Not sure if this is the appropriate place to pose this question, but apparently we don't have a Latin Stackexchange...

The motto of Birkbeck College in London is "In nocte consilium". However I have seen widely differing interpretations of this phrase. The Wikipedia page cites a web page from a department of the college (now dead link), stating it means "Study by night". However a page on Wikipedia states that this phrase means "Tomorrow is a new day", which I don't see how could be possibly connected to the previous translation. And then on a page from Wikiproverbs, meanings like "An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening." are listed, which seem to be completely contrary to the first translation.

Finally, on the page http://distichalatina.blogspot.com/2012/01/in-nocte-consilium.html, a whole passage is displayed, stating:

In Nocte Consilium

Consilium in tenebris capias et nocte profunda:

Humanis obstat sensibus alma dies.


Before thou bring thy Workes to Light,

Consider on them, in the Night.

Which I find most plausible.

How shall this phrase be interpreted in English exactly? Surely a college that adopts this motto should have a clear idea about what it means before doing so? However, Googling doesn't reveal any official information on it given by the college...

  • 1
    I think most people would say Tomorrow is a new day is the best (or at least, most common) equivalent. The original Latin probably had more the sense of Night is the mother of counsel (i.e. - don't make momentous decisions hastily, sleep on it first). You'd expect a place of learning to endorse the idea that people should be careful and considered in their decision-making. Dec 10, 2015 at 17:31
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    Why don't you ask the college?
    – user140086
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:50
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    @FumbleFingers The opening words on Birkbeck's web-site say it all: Birkbeck is London's only specialist provider of evening university study, offering part-time and full-time courses by evening study at all levels. (It so happens that my son is a PhD student there - though, in his case, a mature full-timer). It seems almost certain to me that the motto has something to do with the evening-study specialisation.
    – WS2
    Dec 10, 2015 at 19:23
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    @WS2: I think that must be right. When I was guest speaker in a Birkbeck applied linguistics seminar back in 2002 it was an evening class. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but it makes sense of the motto, and it makes sense that a school started to train mechanics would have evening classes for workingmen. Not something I knew before; thanks. Dec 11, 2015 at 0:42
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    I've walked past Birkbeck College many times, and the crescent moon in place of the dot over the 'i' on its signs might be a clue. And apart from variations in how 'consilium' might be translated, 'in nocte' must surely be 'in the night' or 'by night', so translations such as 'Tomorrow is a new day' are simply whimsical. Dec 11, 2015 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


In Nocte Consilium
Counsel in the night (Judgment at night)

Consilium in tenebris capias et nocte profunda:
You should* take counsel (Consider your judgment) in the darkness and in the deep night (late at night)

Humanis obstat sensibus alma dies.
The nurturing day is a hindrance to human perception (understanding).

English has the idiom "Sleep on it," meaning withhold immediate judgment, but it lacks the notion of active consideration at night.

*The verb of the main clause is second person, present tense, subjuctive mood, active voice -- the so-called jussive subjunctive. It expresses an exhortation or command.

  • Note also the emblem of the college, with its lamps/candles (for presumably burning the midnight oil !) and the owl, symbol of wisdom since the time of Minerva's worship as goddess. [A porch way of the college on Malet Street shows][1] "Aladdin"-type lamps, rather than candles, in relief with the owl. [1]:google.co.uk/maps/@51.5220476,-0.1309286,3a,40.3y,55.07h,91.22t/…
    – MikeW
    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:10

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