Dusty Phrases

Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find a phrase below, in one ancient language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.For other examples, visit HERE:



Lectio difficilior potior


The more difficult reading is the stronger

This Latin phrase concerns textual interpretation. The general idea is that if you’re presented with two different wordings for an ancient document, and you do not know which of the two was the *original* wording, then the weird wording is more likely to be original than the less weird one. The instinct of a scribe is to make things less weird over time, not more weird. From wiki:

Lectio difficilior potior (Latin for “the more difficult reading is the stronger”) is a main principle of textual criticism. Where different manuscripts conflict on a particular reading, the principle suggests that the more unusual one is more likely the original. The presupposition is that scribes would more often replace odd words and hard sayings with more familiar and less controversial ones, than vice versa. Lectio difficilior potior is an internal criterion, which is independent of criteria for evaluating the manuscript in which it is found, and that it is as applicable to manuscripts of a roman courtois or a classical poet as it is to a biblical text. The principle was one among a number that became established in early 18th-century text criticism, as part of attempts by scholars of the Enlightenment to provide a neutral basis for discovering an urtext that was independent of the weight of traditional authority.

According to Paolo Trovato, who cites as source Sebastiano Timpanaro, the principle was first mentioned by Jean Leclerc in 1696 in his Ars critica. It was also laid down by Johann Albrecht Bengel, as “proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua”, in his Prodromus Novi Testamenti Graeci Rectè Cautèque Adornandi, 1725, and employed in his Novum Testamentum Graecum, 1734. It was widely promulgated by Johann Jakob Wettstein, to whom it is often attributed.