Pope surprises with success of Latin tweets

2014-02-05 11:32
Pope Francis celebrates a mass in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, on New Year's Day. (Andrew Medichini, AP)

Pope Francis celebrates a mass in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, on New Year's Day. (Andrew Medichini, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Vatican City - Quis hoc crederet? Against all the odds, Pope Francis's Latin-language Twitter account is a roaring success, boasting 205 000 followers - more than those following papal tweets in German or Arabic.

Two months after former pontiff Benedict XVI joined the social networking site, enthusiasts of the ancient language persuaded him to open an account in Latin, without banking on it having much success. The response stunned them.

Latin is "an international language, a transnational way of communicating which is still very much alive", said American priest Daniel Gallagher, an expert in the language and member of the team in charge of translating and posting the pope's tweets.

For its fans, the Italic language embodies "virtue and nobility of expression", as well as "the ability to communicate across centuries", he said.

While Latin is well suited to Francis's messages in terms of their brevity, his phrases are "difficult to translate, because his style is so informal", Gallagher said.

The expression "sourpusses" had the team flummoxed until someone thought to translate it as "vultu truci", a term taken from Roman playwright Plautus.


Gallagher and his colleagues have fun coming up with inventive ways to translate the latest technological or web-based jargon.

"Welcome to the official Twitter page of His Holiness Pope Francis" became "Tuus adventus in paginam Papae Francisci breviloquentis optatissimus est".

"We try not to stray too far from Cicero," the priest said in reference to the great ancient Roman orator.

"If he saw our translation, we would want him to have at least a vague idea of what it said," he said.

Isabelle Poinsot, a follower from Paris, said she found it "refreshing to read a small, pure thought each day" and found "the discrepancy between a modern medium and an ancient language rather amusing".

Followers are not just nerdy professors in stuffy academic offices or iPad-wielding priests. The largest cohort are German, followed by Britons, Americans and fellow fans from China, India and Africa.

"We have every reason to think that many are young students, from universities, schools or even younger," Gallagher said, adding that some use the tweets as homework, setting out to translate them.

Others are journalists, lawyers, or people nostalgic for the Latin lessons of their youth, who get a kick out of translating a Francis phrase a day. Some get so involved that they reply to the pope's tweets in Latin.

Official documents

Elitism also plays its part: "Some follow the pope in Latin because it's a way to create a group. They enjoy belonging to an unusual community, with its own code. If you are able to translate it, you are accepted into the club," Gallagher said.

"What we think of as a modern phenomenon is no such thing. The satirical epigrams of the Roman poet Martial could have been tweets, for their brevity, conciseness, frankness and humour," he added.

The Vatican launched the Latin section of its website in 2008 under Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI, a keen advocate of the language, which is still used for the Holy See's most important official documents.

Knowledge of Latin was an unexpected asset for Italian journalist Giovanna Chirri, who had what was no doubt the scoop of her career in February 2013 when Benedict announced his retirement in Latin - and she was the only reporter who understood him.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
Read more on:    roman catholic church  |  twitter  |  social networks

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

De Allende's star burns bright
Boks were 'in a dark space'
Pacific island teams singled out for rough tactics?
Ireland favourites but France bullish
Traffic Alerts

It is always easier to notice the faults in others rather than face our own. Focusing too much on the perfect and ideal scenario...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.