Hi there. I recently heard the term "omne ignotum pro magnifico est". I've seen it written with and without the 'est' and I also understand it was originally written ending with 'est' and later quoted by Conan Doyle who omitted the 'est'.
Which version is right?
“Omne ignotum pro magnifico est” is the correct quotation from Tacitus, De Vita Iulii Agricolae (Life of Agricola), chapter 30, section 4.
As for Conan Doyle, who quotes this phrase in Sherlock Holmes story 'The Red-Headed League', he omitted the verb “est” which in Latin can be often omitted.
Anyway the correct version of this quotation is just “Omne ignotum pro magnifico est”, literally meaning “Every unknown thing is taken for great /as grand“, i.e. “The unknown always passes for the marvellous”/ Everything unknown appears magnificent”.
Finally I have to tell you that Tacitus (ca. 56-120 AD) wrote such a phrase in his biographical account of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, governor of Britain from ca.77 AD to ca.83/84 AD and responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain and Scotland.
In the chapter 30 in fact Tacitus talks about Calgacus, Caledonian tribal leader, who was defeated by Julius Agricola at Mons Graupius in north-eastern Scotland, and imagines that, before the battle against the Romans at Mons Graupius, Calgacus urges his troops to fight against the Romans and says:
”Nos terrarum ac libertatis extremos recessus ipse ac sinus famae in hunc diem defendit: nunc terminus Britanniae patet, atque omne ignotum pro magnifico est" meaning:"To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain's glory has up to this time been a defence. Now, however, the furthest limits of Britain are thrown open, and the unknown always passes for the marvellous".
-OMNE (nominative neuter singular of OMNIS) = Every thing
-IGNOTUM (nominative neuter singular of the adjective IGNOTUS) = unknown
-PRO (preposition which takes the asblative case)= as/for
-MAGNIFICO ( ablative singular of MAGNIFICUS) = great/grand/ magnificent/ marvellous
-EST (3rd.person singular, present indicative of SUM, I am)= is /is taken