There’s a lot in Latin

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Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Why a “dead language” is worth studying or getting familiar with

Many people call Latin a dead language — as dead as its foremost perpetuator, the Catholic Church, which is 1 billion strong and 2,000 years old.

What these fools don’t get is the fact that many English words actually are Latin or have Latin roots. And often, when coining new words, people still use Latin morphemes (word components) without being aware of it: Brexit, social media, bullet journal, vape, app.

Like it or not, Latin is here to stay. And learning it — even just a bit — is going to make you perceive literature and life as more interesting.

Five of the many benefits of learning Latin are the following:

  • You’ll find stories behind the words you use. Take the word “baccalaureate”. It’s from the Latin term for laurel berry. In the 17th century (when “baccalaureate” was first used), laurel leaves used to be awarded to scholars — like ancient Olympic champions. Romantic nerds.
  • You’ll find it easier to guess the meaning of unfamiliar, Latin-derived words. Like, did you know the meaning of “antebellum” the first time you encountered it? Maybe not. But if you had elementary Latin, you’ll know that ante means “before” and bellum means “war”. So antebellum means before the war (particularly the American Civil War — Murica is such a fan of Latin — check their motto).
The Latin inscription above the Pantheon entrance in Rome is a display of hubris. It says, “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this.” Photo by Jessi Pena on Unsplash
  • You’ll be able to create new words with panache — just string relevant Latins words together and voila, verbum novum.
  • You’ll be able to connect to a time long gone, when Latin was the official language of the pious and the powerful. It still amazes me to know how, in praying the Angelus in Latin, one actually echoes the exact words of various Medieval and Renaissance popes and paupers.
  • Last but not least: you’ll feel intelligent. Newton-smart. BDE-level confident. But of course you won’t be flaunting your knowledge all the time. You’ll have to wait for opportunities, like being assigned to give the Word of the Day in a Toastmasters meeting; or look for subtle ways, like writing about your supposed Latin-savvy in one of your blog posts. Ouch.

So those are my top 5 reasons Latin is an interesting subject.

Yeah. It’s nerdy as heck. You can actually just forget I said those. Because, really, Latin can absolutely be useful in only one catastrophic situation: when the cab driver refuses you a ride, and all you can do is scare the hell out of him by rapidly reciting some Latin words and make him think it’s witchcraft.

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