OPINION: A post mortem for Latin

OPINION: A post mortem for Latin



I was just thinking about Connecticut’s official motto, Qui transtulit sustinet. Really I was. And what I was thinking was that “He who transplants still sustains” comes off as pretty shallow, in English, because it sounds like a boast: “We’re still here!” So I did a little digging and found a version from 1775 that comes out as “God, who transplanted us hither, will support us.” That’s more like it. Classier.

Of course, I never studied Latin, which is prima facie (1) evidence that I barely know a bona fide (2) from a carpe diem (3) from an ex post facto (4). It’s all Greek to me. That is, Omnia mihi Lingua Graeca sunt.

I did study French, Russian and German from time to time, but I do precious little amo-amas-amating. My brother, however, took Latin way back when we were in school, around anno domini (5) 1963 or so (which was not so long after Caesar crossed the Rubicon), so I picked up just a bit, by osmosis. And I know at least one person who actually took four years of Lingua Latina (6) in high school. But she was the only student in her Latin IV class — a signum temporum (7), even back then, that the language was already in exitum (8).

Well, tempus fugit (9), as they say, and nowadays the former lingua franca (10) of half the world is fugiting faster than ever. One of the latest school systems to announce that they’re dropping the old veni, vidi, vici (11) lingo is Connecticut’s Regional District 13, comprising Durham, Middlefield and Rockfall. No more vi-visti-vit-vimus-vistis-verunt for them. (Those are past perfect verb endings, I think. I’ll have to ask my brother.)

Anyway, it might not hurt to pick up a little Latin, even now, before it goes completely extinct — you know, the way arithmetic went out when calculators came in. Therefore, a quiz:

Where do these expressions appear: Annuit Coeptis, Novus Ordo Seclorum, and E Pluribus Unum? That’s right, on the back of the old one-dollar greenback. Meaning, respectively, “He (God) has favored our undertakings,” “A new order of the ages,” and “From many, one.” (The second phrase is sometimes translated as “New World Order,” the fantasy of an emerging totalitarian world government that certain conspiracy theorists like to go on about, ad nauseam (12). But, lest I become persona non grata (13) to those folks, I’m not suggesting that they’re non compos mentis (14), so I hope this doesn’t sound like an ad hominem (15) attack on anyone in absentia (16). If it does, then mea culpa. (We all know what mea culpa means, right?)

What it says on British money, inter alia (17), is Dei gratia — “By the grace of God.”

Now, isn’t that interesting?   

Anyway, let this be my in memoriam (18) for the world’s most important “dead” language. Vale (19) Lingua Latina!

Requiescat in pace (20).

Reach Glenn Richter at grichter@record-journal.com.

Translations: (1) On the face of it. (2) In good faith. (3) Seize the day. (4) After the fact. (5) The year of our Lord. (6) The Latin language. (7) Sign of the times. (8) On the way out. (9) Time flies. (10) Universal language. (11) “I came, I saw, I conquered.” — attributed to Julius Caesar. (12) To the point of nausea. (13) An unacceptable person. (14) Not of sound mind. (15) Personal. (16) In the absence of. (17) Among other things. (18) In the memory of. (19) Farewell. (20) Rest in peace.


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