Imputavi, Computavi, Putavi.

Aug 31, 2023

Imputavi, Computavi, Putavi. —

I accounted. I calculated. I pondered.

The Latin puto, putare, used in the literal sense, means “to cut”. It was ancient even to Romans — coming from the Proto-Indo-European “pew,” which had similar semantics. Literally used, it described the act of trimming or pruning trees.

But the Romans commonly used it figuratively, where it means to think, to judge, to ponder, to reckon, to settle, to purify. In fact, in Classical Latin, it rarely means to trim.

The generalization possibly comes from metaphorically clearing away and pruning the mind. Achieving mental clarity. Simplification via trimming unnecessary details. A business account was said to be putari (to be adjusted), where the sum was pura (net) (from Varro, who investigated the etymology of the word sometime around 50 BC).

I put together this phrase to describe my personal feedback loop for getting better at things: Imputavi, computavi, putavi.

  • I keep a detailed account of the things I do. Work, health, reading, writing, and everything in between. Imputavi combines the stem putavi with the prefix “in-“ (in or into), meaning something like “to reckon against,” “to ascribe,” and “to attribute.”
  • I calculate and aggregate the data — daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly (depending on the task). Computavi combines the stem with ‘com-‘ (with or together). To reckon together, or in modern terms, “to compute.” This is where we get the word computer. It’s hard to make sense of a single data point, but trends are more prominent in the aggregate.
  • Finally, putavi itself. I ponder about the data. Trim away the noise, leaving the signal. Settle the accounts.

What’s measured gets managed. We’re quick to realize this in a business sense, but it’s equally important (if not more) for everything else.

Some other interesting etymology:

  • dispute — from disputo, disputare: dis- (to take apart)  -puto (ideas)
  • repute — from reputo, reputare: re- (again) -puto (to think)
  • amputate — from amputo, amputare: am(bi)- (around) -puto (to cut)
  • deputy — from deputo, deputare: de- (from) -puto (to regard)