De vulgari eloquentia (II, vii, 1-7)

(1) Grandiosa modo vocabula sub prelato stilo digna consistere, successiva nostre progressionis provincia lucidari expostulat. (1) The next section of our progress through this subject now requires me to comment on vocabulary, which should be sublime, and therefore worthy to contribute to the style defined above.
(2) Testamur proinde incipientes non minimum opus esse rationis discretionem vocabulorum habere, quoniam perplures eorum maneries inveniri posse videmus. Nam vocabulorum quedam puerilia, quedam muliebria, quedam virilia, et horum quedam silvestria, quedam urbana; et eorum que urbana vocamus quedam pexa et lubrica, quedam irsuta et reburra sentimus; inter que quidem, pexa atque irsuta sunt illa que vocamus grandiosa, lubrica vero et reburra vocamus illa que in superfluum sonant: quemadmodum in magnis operibus quedam magnanimitatis sunt opera, quedam fumi; ubi licet in superficie quidam consideretur adscensus, ex quo limitata virtutis linea prevaricatur, bone rationi, non adscensus, sed per altera declivia ruina constabit. (2) I shall begin by admitting that classifying words is not the least demanding of the tasks that exercise our reason, since we can plainly see that many varieties are to be found. For some words can be seen as infantile, some as womanish, some as virile; and of the virile some are thought rustic and some urbane; and of those we call urbane some are combed and glossy, some shaggy and unkempt. Of all these it is the combed and the shaggy that we call sublime, while calling glossy and unkempt those that have a superfluity of resonance. In the same way, among major enterprises, some reveal greatness of spirit and some are smoke; and although to the superficial observer they may seem to offer a way upwards, yet, as soon as they step aside from the line laid down by virtue, it will be clear to the sensible that they lead not upwards but to a headlong fall down the opposite slope.
(3) Intuearis ergo, lector: attende, quantum ad exaceranda egregia verba te cribrare oportet; nam, si vulgare illustre consideres, quo tragice debent uti poete vulgares, ut superius dictum est, quos informare intendimus, sola vocabula nobilissima in cribro tuo residere curabis. (3) You should pay careful attention, then, reader, to the work you have in store in order to sift out the words of superior quality from the rest; for if you concentrate on the illustrious vernacular, which tragic poets in the vernacular should use, as explained above (and it is tragic poets that I seek to train), you will take care that only the noblest of words remain in your sieve.
(4) In quorum numero, nec puerilia, propter sui simplicitatem, ut mamma et babbo, mate et pate, nec muliebria, propter sui mollitiem, ut dolciada et placevole, nec silvestria, propter hausteritatem, ut greggia et cetra, nec urbana lubrica et reburra, ut femina et corpo, ullo modo poteris conlocare. Sola etenim pexa irsutaque urbana tibi restare videbis, que nobilissima sunt et membra vulgaris illustris. (4) And among these you will not be able to make any room at all for infantile words (such as mamma [mummy] and babbo [daddy], or mate [mummy] and pate [daddy]), because of their simplicity; or for the womanish (like dolciada [sweetened] or placevole [pleasant]), because of their yielding quality; or for the rustic (like greggia [flock] and cetra [lyre]), because of their roughness; or for the urbane, smooth or unkempt, like femina [woman] or corpo [body]. So you will see that all you have left are urbane words that are combed or shaggy; these are the most noble, and belong to the illustrious vernacular.
(5) Et pexa vocamus illa, que trisillaba, vel vicinissima trisillabitati, sine aspiratione, sine accentu acuto vel circumflexo, sine z vel x duplicibus, sine duarum liquidarum geminatione vel positione inmediate post mutam, dolata quasi, loquentem cum quadam suavitate relinquunt: ut amore, donna, disio, vertute, donare, letitia, salute, securitate, defesa. (5) And I define as 'combed' those words that, having three syllables (or very close to that number), and neither aspiration, nor acute or circumflex accent, nor doubled z or x, nor twinned liquid consonants, nor such consonants placed immediately after a mute, instead seem, as it were, polished, and leave a certain sweetness in the mouths of those who utter them: such as amore [love], donna [lady], disio [desire], virtute [virtue], donare [give], letitia [joy], salute [health], securtate [safety] and defesa [defense].
(6) Irsuta quoque dicimus omnia preter hec, que vel necessaria, vel ornativa videntur vulgaris illustris. Et necessaria quidem appellamus que campsare non possumus; ut quedam monosillaba, ut sì, no, me, te, se, a, e, i, o, u, interiectiones, et alia multa. Ornativa vero dicimus omnia polisillaba que mixta cum pexis pulcram faciunt armoniam compaginis, quamvis asperitatem habeant adspirationis, et accentus, et duplicium, et liquidarum, et prolixitatis: ut terra, honore, speranza, gravitate, alleviato, impossibilità, impossibilitate, benaventuratissimo, inanimatissimamente, disaventuratissimamente, sovramagnificentissimamente, quod endecasillabum est. Posset adhuc inveniri plurium sillabarum vocabulum, sive verbum; sed quia capacitatem nostrorum omnium carminum superexcedit, rationi presenti non videtur obnoxium, sicut est illud honorificabilitudinitate, quod duodena perficitur sillaba in vulgari et in gramatica tredena perficitur in duobus obliquis. (6) By 'shaggy' I mean all words, except those defined above, that seem either necessary or decorative when used in the illustrious vernacular. And I call necessary all those words that we simply cannot do without, such as monosyllables like sì [yes], no [no], me [me], te [you], se [him], a [at], e [and], i [the], o [or], ù [where], as well as exclamations and many others. As for 'decorative', I so call all polysyllabic words that, when mixed with combed ones, make the harmony of the whole structure beautiful, even though they may have some harshness of aspiration, or accent, or doubled consonants, or liquid ones, or may simply be too long: these are words like terra [land], honore [honour], speranza [hope], gravitate [weight], alleviato [alleviated], impossibilità [impossibility], impossibilitate [impossibility], benaventuratissimo [most fortunately], inanimatissimamente [most inanimately], disaventuratissimamente [most unfortunately], and sovramagnificentissimamente [super-magnificently], which last is a hendecasyllable all on its own. A word or term with even more syllables might still be found, but, since it would exceed the limits of all the lines that we use, it would not be very useful for our present purpose: one such is the well-known honorificabilitudinitate, which is twelve syllables long in the vernacular, and reaches thirteen in two oblique cases that exist in gramatica.
(7) Quomodo autem pexis irsuta huiusmodi sint armonizanda per metra, inferius instruendum relinquimus. Et que iam dicta sunt de fastigiositate vocabulorum, ingenue discretioni sufficiant. (7) As for the question of how shaggy words of this type are to be reconciled with combed ones within a metrical form, I shall postpone instruction on that point until later. And now let what I have said about the sublimity of words suffice for those with innate discernment.