Known Some Call is Air Am: Quote Explanation

If you’re a fan of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, you might be familiar with the phrase “Known. Some. Call. Is. Air. Am.” It’s a phonetic Latin translation of the phrase “Non sum qualis eram,” which means “I am not what I once was.”

While the meaning of the phrase is straightforward, its origin in the book is shrouded in mystery. In this article, we’ll explore the significance of this phrase, its context within the book, and what it might mean for readers.

The Origin of the Quote

The phrase “Known. Some. Call. Is. Air. Am.” appears in House of Leaves as a message from the protagonist, Johnny Truant, to his mother. Johnny is a troubled man who is haunted by his past and struggling to make sense of his present. He uses this phrase to express his feelings of disconnection from his former self.

The phrase itself is a phonetic Latin translation of the phrase “Non sum qualis eram,” which comes from a poem by the Roman poet Horace. The poem, which is called “Epistulae ad Pisones,” is a letter to a group of young poets and contains advice on how to write poetry.

The line “Non sum qualis eram” is part of a larger passage in which Horace laments his declining health and the passage of time. The phrase has become a popular saying in its own right, often used to express a sense of nostalgia or regret.

The Meaning Behind the Quote

Johnny’s use of the phrase “Known. Some. Call. Is. Air. Am.” adds an extra layer of complexity to its meaning. While the phrase “Non sum qualis eram” expresses a simple sentiment of not being what one used to be, Johnny’s version adds an element of confusion and disorientation. By breaking up the phrase into individual words and rearranging them, he creates a fragmented message that seems to defy interpretation.
In the book, Johnny follows up the phrase with the statement, “Incoherent? Yes. Entirely without meaning? I’m afraid not.” This suggests that the message is meant to be cryptic and open to interpretation, rather than meaningless.

One possible interpretation of the phrase is that it reflects Johnny’s sense of disconnection from his past. By rearranging the words and adding “Known. Some. Call. Is. Air.” before “Am,” he is perhaps trying to convey that his past self is now only partially known or remembered by him, like air that is elusive and difficult to grasp. He is acknowledging that he is not the same person he used to be, and that his identity is constantly changing and evolving.

Another interpretation is that the phrase reflects the book’s theme of shifting realities and unreliable narrators. By breaking up the phrase and rearranging the words, Johnny is perhaps suggesting that reality itself is fragmented and elusive, and that it cannot be easily understood or pinned down.

The Significance of Latin in House of Leaves

Latin plays a significant role in House of Leaves, both as a language that is frequently quoted and referenced, and as a symbol of the book’s preoccupation with the past. The use of Latin phrases and references to classical literature and mythology give the book a sense of timelessness and universality, while also emphasizing the ways in which the past continues to shape the present.

Latin also adds to the book’s sense of mystery and complexity. By using a language that is no longer spoken and is difficult for many readers to understand, Danielewski creates a sense of otherness and detachment that mirrors the book’s themes of disorientation and fragmentation.

The Importance of Language in House of Leaves

Language plays a crucial role in House of Leaves, both as a means of communication and as a symbol of the limitations of human understanding. Throughout the book, characters struggle to find the right words to express their thoughts and emotions, and the book itself is full of linguistic puzzles and conundrums.

The use of language also reflects the book’s concern with the nature of reality and the ways in which our perceptions of the world are shaped by the words and symbols we use to describe it. The book’s exploration of the limits of language and the inadequacy of words to fully capture reality is a recurring theme, and is reflected in Johnny’s use of the cryptic phrase “Known. Some. Call. Is. Air. Am.”


The phrase “Known. Some. Call. Is. Air. Am.” is a powerful and enigmatic message that reflects the book’s themes of disorientation, fragmentation, and the limitations of language. While its meaning is not entirely clear, it invites readers to reflect on their own sense of identity and the ways in which the past continues to shape the present.

Through its use of Latin, linguistic puzzles, and complex narrative structure, House of Leaves challenges readers to engage with language in new and innovative ways. It is a book that rewards close reading and careful attention, and continues to captivate and perplex readers more than two decades after its initial publication.

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