My first computer was a laptop called kooBi. It was an iBook. Its accompanying iPod was called doPi. It was great, went to Spain, and got a lot of stickers on it. Then poor kooBi aged and got tired. The disc burner stopped working, and that kind of feature is important to me, so I got a new one, a MacBook which I named McBook. Its iPod shuffle sidekick was called McPod. For graduation in 2008, I was given an iPod Touch named iToca, which is still with me. McBook‘s life was tragically cut short when it drowned in the summer of 2009, leading me to buy a MacBook Pro. I’m very attached to my laptops, the first 2 are living in a box in California, and I’ve taken this new one with me everywhere (Korea, Walnut Creek, Germany). But! It doesn’t have a proper name.
After 3 years of companionship, it’s still the new guy, and there’s some kind of smugness that comes with the title Pro that I do not enjoy associating myself with. So… back in 2009 I covered up the MacBook Pro label with a sticker that no one understands, because it’s in Latin. The label says Vade Mecum.
Front of Vade Mecum Front Detail on Vade Mecum
Vade Mecum [vɑdeɪ meɪkum] is a Latin phrase that literally means go with me. Cum means with, related to Spanish con, and when people graduate from college with praise, they receive their degree cum laude. Vade means Walk! or Go! It is the imperative (command) form of the verb vadere, which means to walk. This root is found in evade, pervade, invade, invasion, and wade (as in wading pool).
Vade Mecum has been used since the 1600s to describe something that goes with you. When I learned this term, I was told it was used by members of religious orders in olden times to refer to the small book of prayers which they always carried. Apparently the more general term is a girdle book, referring to the girdle where monks from the 1400s on would keep their books safe and dry. If you want to get into medieval bookbinding, there’s quite a lot of information about girdle books. Back to the point though, the first citation for Vade Mecum in the OED is from 1629, and since then the term has been used for secular handbooks or pocket reference, often made for a specific group of people.
Speaking metaphorically, my laptop is my modern-day vade mecum, an object I keep by my side at all times for reference and solace in a troubled world. I feel a little blasphemous at times, knowing the religious beginnings of the term, but given the amount of time spent together, the laptop may be an apt cousin to a monk’s prayer book.
To be honest, I forget about the sticker a lot, but people seem to notice it and wonder about it when I bring it out in public… probably because cum is part of the word. (For the record, word historians have not found a link between the Latin conjunction cum, and the sexual term. Personally, I tend to call the laptop my computrix more than anything else, but when I am reminded of the sticker, I am elated by its literal meaning and pleased by its modern-day application.April 17, 2012