As a foreign word (an inflected pronoun in Latin) quorum is a Latin genitive plural of the relative pronoun qui (cognate English who) and means literally ‘of whom’ or ‘whose.’ The only English plural is quorums. Quora is not Latin and is not an English plural form. Eschew such a plural. Shun it as a dowager clad in black bombazine might view, through her tortoise-shell lorgnette, a beetle defecating on her orchid corsage.
Quorum began in English at the end of the fourteenth century as part of a medieval Latin sentence at the start of court documents or statements by a commission. A quorum listed the number of appointed or ordained persons who had to be present during deliberations and subsequent statements of formal bodies for such statements to bear the force of law, at first with councils of justices of the peace in Norman England. It appeared in initial Latin sentences which began, let us say, with a list of the names of two necessarily present justices, followed by this Latin: quorum vos duos esse volumus ‘of which we wish [and command] that you two be [necessary and present.’] In other words, for the council to be legislatively potent, to issue a legal judgment or command, these two members, this quorum, had to be present.
Quorums were instituted to prevent an unrepresentative small number of committee members from acting in the name of a much larger body, to stop a minority of group members from voting against a majority.
But I also think there seeped into the pompous political assemblies of later European councils knowledge of the quorums required in many religions in order for prayer or religious conduct to proceed. I think especially a knowledge of the Jewish minyan was known by politicians and they wanted the prestige of religious quorums to rub off on their less noble political shenanigans.
A minyan ( Hebrew מִנְיָן ) is a quorum of ten Jewish adults required for a religious obligation such as public prayer. In modern Judaism a minyan can mean the prayer service itself. The triliteral Hebrew verbal root is maneh מנה ‘to count, to number.’ Its cognate in Aramaic mene ‘numbered,’ appears famously at Belshazzar's Feast in the biblical “writing on the wall” in the Book of Daniel 5:25.
The Yiddish proverb suggests that one does not get too pompous but rather maintains a bisseluh humility: don't get caught up in your status in the community, but rather your essential piety. Are there other meanings to this Yiddish saying? Please let me know at the e-address given at the bottom of this column.
The Most Renowned Minyan?
The original number needed for a minyan was 12, said to derive from the traditional twelve tribes of Israel. Some say the 12 Apostles of Jesus constituted a minyan or quorum permitting many Jewish rituals to be performed. Some say Jesus, as rabbi, chose an itinerant minyan to accompany him during his travels and travails in earthly ministry.
Some Uses of Quorum in Latin, with text and my translation in rubric (red letters)
To lessen the oddness of the word quorum and show its common, homey Latin use, I present below sample Latin sentences with translation. Roman orators and lawyers like Cicero loved the orotund sound of the word quorum and so it appears frequently in Cicero ’s court speeches.
C. Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico (The Gallic War)
hominum milia decem, undique coegit, et omnes clientes obaeratosque suos, quorum magnum numerum habebat. . .
[he] drew together from all quarters to the court, all his vassals to the number of ten thousand persons; and led together to the same place all his dependents and debtor-bondsmen, of whom he had a great number;
quorum garrulitas si patienter accipitur,
whose chattiness if patiently accepted…
quorum per ripas nebuloso lumine marcent . . . flores.
Upon whose riverbanks in the dim light flowers wither. . .
Quæque ipse misserrima vidi, et quorum pars magna fui.
All of which misery I saw, a great part of which I was.
Haut facile emergunt quorum virtutibus opstat res angusta domi.
It is not easy for men to rise whose good qualities dire childhood poverty thwarts.
This is a learned adjective used more often in England than elsewhere. A quorate assembly counts the number of attending members requisite to conduct official business.
Having concluded what I have to tell you about quorum, now therefore I declare this prelection adjourned sine die.
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copyright © 2013 William Gordon Casselman
French Canadian Translation Services
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