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"Who washes the washer" in Latin

Latin Language Asked by Robyn on January 2, 2021

The machine that washes my clothes has somehow itself become unclean. How to clean it is a question for some other forum, but I am reminded of the saying "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes".

How would I say in Latin "who washes the washer?"

2 Answers

Quis lavabit ipsam lavatoriam (machinam)?

Firstly, "to wash" is lavare. Note that the verb custodiet is in fact a future tense, so following that, we get here lavabit.

As for "washer", it can be translated as machina lavatoria, "washing machine".
Given that it needs to be in the accusative as it is the direct object - this prevents ambiguity with respect to any inflection of lavatorium - I think you can safely omit machina so as to better mimic the classic saying. Just like in Italian one says lavatrice without specifying macchina.

Finally, if you want to be really clear and include machinam, note that in Latin word order is quite free, thus while machinam lavatoriam would be the usual order, I swapped the two words because I believe it sounds nicer.

Correct answer by Vincenzo Oliva on January 2, 2021

Vincenzo already gave you the Latin for “washing machine,” but since you asked for the “washer,” I would like to suggest:

Quis lavabit ipsum lavatorem?

OK, lavator is a word I made up, but it turns out it's actually attested. (The only attestation is apparently in the Philoxenus glossary, an obscure Latin–Greek dictionary which probably dates back to late antiquity and survived in a single medieval manuscript, so that's not very reassuring, but in any event the word is regularly formed and everybody should understand it immediately.)

Answered by Sebastian Koppehel on January 2, 2021

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