He found this word “auenis” in a line from Ovid. “Sub galea pastor iunctis pice cantat auenis”. As anyone who knows his Latin can see, “avenis” here is an ablative plural, confirmed by the presence of “cunctis”, ablative plural of cunctus, meaning “joined”, in agreement with it. A quick search in the dictionary will turn up “avena” meaning “oats” and by extension, a stalk of a grass or cane, and therefore “tube” or “chalumeau”.
The passage comes from book V of Tristia, in which the poet bemoans the civil strife in the countryside, causing the ploughman to plough unhappily with one hand, holding a weapon in the other, and here, the shepherd, under his helmet, to play on reeds joined with pitch (a makeshift panflute) to calm his sheep, who are afraid of the wolf.
Ovid also used the expression “avenae structae” to mean panpipes, literally “arrayed tubes”. These were presumably of better manufacture than the ones made by the shepherd with the materials to hand in the war-torn countryside.
Supposing for a moment that there was a word “avenis” or “auenis” (i-stem 3rd declension) meaning panflute, what is it doing in this sentence? If it is a nominative that would make it the subject in competition with “pastor”. The only other possibility ending in “-is” is a genitive. Either way, that leaves poor “cunctis” orphaned, a participle with nothing to qualify. The correct parsing of the line is therefore, as I tried to explain to him, “sub galea”=under his helmet, “pastor cantat”=the shepherd sings/plays, “avenis”= on tubes”, “cunctis pice”= joined with (coal tar) pitch.
While there may yet be undiscovered words of the Latin language, they are unlikely to inhabit the verses of Ovid, a poet already studied by millions of schoolchildren and professors.
When I made contact with the author to put him straight I was treated to a barrage of vituperative messages in which he claimed as his authority the Internet, specifically an online Latin dictionary compiled by an amateur from Texas. Blind faith in dubious sources goes back to before the printed word, where at least the name of the authority quoted carried a certain amount of weight. But today the argument "Just Google it and you'll see" seems to trump common sense.
So who was the authority in this case?
Well it turns out that he makes no bones about not even being one. By "just Googling" the name of the compiler of the dictionary, one William Whitaker, I came upon the following engaging disclaimer:
"I am not a Latin scholar, only a dictionary hacker (in the old sense of one building with only an ax as a tool). While I try to [...] do the best I can, I am a very unreliable source [...] And I am not qualified to even try English-to-Latin."
Ah, my faith in Google is restored!