Pace Mr Hancock, nothing about this small and unpleasant virus thing is ‘abundantly clear’.”  – Rod Liddle in The Spectactor, 11 April 2020.

I wonder if most readers know what that word pace means?  It’s Latin, used (often ironically) in English to mean “by leave of”, or “in spite of” or “with due deference to the views of” [someone specified]. It’s usually written rather than spoken. Many of us, though, read with what’s called “subvocal articulation” – hearing the words as we read them. (This, by the way, is an important faculty for any writer, and I sometimes wonder whether the authors of the sentences I often read have ever heard them in their heads like that.) How do we subvocally hear pace?

On the odd occasions when the word is enunciated aloud, it’s confused with the church Latin pace meaning “(in) peace”, as in “requiescat in pace”. Liddle quite correctly italicises it, as it is a foreign word. Because it is rarely uttered, and so not in the domain of common speech, those daring enough to say the word aloud tend to assume that the church (i.e. Italian) form is correct. It’s therefore pronounced in the Italian way with the “c” sounded as “ch” (“pah-chay”). I’ve heard a learned clergyman and a prominent arts administrator pronounce it that way.

But this is wrong. We come up against a distinction here between ecclesiastical and legal Latin.  A. J. Bliss in A Dictionary of Foreign Words & Phrases in Current English, 1966, gives three possible modes of Latin pronunciation, “traditional”, “Italian”, and “Reformed” (or “Classical”). The last is the “public school” system introduced about 1900; it is artificial and pseudo-scientific: “wany, weedy, weeky”.) The second has strong ecclesiastical and medieval connotations and very specific spheres of application. The first is the “natural” mode, in which “both vowels and consonants are pronounced as in English.” It is the usage of English legal Latin, and of the older Universities. The legal context is suggested by the implication that the remarks governed by pace can be construed as relating to, or having an effect on another person’s opinion.

Hence, pace should be pronounced like other Latin tags, that is, with consonants and vowels anglicised: “pay-see”. To ensure that it is distinguished from other words spelled “pace” it ought perhaps to be written “pace” (though context usually helps). The fact that it’s often italicized seems only to encourage the ecclesiastical as opposed to the legal pronunciation. (Pace in this sense is not in the O.E.D., but is in the Oxford English Reference Dictionary. Bliss cites the Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases, 1892, and the New English Dictionary Supplement, 1933; it is included, with pronunciation, in Chambers.)

While we’re on the subject, another confusing foreign term is Viz., which is often muddled with vis-à-vis. The latter is French, and means ‘opposite’ or “in opposition to”, whereas “viz.” is an old-fashioned short form of the very old-fashioned Latin “videlicet” = “that is to say”, which no one can be expected to know how to pronounce. The emphasis should be on the second syllable, a long “e”, and the vowels thoroughly anglicised, the “c” soft, as with pace. But you’re unlikely to need that information.

On the subject of “pace”, a quite different word, a common noun with the more usual sense of “step” or “speed”: a whole new construction has appeared in the last year or two: the adverbial phrase “at pace” is to be found everywhere. It has come accompanied by “at scale”, equally new, equally unnecessary surely, and almost as ubiquitous. There is a parallel with “at speed”, a rather more common formulation. Are the incomers derived from that? Where do these innovations come from? Why does everyone decide to adopt them as though they had always been around?