Saturday 6 January 2024

What is Latin for ‘Bicycle’?

1) duae rotae
Found on a sign found in Portugal Place, Cambridge, UK.

Bicycles left here will be destroyed.
Cambridge Duae Rotae Sign, taken by me in 2012.
Incidentally, the Greek text is a little wonky: first of all, there are a few Roman letters masquerading as Greek ones, and secondly ληφθέντες is the aorist past participle of λαμβάνω not λείπω (it should read λειφθέντες).

And although the Greek for bicycle, δύο κύκλοι (two wheels), does get the sense across, but I would have preferred ποδήλατον, which is akin to the modern Greek word ποδήλατο, which etymologically refers to the movement of feet rather than anything to do with wheels. Modern Greek does have a word for 'two wheels' (δίκυκλο) but it refers to a scooter not a bicycle.
2) birota
Not quite a postmodern neologism, but in the past it referred to a two-wheeled vehicle pulled by donkeys; in my opinion it is the better term for a bike.

From a passage on the popularity of bicycles in Münster, found in a Latin city guidebook: 
   Birotarum magnam vim omnes qui Monasterium veniunt mirantur; etenim cum civium numerus vix 280 000 excedat, iidem scilicet cives 500 000 birotas habent. Fateor cum primum Monasterii degerem nulla fere antea consuetudine birotae contracta, indigne tulisse me quoque ad usum birotae propter manifestas et apertas commoditates adduci. At cum paulo post animadverti non solum pueros puellasque eis uti sed etiam viros graves atque matres familias, coepi insuescere, praesertim cum hanc rem saluti atque pigritiae depellendae egregie conducere expertus perspicerem.

All those who come to Münster marvel at the great force of bicycles; for although the number of citizens hardly exceeds 280,000, those same citizens own 500,000 bicycles. I confess that when I first spent time in Münster and had little prior experience with using a bicycle, I resented having to use a bicycle in spite of its open and clear advantages. But a little later, when I noticed that not only were boys and girls using them but also serious men and mothers with families, I began to get used to it, especially since I had well observed the advantage of using this thing for the sake of health and uprooting laziness.
Helgus Nikitinski, De laudibus Monasterii Westphaliae metropolis (Naples: in aedibus La Scuola di Pitagora, 2012), p. 142. My translations.