been entirely satisfied taking beautiful pictures just to take beautiful pictures. I’m happy when I can get composition, lighting, etc. just right, but my goal has always been to learn, to discover, to work for the “eureka!” moment.

So…thinking back to my two years of Latin tuition in high school, I came up with “ars gratia scientia” for my new site design, meaning “art for the sake of knowledge.”

Clever me, eh? (picture smug look on my face)

I’ve used this text on my new site header, on copyright stamps for my photos, and even in presentations for the past four months.

Well…a few days ago, Richard Davis, a bona fide teacher of Latin, kindly informed me that I’m a dunce (my words, not his).

Apparently, I forgot about the genitive case. I’ll bet that hasn't happened to you recently.

In short, “ars gratia scientia” is just a list of three nouns, translating as something along the lines of: “art, grace, knowledge”. Not bad actually, but not quite what I was going for.

To achieve the meaning I desire, the ending of the word “scientia” needs to be changed to indicate a connection to the word “gratia”, hence the genitive case of “scientia”, which is “scientiae”.

This modifies the function of the word “gratia” in this context from a noun meaning “grace” or “favour” to a linking concept meaning “for the sake of.”

Richard also pointed out that MGM adopted an unorthodox word order. A better word order for “ars gratia artis” would be “ars artis gratia,” which means that a more proper word order for my subtext should be “ars scientiae gratia.”

I’m going to stick with “ars gratia scientiae” though, because it’s a play on MGM’s motto. Fortunately, Richard is happy with this, though he did remark that: “…the word order you prefer is a little unorthodox, but I suspect even Cicero would understand it just fine, although it might signal that you were from the provinces.”

I’m cool with that.

Thank you very much Richard, and heartfelt apologies to Ms. Pope and Ms. Mays, whose collective efforts were obviously wasted upon me.


amblyeleotris latifasciata, metallic shrimp goby with mouth open
Amblyeleotris latifasciata. How’s that for mastery of Latin?!