Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Latin

Whenever I hear the word Latin, what springs to mind is a British comedy sketch.

Beyond the Fringe was a stage review put on by four young Brits (Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Peter Cook) for a few years in the early sixties. It is considered the forerunner of the British TV shows like Monty Python's Flying circus. This Wikipedia article gives you the whole story.

For the fans of this type of British humour, who couldn't attend the stage productions, a vinyl record was produced and we listened to it eagerly.

To my mind, one of the best skits was by Peter Cook, called Sitting on the Bench. He played a coal miner regretting the fact that he didn't fulfill his ambition to become a judge. The sketch is very funny, but best summed up in these sentences. "Yes, I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin. I never had the Latin for the judgin'."

Well I had the Latin. In my high school we all had to have the Latin, well at least for the first year. But I loved the Latin, I don't know why. Somehow it appealed to me, the orderly sense of conjugating verbs and different cases for nouns. Almost mathematical in its orderliness. We all hated the teacher, Miss Simons, with a passion. She was a cranky old unmarried teacher (probably still in her forties, I was only 12 after all) handing out detention left, right and centre, making you copy out a vocabulary word 20 times if you missed it in a test. This only happened once to me, let me tell you. But she couldn't deter me. She was my Latin teacher for 5 years, and I even took Latin honours for matriculation. I still insist it was probably the most useful subject I ever took in high school.

When I went into Pharmacy people said to me, well aren't you lucky you have the Latin. Huh! Even in the fifties the Latin had almost disappeared from Pharmacy. It was easy for anyone to learn the few expressions left, although those with the Latin knew exactly what the abbreviations meant, for example: bid (bis in die - twice daily) or prn (pro re nata -literally for the thing that is born, or as necessary).

The next use I found for the Latin was in gardening. When you are looking for a specific plant you can't rely on the common name, since the common name may refer to three different plants, depending on the region. On the other hand, one plant may have three different common names. Consequently you need to use the Latin name. Indeed, it has been a great asset to me in all the garden clubs I've belonged to over the years, with those long botanical names rolling off my tongue.

So you see I could have been a judge. I wasn't, but I could have been, because you've got to have the Latin for the judgin' and I definitely had it.


Hootin'Anni said...

Hi, I just wanted you to know that I'm going to be gone for about a week....and if you still wish to be on the BLOGGER over 50 blogroll, you need to get the graphic OR the javascript for the blogroll from the BLOGGER over 50 blog. Copy and paste either one [link the image] on your sidebar.

When I get home, or if I have a chance to get online while I'm gone, once you've added the linked image--OR the javascript[found at the bottom of the blog to copy] ---I'll add you to the blogroll.

mhr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mhr said...

Well, I very rarely have the opportunity to meet other latinists nowadays :)
I studied Latin for 7 years and Greek for 5 years. There were only 7 of us in the whole lycée when I got to my final year (la Terminale).
I feel I have forgotten all of it, after so many years, but in fact I know those languages have been very precious to me in terms of etymology.
I loved my Latin & Greek teacher (we had the same teacher for both languages). Her name was Madame Canonge (Ave, in case she reads me now!)
You have the most interesting topics, jmb, it's always such a pleasure to visit your blog!

mhr said...

PS: I have never heard of the British comedy sketch you mention, but I'm a huge fan of British humour.
Have you seen "Fawlty Towers" a TV series with John Cleese?

Heather in Beautiful BC said...

Hey JMB, I enjoyed hearing the uses for latin in everyday life. You are certainly full of surprises - and educational to boot!

Yes, by all means, go right ahead and post it at Wetcoast Women - we can all use more edumacation in our lives :)

jmb said...

Hi hootin'anni,
I'm still getting my act together. I finally got my blogroll to work yesterday. I did not want to add anything else till I got that going.

jmb said...

Well mhr, why am I not surprised that you have the Latin and the Greek, no less? I too have forgotten most of the Latin sadly. You have said it so much better than I, the reason why I consider it the most useful subject I took - the etymology and the complicated grammar which stood me in good stead with Italian.
Of course, John Cleese is from Monty Python, which I also loved. But less so Fawlty Towers. He is very good but I found the humour to be too visual, too slapstick, without the wit of Monty Python.

jmb said...

Hi Heather,
I didn't consider this post for Wet Coast Women, but the other one on immigration seemed as if it might fit in.

mhr said...

I have to agree about the slapstick humour, but I confess I'm partial to John Cleese! :)

Liz said...

I am a latin fan too. Only did it to 0-level but still have a hankering after it. It is so logical. For Christmas I requested and was given Amo, amas, amat - how to be a latin lover. I'm trying to re-learn it a little. Maybe we could start a Bring Back Latin Campaign - or at least converse in Latin!

I love the slapstick of Fawlty Towers, maybe because the scene that always creases me up is the one where John Cleese is beating his broken-down car - a very familiar situation in my life.

jmb said...

Hi Liz,

I must look up that book and check it out. What prompted the post was my daughter, who teaches French and is just finishing her certification for Italian, saying she should look at learning a little Latin. She's also studied linguistics along the way.

Certainly John Cleese was always the most physical of the Monty Python lot, remember his "silly" walk?