Οὐδὲν λέγειν / nihil dicere

A Lexical and Semantic Survey

in Mnemosyne
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Abstract

The ancient theoretical debate on language and its purposes has long concerned scholarship, but only in recent years a growing attention has been directed to ancient concepts and instances of nonsense in both communication and artistic-literary expression, as the recent monograph by Stephen Kidd attests. This paper engages in an analysis of the phrase οὐδὲν λέγειν/nihil dicere, used to express the nonsense of a statement. An overview of the occurrences of οὐδὲν λέγειν is followed by a survey of what can be considered the ‘reception’ or calque of the Greek idiom in Latin, namely nihil dicere. The concentration of the occurrences, both in Greek and Latin, in the same two genres, i.e. comedy and philosophical dialogue, suggests that the phrase was borrowed from the colloquial vocabulary of the spoken language. The authority of Aristophanes and Plato seems to have eased the assimilation of the locution by authors such as Plautus, Terence and Cicero. The rarity of the phrase outside these authors and their genres supports the thought that, in literature, οὐδὲν λέγειν/nihil dicere were typical of the lexical repertoires of dramatic ἀγών and dialectics.

Οὐδὲν λέγειν / nihil dicere

A Lexical and Semantic Survey

in Mnemosyne

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