I ran across this phrase today — hic et nunc– and against my will flashed back to my experiences with Latin. My father used every rhetorical and parental trick up his sleeve to force me to take Latin in the seventh grade instead of studying one of those romance languages with fun words for scrambled eggs and boyfriend. While my friends were chattering to each other in Pidgeon French and Spanish, I was learning about nominative and accusative with a little genitive thrown in for good measure. Agricola, agricolae, agricolarum. Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant. Hic, haec, hoc, huius, huius huius. I’ll never, never forget. I want to, but I can’t.
“You’ll learn the derivations of English words, appreciate your native tongue, and excel on the SATs,” my father had insisted. How many of us naive, foolish kids have been taken in by that ploy? To force-feed me this arcane, dead language I had two formidable Latin teachers who ushered me from seventh through tenth grade Latin when I finally quit, much to my father’s displeasure. For seventh and eighth grade Latin there was Mr. Merola, a balding ancient man (probably in his late forties) who once threw Wayne Turiansky against the wall because he was acting out in class. To give Mr. Merola his due, though, he did translate “Soldier Boy” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” into Latin. (Puere…oh my militarqule… and mica mica parva stella, mirror quaena, sis tam bella, Splendens animus in illo, Alba velet gemma caelo….)
Then there was Miss Florence Clark for ninth and tenth grade who had been teaching Latin at the high school since Jesus lost his sandal. She was tall, wore her hair in a gray flecked bun, and embraced the cliché of an old maid school teacher. Her steely eyes and bat-like hearing could detect whether my translation of Caesar was my own (rarely), or came from Cliff’s Notes. For me, reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars was akin to putting together a jig-saw puzzle. I could do neither. The words were arranged in an illogical order with the verbs coming toward the end of the sentence. The ending of each word had to be parsed for clues. Then the words had to be pieced together to translate a passage about Caesar or the Romans or their conquests. What a nightmare. What did I have to do with the Romans? I wanted to jabber in Spanish about mi falda y zapatos. I wanted to be Mariana and ask people: como esta usted?
Now that I have travelled to Rome and seen the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and more, I have a deeper appreciation for the achievements of the Roman empire. I have even collected a few apt Latin expressions. To be honest, I may have acquired a deeper understanding of English grammar because of my exposure to Latin. But am I now glad that I took four years of Latin from those two giants of esoteric knowledge? No, no- a thousand times no! Even at 60+ I see the study of Latin as a first foreign language to be a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
ab ovo: from the very beginning
caeca invidia est: envy is blind
in media res: in the thick of things
mobile vulgus: the fickle crowd
modus vivendi: a way of getting along together
Et. al.: (Et alia- And all the rest)