Help with a Latin phrase?

I’ve been trying to find the meaning of Inlitterati lumen fidei–which is a lyric from Wilco’s Theologians. I’ve googled, of course, but I’ve either found Latin-to-English dictionaries which tells me the literal translations, but not the proper grammar. So I know that it’s “ignorant/illiterate” “light/eye” “faithful/loyal/honest.” I’ve also found forums where peple tak lIKe thiz that claim to have translations, but it’s rather important that I get as close to the right meaning as possible.

Sorry, my latin’s a bit rusty, but this may help. First of all, fidei isn’t an adjective in this case - that would be fidi. Here it is the genitive (possessive) of fides, meaning “of trust” or “of loyalty” or “of faith”. Inlitterati is kind of a fake latin word - it doesn’t show up in most of the old dictionaries; that being said, it can be inferred to mean “ignorant”, as you said. The strange thing is, lumen and **fidei **are both nouns, but inlitterati cannot modify either of them, as the cases/gender/number don’t agree. The best I could come up with is to assume that Wilco made a mistake and thought that inlitterati (potentially a masculine genitive singular), could modify **fidei **(a feminine genitive singular). This would yield, lumen inlitterati fidei “the light of ignorant faith/belief/trust”. YMMV.

That does help, thanks. I actually want to use it in a tattoo design, but I don’t want to be like those people who get Chinese characters to mean “faith hope and beauty” and end up with “cow moon jockstrap” or something like that. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to find the exact phrase. Somebody on another site suggested that the proper Latin is Inlitteratum lumen fidei. Is that true? Does it make a difference?

I would so get cow moon jockstrap tattoo’d on the back of my neck in chinese

That would be awesome: anglos would think I was cool and asians would laugh their arses off.


Could inlitterati be a typo for inlitteratis - dative plural? The Light of Faith to the bed-ridden / ignorant?

Ok, did some more research. Inlitterati is the uncontracted form of illiterati, and is perfectly acceptable, although somewhat archaic latin. If the word is actually inlitteratum, that could modify lumen, making it “the ignorant light of faith.” For the love of Og, please don’t get a tattoo based on my translation skills. :eek:

‘Lumen fidei’ is certainly ‘the light of faith’ but inlitterati (which is archaic in any case) is either genitive singular (of the ignorant man) or nominative plural (the ignorant ones)

The double genitive seems weird to me, but is more likely to be what is going on, in a song called ‘theologians’ anyway:
‘The light of faith of the ignorant man’ (word order, of the ignorant man, the light of faith). This way it implies that the light, which is constitued of faith, is possessed by the ignorant man.

Hope that makes some sense…

It does make sense. Thank you, Daphne.

That makes sense with the rest of the lyrics.
Inlitterati Lumen Fidei
God is with us every day
That illiterate light
Is with us every night

So I thought he was trying for a pun–literally that the “illiterate light”=“faith”, plus the more grammatical meaning. So the third and fourth lines would mean “Faith is with us every night” (when God isn’t). Your translation is the most coherent translation I’ve ever seen of the line, and fits with the rest of the song perfectly.


“illiterati” lumen fedei

not “iNlitterati” (internet lyric sites have botched it)

I am looking at the lyrics from the cd booklet right now.

–plural noun Informal .
illiterate or ignorant people.

1780–90; blend of illiterate and literati

The origin quoted above may be how the word got created in English, but it’s unnecessary for Latin. As noted above, illiterati is the correct form for the masculine plural adjective of illiteratus, in turn from in- (negative prefix) + littera (letter), “unlettered.” Adjectives are often used substantivally: “unlettered person.” No need to invent based on “literati” (the same word, anyway).

[All forms attested with variation between -t- and -tt-]