At 10:16 pm -0400 16/9/01, John Cowan wrote:
>Raymond Brown scripsit:
>> So what is the supine?
>A wonderful explanation!


>But why was it called the supine?

The simple answer is that we don't know.

The Latin form in full was _supi:num uerbum_ (verb thrown backwards, verb
lying on its back, verb sloping backwards ???), usually shortened to

As far as I know, it is not attested in writing before the 4th cent. AD.

The 1st cent AD rhetorician, Quintilian, list the supine as one of _uerba
participa:lia_ (verbs which participate [in other parts of speech], i.e.
verbal forms which had noun or adjective endings, i.e. participles,
gerunds, gerundives & supines).

The earliest use of _supi:num [uerbum]_  is AFAIK found in the grammarian
Flavius Sosipater Charisius; it occurs also in the 6th cent. by the
grammarian Priscianus.   However, just to confuse the issue, these two
gentleman also call the gerund "supinum"!

Clearly it was some time before "supine" settled down just to mean just
what we now understand by the supine.

As for why it was used, I can merely guess.  The "Lewis & Short" dictionary
suggests: "perhaps because, although furnished with substantive
case-endings, it rests or falls back on the verb."  This does not convince

We know that _ca:sus_ "case" really means 'a falling' and derives from
diagrams in which the nominative was shown above a vertical line and the
'oblique cases' were shown by lines falling away from the vertical as one
'declined' (i.e. turned down through [in a clockwise direction]) the forms
of the noun.

I suspect some similar diagrams were given for verbs.  A sentence from the
13th cent. "Registrum Visitationum" of Odo, Archbishop of Rouen, reporting
on an examination of a priest on 16th March 1260, reads:
"Declinauit 'fero, fers' usque ad supinum, et tacuit."
"He 'turned through' _fero_, _fers_ as far as the supine, and fell silent".

That the same term 'declinauit' (declined) is used of the verb as it was
(and still is) traditionally used of the noun is IMO significant, as is
also the fact that the supine is the last form, i.e. right on the
horizontal, lying on its back.

I doubt very much that such diagrams were being used in the 13th cent., but
the continuing terminology suggests that such might have been used in late

But, as I say, it is only a guess on my part.

>(This is like Ladefoged's phonetics books, which explain everything
>except how to pronounce "Ladefoged".)

Tho I assume it is possible to discover this  :)

The priest BTW didn't do particularly well in the examination.


A mind which thinks at its own expense
will always interfere with language.
                     [J.G. Hamann 1760]