A little Latin goes a long way

I recently enrolled in the Latin 101 course published by The Great Courses to improve my French, Spanish, and Italian. Is it realistic to assume that a familiarity with Latin will help one master these languages? Definitely! After all, these three languages are known as “Romance” languages having been named for the city (Rome)  in which Latin developed and flourished (especially in the period from 100 BC to 100AD)’

Familiarity with Latin is generally recognized as a big advantage in learning other Romance language. Indeed many language scholars feel that because of its logic and scope Latin offers great advantage to anyone learning any new language, romance or not. The real Latin zealots feel that – because of its rigor and logic- Latin tidies up your mind. That should help you with all your intellectual pursuits. It also makes me wonder if perhaps we’re losing something by largely eliminating the ” classical”component of the typical university curriculum.

While earning my Masters degree at the University of Chicago, I became enamored of certain Latin words and phrases.  The curriculum required students to read scholarly journal articles that often used Latin words, phrases,and abbreviations.

Here are seven of my favorites:

ceteris paribus = > “other things being equal.“  Usage Example: That seems like a fair price, ceteris paribus

sine qua non = > Literally ” which not” This phrase refers to an  indispensable condition.  Usage Example: A good education is the sine qua non of success in this field.

pari passu => “at an equal pace,” “simultaneously,” “in unison.”  Usage Example As his income went up, his opinion of himself increased pari passu

mutatis mutandis     = >  , ” with all necessary changes having been made.”    Usage is Example:  the rules for the girls team follow the rules of the boys team – mutatis mutandis

vade mecum = >  a  much used reference book or resource generally  carried with one for easy access.  (My first German text was titled Vade Mecum Deutsch. How fondly I remember it).  Usage Example: My vade mecum no longer is a small black notebook, now it’s an iPod. It’s still indispensable

Deus ex machina = > an unexpected and fortuitous turn of events. Literally “a god out of a machine.” The term had its origin in ancient Greek theater. Greek playwrights favored surprising and intricate plots. As a result, the playwright often got mired in his own creation. The plot would become so complicated that it took help from on high to get things back on track. Enter the Greek god. At the critical juncture the appropriate deity was “flown in” by being set down on the stage using a crane permanently built into the theater structure for just that purpose. Usage Example Things looked bleak but the cavalry arrived just in time to save the settlers; that’s your classic deus ex machina.

So there’s your little bit of Latin. I had fun writing it and I hope you had fun reading jf. Latin is cool. We’ll do it again.


Love thy neighbor but keep the fence

Word-Safari-reducedNeighbor is a simple word -–-no Greek, no Latin  no fuss. Neighbor is also a powerful word, its strength coming from its simplicity and Germanic origin. It is the modern  version of the Old English neahGebür, which meant a nearby farmer. Neah is seen in English nigh and modern German Nahe, both meaning “near.” Although nigh is not an everyday English  word, we could  write and understand:

The word neighbor has been a bona fide English word for nigh onto 1500 years

Gebür is related to the modern German Bauer which came into English through the Dutch word boor. Boor no longer means farmer but generally refers to a person of poor circumstance and unrefined manner.

Our relations with neighbors are so important that almost every language has several proverbs and sayings dealing with the subject. Here  are a couple I like

Brothers, rivers, and priests are three bad neighbors (Sicily)

Judge a man not by the words of his mother, but from the comments of his neighbors.(Hebrew)

A recurring theme across the proverbs of many countries is the idea that a nearby neighbor may be more helpful to you than a distant relative in time of need. This Danish proverb is typical:

A good neighbor is better than a brother far off

If you assembled all the proverbs about neighbors in a particular language you would repeatedly find the word for  fence. Worldwide, there is much agreement with the thought that “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Whether they be physical, social, or imaginary maintain your fences. It’s easier to maintain them than to mend them


Joseph Joubert on Teaching & Learning

Worldly-Wit-&-Wisdom-two-HandsWhat he said:

« Enseigner c’est apprendre deux fois » (“To teach is to learn twice”)

What I think

I think of teaching as a sort of “learning out loud.” When you prepare to teach a course you must master the materiaL on l well enough to be able to present it clearly and simply. That’s the easy part. The challenge is to stimulate and foster learning. Get students excited .There’s reciprocity here. Teachers learn from students all the while the students are learning from them. It’s probably the greatest perk of teachin

Below is what I would say to someone asking about the long-term value of education.

There is no more noble, challenging, or rewarding journey than that upon which you embark in pursuit of an education. Learning brings freedom. In some ways your education is the only thing you will ever truly own. No one can take from you the knowledge, skills, and creations of the mind made possible by a lifetime commitment to learning. These creations of the mind will amuse you when you’re bored, console you when you’re down, and give you confidence when you falter.

We are each of us architects of our own education. All learning is ultimately self-learning. SELF-learning both because we must do it ourselves and because through the process we will learn a great deal about ourselves. (Re) read my April 3 post in which I assert you cannot give yourself away – to spouses, children, friends, and lovers – unless you OWN yourself. I assert here that your education is the only thing you will ever really own.

Combining these points of view I think raises questions about whether failure to educate oneself potentially leads to isolation and lack of fulfillment.

What do you think?

*Joseph Joubert (1754 -1824) A French moralist and essayist best known for his Pensées

Language Learning Tip – Pronunciation

Language Learning Tip

Very soon after beginning your study of another language you’re going to want to have a bilingual dictionary. There are online dictionaries as well as software apps. Some of these are “talking” dictionaries -the advantage of which is you get to hear the word pronounced by native speakers. I am very big on learning to pronounce a language well – achieving something at least close to native pronunciation. All in all I prefer a dictionary in book form.

Look for a dictionary with correct pronunciation indicated using the international phonetic alphabet (the IPA is a valuable tool in language learning)..

You want a dictionary with as many example phrases and sentences as possIble showing formal and idiomatic usage. When we talk about vocabulary building in a  future posting, I will suggest learning words in the context of a phrase or sentence rather than as an isolated word. This makes the new word easier to remember

I prefer a dictionary with the New Language: English section first. Followed by English: New Language section. I just feel it’s more polite that way – sort of giving their language top billing.

Regardless of their order, you will often benefit greatly from looking up the same word in both sections of the bilingual dictionary

Let’s use the Italian verb badare as an example. If we look it up in my Collins dictionary it tells us that badare  means to look after/mind/ take care of/ and to attend to. A busy little word. We also find several  useful idiomatic expressions

Bada a fatti tuoi means  “mind your own business.” How could we live without that one?

Nessuno gli ha badato means “ nobody paid any attention to him.”

The badare entry also shows four more useful expressions that might well fit into an everyday conversation and be useful to learn. “

If we want to use the idea of paying attention, we’re going to look up “pay attention” in the English: Italian section. Here we find attenzione, stare attento, and, fare atternzione. Since we don’t find badare  we might decide it’s not the best choice for asking someone to pay attention.

I know you’re not going to look up every word every time in both sections of the bilingual ldictionary but sometimes that pays off. Of course the best thing you can do is to ask a native speaker to explain how a word is used and the nuanced differences among words with broadly the same meaning.

Worldly Wit and Wisdom

What They Say
Author: Michel de Montaigne*
<< La plus grande chose du monde, c’est de savoir etre à soi>>
The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself

What I think
I agree with this quote which pretty much sums up my personal philosophy. I seldom read fiction – generally preferring textbooks. However a book I read in my early teen years had a lasting impact on my thinking. The Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C Douglas pointed to the magic that comes from giving a piece of oneself to others.
I figured I should try that.- give away pieces of myself. I recognized that you can’t give away what you don’t own. Thus I agree with Montaigne -it’s important to belong to oneself.
What do you think?

* Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) was a leading French Renaissance philosopher and essayist.

Word Safari XXII – Three with P

Word Safari XXII
Let’s take the P …

The letter ‘P” is the first letter in the spelling of four very interesting words. I like these words: all four can be used to describe human characteristics, traits, or talents. The first two words would seem to describe people with whom we would enjoy interacting- the last two perhaps less so.
To say that a person is perspicacious is to say that he or she is blessed with superior insight, intuition, and judgment. This reflects its basis in the Latin word specio, which means “to see clearly.” I would think a perspicacious person (one possessed of great perspicacity) would have an advantage in life. To tell a person that he or she is perspicacious would be to pay them a compliment.
The perspicacious person is also likely able to present his or her ideas in a clear, perspicuous way. We can say that a person is perspicuous; however, that adjective is more often applied to his or her clear writing or clear presentation. If we tell the person that he or she is perspicuous or possesses perspicuity, we would again be paying them a compliment. I think we would agree that perspicuity is an advantage in life
A pertinacious person is persistent in pursuing his/her plans and goals.* Such persistence will probably assist in achieving those goals but along the way their pertinacity may annoy and alienate others. So telling a person they are pertinacious may or may not be a compliment and they may not take it as such (if they know what the word means).
The adjective precocious has something to do with being cooked. Indeed, coquere is Latin for “to cook.” The prefix prae means “before”, so praecoquere means precooked. Originally the term was a botany term where coquere meant to ‘ripen’as well as to cook. So precocious means ripened early or premature. Having been a precocious child may or may not be an advantage in the person subsequent adulthood. I don’t think we often intendit as a compliment when we label a child precocious.
I think it is probably better to be perspicacious and perspicuous than it is to be precocious and pertinacious.

*How do you like all the P’s in this sentence, uh?

Word Safari XXI -Let’s not be noisome!

Word Safari XXI -Let’s not be noisome!

I recently had another experience that brought vividly to mind how interesting words are and how much of the English lexicon flows from Latin roots*. I was having a conversation on Skype with Rossella – a friend in Rome who is helping me learn Italian. I asked her what the Italian word was for “boring.” The answer was noioso. I told Rosella I found that very interesting because there’s an English word, noisome, which means a really bad kind of boring. I pointed out that although not an everyday word (I haven’t used it in a couple of weeks) noisome is a useful and potentially powerful word.
Noisome looks like it might have something to do with noise-but it doesn’t. It does have something to do with annoyance. used to be a much stronger word. In 16th century England you could be jailed if you annoyed someone. (Wouldn’t it be great if nowadays a person who annoyed us suffered that same fate?) Annoy started out as a military term and to attack a town was to annoy that town.
Stripping away many spelling changes, annoy traces back to the Latin phrase in odio meaning “in hatred.”Like so many Latin-based words, annoy entered English directly from the French. It should be noted that the French word for boredom is ennui. If you’re extremely bored you may feel ill and noisome is used to indicate that something is beyond boring-being injurious or harmful to one’s health or well-being. It sometimes is applied to odious smells. (Guess where odious comes from.) Early on annoy when shortened to noy so we eventually got noisome instead of annoysome.
None of us wants to be boring and we certainly want to do our best to avoid all things noisome.

• It is generally reckoned that about 1/5 of all English words are of Anglo-Saxon origin and 3/5 are from Latin and Greek or French. However the Anglo-Saxon words are the most frequently t. They are present used. They are the nuts and bolts of English vocabulary.

What is language?

I love the fact that my URL is language.rocks. The whole subject of languages – English and others – is fascinating to me. But what exactly is a language? I’m not a linguist and so I will make no attempt to answer that question.** I think we all feel we kind of know what a language is. In fact, I’ve noted that when a person says that he or she speaks four or five languages and we see those languages as very similar we’re inclined to say “aren’t those really all dialects?”

We seem to have the idea that a dialect is a kind of inferior, stripped-down version of a language. This view is not without its supporters. It is common for linguists to talk about regional and social dialects. Indeed, there is a whole field of linguistic study known as “dialectology.” There are linguists at the other end of the spectrum: those who see each individual as speaking his or her own personal language. In this view, every language is a dialect and every dialect is a language.

We best leave that debate alone. On the question of what are separate languages it seems to me that to be separate languages must differ on one or more important dimensions of language. What are some of the basic dimensions/components of a language?.

Syntax involves rules for sentence structure –- word order, etc. (This is probably what most of us think of as “grammar” – although grammar involves much broader sets of rules about how to use the language).

Phonology has to do with the sound structure of the language how sounds are put together to convey meaning. It is a broader concept than phonetics which deals with how individual sounds are created using the vocal apparatus.

When most of us think about languages – especially those “foreign” languages we are trying to learn – we tend to think about
words. The study of word structure is called morphology.

In addition to dialects, there are other variations arrayed around a standard language.

The first is known as a pidgin – a language with limited vocabulary and greatly simplified grammar. Although a pidgin may be used by a number of individuals it has no native speakers.. Chinese Pidgin English and Melanesian Pidgin English are examples.

A creole is a grown-up pidgin; that is, a when pidgin becomes the standard language of a community it is called a creole. Examples include Haitian Creole and Louisiana Creole..

A lingua franca is a sort of compromise language. For example, I once did business with a German expatriate living in Chile .Given my level of Spanish and his level of English, we found it more effective and comfortable to speak German. In this case, German was our lingua franca.

Patois is a term the French use to refer to the speech patterns of the lower social classes. When used in English the term patois has a derisive overtone.

It is important to remember that these terms refer to nonstandard language, which is not the same as substandard language. Simple grammar does not reflect simple minds. A pidgin or Creole can be used by intelligent person to make a sophisticated and important point.

**If you’re interested in a linguist’s answer you may want to consult:
. What Language is … written by john McWhorter and published by Gotham Books.

Word Safari XX – Obstreperous

Word Safari XX
My father would admonish me not to be obstreperous-one of his favorite words. Originally obstreperous meant loud and noisy – but now it suggests any form of unruly behavior. (For the record, I never was truly obstreperous). Obstreperous is derived from Latin, specifically from the prefix “ob”- which means against, toward, on, before, et.al. and strepere – to make a noise

As you know, world languages are a hobby of mine. I’ve learned that one of the quickest ways to augment your vocabulary in a new language is to concentrate on mastering the cognates. Cognate means related by birth and can be applied to familial/social relationships as well as to linguistics. In linguistics, cognates are words that are identical or very nearly identical across languages and which mean pretty much the same thing. And remember English doe s not have to be one of the paired languages. Italian and Spanish share many cognates. So look at cognate sets in other languages when attempting to expand your vocabulary.
Another tool for expanding your vocabulary is to look at shared prefixes and suffixes. There are quite a number of words that have “ob-” as a prefix. Here is a short, partial list:
obdurate (ob + durare = to harden) to harden; to be stubborn, impatient, hardhearted
obey (ob + audire = to hear)
obfuscate (ob + fuscare = to obscure) to make obscure, muddle, confuse
objurgate (ob + jurgare = to chide) to chide, rebuke, upbraid
obloquy (ob + loqui = to speak) ill repute, disgrace, infamy
obsequious (ob + sequi = to follow) eager to serve, fawning
observe (ob + servare = to keep or hold)

Now I’d better become obmutescent* before I become obnoxious**
*inclined to be silent
**very unpleasant

Word Safari XIX – Forte

Word Safari XIX

In previous Safaris we looked at a few French, Spanish, and German words that have legitimately entered English. I could have chosen other languages but these are three that I speak with varying levels of fluency. I regularly talk with native speakers of these languages via Skype. I recently began serious study of Italian and speak once a week with someone in Rome. So not surprisingly this Safari looks at Italian words in English.

For lack of knowledge and talent, I’m not going to look at the seemingly vast number of Italian words that are used in the music field. Well – actually I do want to mention one:

The word forte (pronounced FORTAY) – an Italian word meaning “strong.” This term means that a piece of music is to be played loudly and energetically. It has nothing to do with the strong points of a particular person.

When a person is particularly good at something -it is their strong point – we can call it their forte (pronounced FORT). This is the French word for strong (the feminine form of the adjective).

So depending on how much of a purist you are, you should probably call your strong point your FORT and not your FORTAY.

Let’s look at four Italian words used in English

Bordello – This is an example of innocence lost. In early usage bordello simply meant a small house -but it later acquired the meaning of a brothel. Bordello may refer to a naughty/nasty place but I think you have to admit it’s a beautiful word. Italian is a beautiful language in large part because all Italian nouns end in a vowel.

Incognito. A bordello visitor may want to go incognito. Incognito means unknown or disguised in such a manner as to not reveal one’s identity. The Italian word comes from the Latin incognitus. Spies and celebrities often travel incognito.

Furor. When a bordello moves into a neighborhood there is likely to be a furor – meaning a rage or turmoil. Furere is the Latin word for to rage.

Paparazzi. The last person you would like to meet during your bordello visit is a member of the Paparazzi. This word for extremely persistent and annoying freelance photographers is based on the character Signor Paparazzo the in 1966 Federico Fellini movie La Dolce Vita

I end with a bit of Italian wisdom

Chi va plano va sano, e chi va sano va lontano

(He who goes slowly goes wisely, and he goes wisely goes far)