Semper Cogitare et Interrogare Omnia

“Always think, and question everything.”

I admire the elegant beauty of the Latin language. Something about it appeals deeply to my sense of curiosity. And to my appreciation for its ability to express powerful ideas with remarkable brevity. Despite its clean simplicity, though, I cannot seem to remember much of it. The title of this post, for example, required some effort; I had to prompt my memory to recall Latin phrases. Even with prompting, I had to correct what I remembered, with help from the internet.

As I struggle to recall even the cleanest, sharpest, shortest Latin phrases, I realize how modern humankind insists on abbreviating even the simplest statements. Members of the U.S. Marine Corps tend to abbreviate their motto, Semper Fidelis, as Semper Fi; as if the more complete version were too complex for their masses to comprehend. It shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. The shorter version strikes me as an offensive bastardization of pure elegance. But my inability to remember even phrases I find beautiful and exceptionally inspirational probably should spark some sense of humility in me; maybe saying Semper Fi is better than empty silence where words were intended.

This morning, as I contemplate various Latin phrases, it occurs to me that the English translations of Latin phrases are, in many cases, just as simple as the Latin. Yet I equate Latin with simple elegance. Why is that, I wonder? I consider these pairings:

Semper fidelis Always faithful
Caveat emptor Let the buyer beware
Compos mentis In control of the mind
Ex libris From the library
Sine qua non Without which there is nothing

No, I was wrong. English does not necessarily possess the unique simplicity of Latin. Then, of course, I know virtually no Latin. I “speak” it in abbreviated phrases, translated sufficiently to convey a concept. Not necessarily translated fully in a context like the English version with which I am familiar.

Curiosity is a gift. Thinking is a gift. Questioning everything is a gift. Latin is a gift, if only we allow it to spark our interest in things we might ordinarily consider mundane.


Tips for self-forgiveness are shallow. They do not recognize impossibilities. They do not acknowledge the real world. Self-compassion is possible and, indeed, desirable. Self-compassion helps one deal with the real world and helps those around him augment it. But self-forgiveness is a myth told by people who’ve never had to face the impossible. It’s like living one’s life over after death has eliminated every opportunity to experience life. It just cannot happen. Would that it could. Would that the damage done by mistakes, both accidents and errors, could be erased. But they live on and on and on.


Last night, during the height of the lightning storm, I felt the urge to go outside and climb on the deck railing. I wanted to reach into the sky, take hold of a lightning bolt, and follow it into the upper atmosphere. Of course, I did not follow that urge. But I wanted to. I wanted to feel the fierce wind. I wanted to feel it propel raindrops and hailstones against my face as it launched me skyward, right in the center of the lightning bolt. Grabbing lightning bolts, of course, would not permit me to “feel” anything like rain and hail and the brilliant blue flashes of jagged  electrical currents connecting me to clouds. But my curiosity was high last night. Curiosity of that kind is not a gift. It is more like a jury sentence carried out by an executioner. Curiosity of that kind can be fury by another name. Fury with oneself. Yet it passes, just like the storm. I haven’t looked outside to see whether that fierce weather took down any trees or branches, but I know the storm is gone.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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