Bravus not brave

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Article in The Guardian, "Crooked not courageous: Adani renames Australian group Bravus, mistaking it for 'brave'", by Naaman Zhou (11/5/20):

Mining company Adani has changed its name to a Latin word that means “crooked”, “deformed”, “mercenary or assassin”, after mistakenly thinking that it meant “brave”.

The controversial mining group, which is responsible for the Carmichael coalmine in central Queensland, announced on Thursday it would change the name of its Australian operation to “Bravus”, a word identified by chief executive David Boshoff as the medieval Latin word for “courageous”.

Boshoff told the Australian Financial Review it was a good fit because thbre company “took a lot of courage to get where we are and we will stand up for what we believe in”.

However, multiple Latin experts have pointed out that “bravus” does not mean “brave” and is more accurately translated as “crooked” or “mercenary”.

Dr Christopher Bishop, from the Australian National University’s centre of classical studies, said “bravus” did not mean “brave” in either classical or medieval Latin.

“They are wrong,” he told Guardian Australia. “It would have to be something like ‘fortis’, for brave, if you are going for your classical. You know, something like ‘fortuna favet fortibus – fortune favours the brave’. That’s a schoolboy thing – everyone knows that.”

Dr Juanita Feros Ruys from the University of Sydney agreed.

“The most common Latin term for the concept of ‘brave’ would be ‘fortis’ (from where we derive ‘fortify’, ‘fortitude’) and that would appear to be the case for both classical and medieval Latin, for each of which there are many examples,” she said.

Bishop said medieval Latin was often difficult to translate, but most translations of “bravus” would, unfortunately for Adani, have negative connotations.

“It is sort of a Monty Python-Latin,” he told Guardian Australia. “It is that classic joke where you chuck an ‘-us’ on to the end of anything and call it Latin.”

Bishop said the closest relative to “bravus” was the medieval Latin word “bravo” – a noun meaning a “mercenary”, “assassin” or “sword for hire”.

“As far as I know, it [bravus] is an unattested medieval word,” he said.

“You have ‘bravo’ – meaning a mercenary, a sword for hire, a tough guy. Which is probably not what they want to associate with. The closest Adani could get is it could have meant ‘boldness’. But it is a pretty militant boldness.”

Prof Tim Parkin from the University of Melbourne said he found an entry for “bravus” in a dictionary of medieval Latin.

“It tends to be used of someone who is villainous,” he said. “A crook, or a bandit, or a cut-throat.”

According to an article from the Oxford University Press, “bravus” could be derived from either the classical Latin word “pravus” – meaning crooked, bad or depraved – or the classical Latin word “barbarus” – meaning barbaric, foreign or uncouth.

Bishop said: “Even if it is not ‘barbarus’, it could be a mispronunciation of ‘pravus’. Ps, Bs and Fs always get mixed up – it could literally be ‘pravus’, which means ‘bad, crooked, depraved’. Maybe it is ‘barbarus’ plus ‘pravus’ – meaning a depraved barbarian.”


In case you were wondering:

bravo (interj.)

"well done!," 1761, from Italian bravo, literally "brave" (see brave (adj.)). Earlier it was used as a noun meaning "desperado, hired killer" (1590s). Superlative form is bravissimo.

It is held by some philologists that as "Bravo!" is an exclamation its form should not change, but remain bravo under all circumstances. Nevertheless "bravo" is usually applied to a male, "brava" to a female artist, and "bravi" to two or more. ["Elson's Music Dictionary," 1905]

(Online Etymology Dictionary)


Uncertain. Probably from Vulgar Latin *bravus, from a fusion of Latin prāvus and barbarus. Less likely from Provençal brau (show-off), from Gaulish *bragos (compare Middle Irish breagha (modern breá) 'fine', Breton braga 'to strut'). Or perhaps borrowed from a descendant of Proto-Germanic *hrawaz (raw, uncooked). Or possibly from a root *bravus, from bravium. Borrowed into French and English as brave.

Pierre Carpentier, in an 18th-century edition of du Cange's 17th-century dictionary of medieval and modern Latin, argued Latin branus originated in a misreading of Italian and Spanish bravo. However, George Nicholson argues the opposite in a 1950 Festschrift article, namely bravo being a misreading of Latin branus, which would have the origin du Cange had originally argued for, from Old French brahaigne (barren) (see barren). Compare English gravy, possibly a misreading of French grané (stew).


One has to be a brave person indeed to venture into such a thorny thicket of etymological bravado.


Selected readings


[h.t. Chips Mackinolty]


  1. cameron said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 2:03 pm

    "Monty Python Latin" is a nice coinage. I think the more relevant traditional term is "dog Latin", rather than pig Latin.

  2. Nick Z said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 2:23 pm

    Helmut Rix argued that *brawus > Spanish, Italian bravo (it is not clear to me from the post whether bravus is actually attested in Mediaeval Latin, or whether bravo is an n-stem), is borrowed from Oscan, where bravús (acc. pl.) is attested. According to Rix, it means 'heavy' or 'strong, solid', and is the Oscan equivalent of Latin grauis 'heavy'. The semantic shift is not implausible.

    Rix, Helmut (1995). Oskisch bravús, oskisch uruvú, lateinisch urvum und ‘europäisch’ bravo. Historische Sprachforschung 108, 84-92

  3. Bloix said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 2:38 pm

    As you note, the Guardian quotes Dr Bishop as saying that in mediaeval Latin, a bravo was a mercenary, a sword for hire. But it fails to point out that until relatively recently the word had the same meaning in English. A minute or two with Google Books, for example, turns up a novel called The Bravo's Daughter, or, The Tory of Carolina: A Romance of the American Revolution, by Auguste J.H. Duganne (NY 1850) – which features a character who is what we would call a hitman.

  4. Cervantes said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 2:57 pm

    Yes, that makes sense, bravo means "fierce" in Spanish. Somehow it's become an interjection of approval in Italian, however. I assume that's why they thought it had a complimentary meaning.

  5. Cervantes said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 3:01 pm

    Also, too, I suspect that's why Native American warriors were called braves, it's a mistranslation from Spanish.

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 5:06 pm

    It's not just an "interjection of approval" in Italian. It's an ordinary adjective meaning "good [at something]" and (of children and domestic animals) "well behaved". That's presumably why people think they should shout "brava" at the end of a concert by a female musician, and "bravi" at the end of a performance by a group.

  7. Brett said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 6:31 pm

    @Bloix: You can omit “until relatively recently.” It’s still a perfectly normal English word for a mercenary or assassin, albeit often one being described in a historical or fantasy setting.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 8:20 pm

    From Joseph Farrell:

    Monitoring the abuse of Latin is a full-time job. Gross infractions even where you would least expect them. The people responsible for that link started with a perfectly correct phrase, and then evidently tried to invent one to make a similar point, and came up with a mess of barbarisms.

  9. Monscampus said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 8:27 pm

    Bravo, bravissimo – Mr Boshoff!
    I wonder how one "identifies" a word's meaning, though. Looking it up in a dictionary or asking a Roman Catholic priest? An author I translated included a few dialogues in mediaeval Latin that sounded rather strange. She told me not to worry, she had them proved by a board of priests. Well then. Yet both gentlemen are called bishop.

  10. Michael Watts said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 9:19 pm

    It’s still a perfectly normal English word for a mercenary or assassin, albeit often one being described in a historical or fantasy setting.

    Huh. I know the word, but in my mind it's pretty much restricted to the Wild West. Not sure why.

  11. Chiara Maqueda said,

    November 6, 2020 @ 10:18 pm

    Then, of course, there is POTUS, FLOTUS, SCOTUS etc

  12. Victor Mair said,

    November 7, 2020 @ 5:04 am

    From Chips Mackinolty:

    t turns out that The Guardian journalist who wrote the story, with a very non-Latin by-line, did Latin for their Higher School Certificate in New South Wales here in Australia, so immediately knew it was bogus (another -us affix!). I have been able to pass on the Language Logn link to the author via a friend. I am sure it will be liked!!

  13. Victor Mair said,

    November 7, 2020 @ 5:12 am

    I wondered about the author's name too, both because he was so knowledgeable about things Latinate, but also because of the unusual spelling of the first syllable of his given name.

  14. David Morris said,

    November 7, 2020 @ 6:50 am

    I am only aware of Naaman the Syrian commander in the Tanakh/Old Testament. What other spelling is/spellings are there?

  15. Robert Coren said,

    November 7, 2020 @ 11:37 am

    That's presumably why people think they should shout "brava" at the end of a concert by a female musician, and "bravi" at the end of a performance by a group.

    The way this is phrased suggests that what "people think" is erroneous. I wonder. In the libretto of Mozart's Don Giovanni, Lorenzo da Ponte had Leporello approve of the private orchestra's selection by saying "Bravi!", and I assume da Ponte spoke and wrote Italian like a native. (Now I think of it, that's not the only instance in that opera of "bravi" being applied to a group.)

  16. Bob Ladd said,

    November 7, 2020 @ 1:04 pm

    @Robert Coren: Thanks for the editorial comment. I had no intention of suggesting that what people think is erroneous, but you're absolutely right that it can be read that way.

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    November 7, 2020 @ 9:08 pm

    I don't know if either opinion could be called 'erroneous', and I'm not sure what would be used in Italian, but _in English_ I'd consider using 'brava' or 'bravi' pompous, and grammatically I think of 'bravo' as referring to the _performance_ (neuter), and not the performer(s).

    k_over_hbarc at

  18. vvov said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 10:00 am

    @Joseph Farrell via Dr. Mair – can you, or someone, explicate what is wrong with the Latin at that link? The only Latin I see is "(writ of) certiorari", which appears to be an established term?

  19. Robert Coren said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 10:58 am

    @Andrew Usher: Well, yes, if course it's pompous. I don't know whether I'd do it or not, if I were the kind of person who shouts anything after a concert performance.

  20. Philip Taylor said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 2:12 pm

    Vvov — et al., passim, Pro Tempore, certiorari, Id, quid pro quo, emo
    judex in causa sua,, improprium eligere vestri iudici, supra, …

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