Homo trium literarum

Homo trium literarum (man of three letters) is a synonym for thief in the 1922 edition of Roget’s thesaurus. The latin word for thief is fur, hence the pedantic periphrase. The only record I find of it ever being used was by Wedderburn, the British Solicitor-General against Benjamin Franklin, in front of the Privy Council:

I hope, my Lords, he exclaimed, with thundering voice and vehement beating of his fist on the cushion before him – I hope, my Lords, you will mark and brand the man, for the honour of this country, of Europe, and of mankind… He has forfeited all the respect of societies and of men. Into what companies will he hereafter go with an unembarrassed face, or the honest intrepidity of virtue? Men will watch him with a jealous eye; they will hide their papers from him, and lock up their escritoirs. He will henceforth esteem it a libel to be called a man of letters; homo trium literarum (i.e., fur, thief!).

Franklin had made public letters from the governor of Massachusetts, where the latter urged the British government to take draconian measures against the colonists.

That said, with so many CEOs and CFOs implicated in corporate embezzlement, this quaint expression might be overdue for a revival…

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2 Responses to Homo trium literarum

  1. Skadi meic Beorh says:

    Franklin had urged, or the governor of Mass?

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