I read in Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1.486 (in a recent French edition) :

"Da mihi perpetua, genitor karissime"
(O dearest father, allow me to enjoy perpetual maidenhood !)

"karissime" isn't an error : some manuscripts give this surprising spelling, some others having the expected "carissime" spelling.

Did the Greek word κάρα somehow influenced the Latin orthography ? I don't understand why the letter K appears in this word.

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    Did you look it up in Anderson 1982 (Teubner)? Also cf. Lindsay 1894: 6-7 "Velius Longus, first cent. A. D., speaks of some sticklers of old usages in his own age, who in their correspondence always spelt karissime with k, not c." See also Weiss 2009/2011, fn.18, esp. "[t]here are sporadic cases of K before A in inscriptions even into the Imperial period." Weiss also argues that this distribution (K+A, Q+back vowel, C+front vowel) was inherited into Latin from Etruscan. – Alex B. Mar 14 '14 at 23:38
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    Also "Desgleichen wurde das Zeichen K in historischer Zeit in der erdrückenden Mehrzahl der Fälle vor a angewandt, eine Gewohnheit, die auch die römischen Grammatiker als Archaismus verzeichnen" (Sommer and Pfister 1977: 31). – Alex B. Mar 14 '14 at 23:50
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    And Leuman 1977: 10 (8c) adds the following: "Das k vor a erhielt sich fast nur in Woertern des Amtstills, besonders in den Abkuerzungen K(aeso) K(alendae), auch k(alumniae) k(aussa) Lex Rubr.; sonst etwa aede Kastorus D 264; vgl. auch Quint. 1, 7, 10; spaeter fast nur mehr in Namen Karus (Thes. Onom. s. Carus) und in karissimus der Grabschriften (Diehl Chr. III p. 494), auch in kaput (s. Thes. s. caput)." – Alex B. Mar 15 '14 at 0:06

The old K spelling, which was the original way of spelling [k] before [a], was retained in a few words in Latin, most notably Kalendae. Evidently in some words there was variation. Why this was the case for certain words and not others, I don't know.

  • Thank you for the explanation. With the help of "Alex B." and your answer I understand a little better the story of the "K", "C" letters in Latin. – suizokukan Mar 16 '14 at 21:16

This gets explained beautifully in A.C. Moorhouse's "The Triumph Of Alphabet".

The Etruscans adopted Western Greek alphabet but then their scribes got lazy and started writing kappa without the vertical line, so it was like a modern day angular parenthesis.

The Falliscans, on the other hand, adopted (Western) Greek alphabet verbatim.

So when their cousins the Latins started to write, they expanded on both precedents. "Angular bracket" K got cursive-ized into "C" (was put in the place of gamma for in Etruscan "G" sound was an allophone of "K"). Greek "kappa" and "qoph" were imported as well - so they now had 3 letters to represent the "k" sound, when to use each?

The adopted solution was a convention: use "K" when the next sound is "a", "Q" before U/O, and "C" if next sound was E/I. Such usage was preserved in the names of those letters which survive to this day in most modern day Romance languages: ka, ce, qu.

Over time, "C" expanded its use at the expense of the other 2 until K was almost never used in full-written words. It was retained for some abreviations (as "K" for Caesar) and for a few words like "Kalendae".


The spelling karus is frequent in Latin inscriptions.There does not seem to be any obvious reason.

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