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Speaking Latin


In high school (at least the one I went to), there was a language requirement. No, it couldn’t be English – I meant a language. Most people took Spanish, French…useful languages to know. I had to take Latin.

Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t ask for it. Even my parents had nothing to do with it. Latin was a requirement if you wanted to be in the Advanced Placement program (and I did). So I took two years of Latin. I can even still remember  bits and pieces of it. I wasn’t terribly fond of it at the time, however.

I am notoriously bad with languages. I’d taken a year of Spanish but was barely able to pass. Latin I don’t recall being much better in. Speaking languages has always been something I’m not very good at. I don’t have that ability to switch on in my brain and move from English to another language and vice versa. It’s a skill that some people have and that I don’t. Therefore on those rare occasions when I even attempt to converse in Spanish, I sound pretty much like an imbecile because I have to go so slowly and am constantly asking the other person to repeat themselves. I’m sure those who have tried to have a conversation in Spanish with me would much rather have all of their finger and toe nails yanked out slowly one a time than to have attempt another one.

Obviously that’s not going to be a problem in Latin. It’s not that I’m going to meet someone on a street corner who is conversational in Latin, let alone fluent. You have as much of a chance as meeting someone fluent in Sumerian. There are probably some academics who can carry on a conversation in one or both of those languages but there’s no real need to – not many Sumerians running around these days.

So why bother teaching a language that nobody on the planet speaks? In the case of Latin, it’s a root language – most of our Western European languages are heavily influenced by Latin. It is also used extensively in the scientific, medical and liturgical communities. The Roman Catholic mass is still celebrated in Latin regularly. Plants and animals are identified by their Latin names, as are diseases.

Still, does knowing Latin or Sumerian or ancient Greek have any sort of use? Knowledge is never a bad thing, even knowledge which is on its surface not useful. If nothing else it preserves a part of our history and our human culture which would otherwise disappear. This is important in that letting a culture die is no less heinous than letting an animal species go extinct.

I often hear young people complain that schools teach them things they’ll never have to know. What use is grammar, or algebra or geography when you have the Internet to look things up instantly? First of all, our brain is like a muscle – it needs exercise just like everything else. Sitting back on the couch, vegetating or playing Call of Duty or watching the Cartoon Network shuts your brain down rather than encourages its use. Exercising the mind is at least as important as exercising the body (and too many of us do neither these days) because one without the other doesn’t work very well.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m woefully out of shape. I need to exercise more than I do, and I’m fully aware that it’s not just an option – it’s mandatory that I make that effort. Exercise helps your body work at peak efficiency, gets your system running and makes you feel good. It’s like having a car; if you leave it in the garage all the time it’s not going to run very well. You have to drive it occasionally.

The same goes for the mind. As in most things, we tend to take the path of least resistance whenever possible. If something requires too much thought, we shove it aside and go for something that requires very little brainpower. After all, why not play a game that requires you to blast everything that moves rather than a game that requires you to figure out not just who to blast but when? The first is easier  and less stressful, the latter requires more intellectual investment. Which sort of game would you expect is more popular?

I have a nagging suspicion that we’re beginning to develop a bias against education in this country. Kids complain that it’s boring, adults don’t want to be taxed for it and there is a real sense that people who are intelligent are made fun of and are objects of suspicion. We deal with the lowest common denominator and the lower we can make that denominator, the easier it is to deal.

That’s why most people are woefully ignorant of the things that should matter to them. Not Latin – but of the things that come from it, like our legal system. Most people are unaware of the laws that are being made at this very moment that affect their lives. Most people are uncaring of what their politicians are doing except in a very general way. We’re preparing to undertake another presidential election this year; are we truly going to let the guy with the best ads win?

Learning Latin and learning algebra may not be useful in and of themselves, but developing the self-discipline we need to learn them is extremely important. When we are open to learning new things, we tend to be more aware of what’s going on around us. It’s clear that the powers that be would be more comfortable if we the people are more ignorant and so far they are getting their way.

I’m pretty sure everyone agrees that this country needs a great deal of change. How that change takes place is going to be something of a war in this country for our very soul and character. The most devastating weapons in that war will be our minds. Sadly, too many of us are setting out to go unarmed and an army unarmed is an army defeated before they even begin.

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3 Responses

  1. hoc est bonum consilium

  2. Well stated, Carlos! Educate the masses…Latin for all! LOL

  3. Or, Should I have written…

    Etiam dictum Carlos! Volutpat sem … Latine omnibus! lol

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