Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fun with Latin (Yes, Latin is too Fun!)

I've been taking Latin this semester, rejuvenating the dried reeds of that ancient tongue which I had gleaned from the summer fields of Notre Dame years ago. (Whoa, whoa, slow it down there, Shakespeare....) There are all sorts of bits and bots and nuggets and gems to be found in studying this most venerable tongue. A few that I'd like to share:

....Roman names usually had three parts: a first name, a family name, and a sort of "nickname." Take, for example, Marcus Tullius Cicero, famous orator and statesman. "Cicero" is actually the Latin word for "chickpea" or "garbanzo bean." This led our Latin professor to make the morbid joke, "When Cicero was murdered, he had his hands and head chopped off; if his killer would have kept going, he could have made hummus. 'Cause... "Cicero"... chickpea... cut it up... makes hummus." He got a laugh from me, at least.

....A few steps are required for this next one. A participle is a continuous action verb like "doing" or "loving." A passive participle is a phrase like "is being done" or "is being loved." A future passive participle is a phrase like "will be done" or "will be loved," also rendered as "having to be done" or "having to be loved." Do you notice how that takes on a connotation of obligation or necessity? "It will be done," "it has to be done." The future passive participle is characterized by the -nd- in its middle. You know some English words that once upon a time were future passive participles in Latin: agenda are "things having to be done," and Amanda is "she who must be loved." (This may give girls named Amanda an ego problem, so be careful who you tell it to.)

....Have you ever heard the moving of relics from one place to another referred to as "translating" (e.g. "The Venetians translated the relics of St. Mark to their home city in 828 AD") and perhaps thought, "I thought you translated words and languages, not things. What does that mean? Why don't they say something like 'transfer'?" Well, actually, it turns out that "transfer" and "translate" share the same Latin root, a very irregular Latin verb. See, you learn Latin verbs according to their four principal parts: the present active indicative ("I love"), the active infitive ("to love"), the perfect active indicative ("I have loved"), and the perfect passive participle ("having been loved"), which in the case of this word "love" would be amo, amare, amavi, amatus. OK, they all look similar, a little different on the ends, right? Well, the verb for "carry" is super weird: fero, ferre, tuli, latus. Let's slap the prefix for "across" (trans-) on the front of there, and see what that looks like: transfero, transferre, transtuli, translatus. See? Whether you transfer or translate relics, it all amounts to the same thing: they get there in the end.

Now isn't that interesting?


  1. It sure is! Participles are still tripping me up, though. Blessings on your Latin expeditions!

  2. Ah, Nick. You bring back dormant memories of Latin I and Latin II classes. I thought I remembered loving those classes, but you've reminded me of the throbbing headaches they spawned. Chuckle.