Later, Cato the Elder recommended that Romans “save carefully goat, sheep, cattle, and all other dung.


Does this mean goat's, sheep's, cattle's and all other animals' dung?

  • 2
    Yes, you've got it.
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 3:26

1 Answer 1


This is an interesting question, which illustrates both the difficulty of translation and some characteristic English-language patterns.

In the original Latin from which this is translated, Caprinum, ovillum, bubulum, item ceterum stercus, Cato employs adjectives modifying stercus:

  • caprinum, “of or pertaining to goats”
  • ovillum, “of or pertaining to sheep”
  • bubulum, “of or pertaining to cows or cattle”

These align comfortably with the following adjective ceterum, “other”.

We have adjectives with approximately these meanings in English—caprine, ovine, bovine—but they are pretty much confined to scientific and technical writing and don’t really suit Cato’s straightforward style. We also have adjectives like sheepish and goatish and could build cowish by analogy; but sheepish and goatish have very different meanings today, and cowish would stand out as a coinage—again, not suitable to Cato’s style.

So the Loeb translator elects the natural way to express this in English, which is to employ attributive nouns: goat dung, sheep dung, cattle dung. And, following Cato's pattern, he eliminates repetition by dropping all but the last dung: goat, sheep, cattle dung.

So far, so good. But now he's got a problem. Other can act as a noun; but in front of a noun it is always understood as an adjective. Consequently, following Cato's literal pattern creates an awkward non-parallelism: noun, noun, noun, and adjective ... and that odd pattern trips you up. It leaves you suspended between the ordinary meaning (Cato's meaning) of other as an adjective and the implied meaning of other as a noun meaning “other animal”.

My own inclination would be to ignore Cato's structure, which cannot be gracefully matched in English, and go for a straightforward expression of the meaning, which doesn’t really depend on an adjectival sense for ceterum:

Carefully save the dung of goats, sheep, cattle and anything else. OR
Carefully save goat dung, sheep dung, cattle dung, and any other dung. OR
Carefully save your dung—goat, sheep, cattle or anything else.

As the Duchess says, “Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.”

  • How about "Carefully save caprine, ovine, bovine, and all other waste."? Maybe not graceful or commonly heard, but I just wanted to offer it for curiosity's sake. Compare with "Quickly eat yellow, blue, pink, and all other jellybeans.".
    – Epanoui
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 15:39

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