When please ceases to be polite
The use of sis in early Latin
Latin sis, contracted from si uis (‘if you wish’) and commonly attached to
imperatives in early Latin, is usually translated as ‘please’, but some scholars have seen it as urgent rather than polite. Here,
an examination of all the examples of sis in early Latin (chiefly Plautus and Terence) demonstrates that it is
neither polite nor urgent and indeed has no function in the politeness system at all: its function is as a focus-marking clitic
particle. This role was only one-step in the long process of development undergone by sis, from an ‘if you wish’
offering genuine alternatives to ‘please’ (at a time before the earliest surviving evidence), then by weakening to the
focus-marking particle (in early Latin) and then to disappearance (in Classical Latin).
- 2.Group i: Potentially polite
- 3.Group ii: Rude
- 4.Group iii: Neither
- 5.Ironic/sarcastic politeness?
- 6.Other politeness-system explanations
- 7.A focus-marking clitic particle
- 8.Examples of sis excluded from the initial corpus of data