Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres it ain't, but it may be the perfect tonic for those who loved/hated/never took Latin or who think (depending on your age bracket) Latin means Ricky Ricardo disgustedly uttering "Loo-cee," Charo bursting out (that may not be the most decorous image) with an over-the-top Castilian "Coochie Coochie" or J.Lo belting out "Qué Hiciste."
Today's delightful discovery is X-TREME LATIN, a new book by Henry Beard (or, to be more precise, Henricus Barbatus, which, when misspelled and misdeclined, still appears to have no relationship to the delightful Caribbean getaway.
Subtitled "All The Latin You Need To Know For Surviving The 21st Century," the slim, but fully-packed, published by Gotham Books, certainly supports the claim that this particular language was "undead" and "undying" long before vampires and their ilk came into vogue. (Actually, I don't think those are vampires in Vogue, merely ghastly over-under-weight models who look that way.)
I first became acquainted with shall we say "contemporary Latin" when Victor Bers wrote an inscription in my high school yearbook that included the word irrumator. (I'm not about to tell you, but if you're that curious, I would suggest you read Catullus, Poem 10 in particular). Victor went on to become a distinguished classicist at Yale, where he still teaches. I went on, like so many writers, to have a fascination with words in any and all languages. (Thought I was going somewhere else, didn’t you? Hey, parallelism has its limits. Oh, and BTW, if you have Dr. Bers for a class, I would strongly advise you fight the urge to address him as Professor Irrumator.)
Yet it’s been a while since I’ve given Latin a lot of thought. Well, I take that back. In my novel-in-progress, The Zodiac Deception, I do use some (or rather one of my characters—a German priest—uses some. However, Beard/Barbatus’s book has made me think that it’s time to drag out the dog-eared copy of Wheelock.
For example, take The Hangover, an obscure movie that came out last year about four guys at a bachelor party in Vegas. Now if the writers had given one of the four a line like “Crapulentus sum!” —“I’m wasted”—or “Vomiturus sum!"—“I’m going to hurl!”—the flick might have been a box office blow out.
Or the next time your computer gives you a hard time, shout out “Si denuo congeles, confestum ibis in fossam purgamentorum”—“If you freeze one more time, you’re going straight to the landfill.” You’ll sound so damn educated. (There are actually better computer-directed threats in the book, but this is the only one you can safely translate in the presence of children and Shaker elders.)
And there’s so much more: things to say when you want to break up with someone, small talk during a colonoscopy, road rage (imagine—someone flips you the bird or Gagas you, as we say in New York) and you roll down the window and shout at the top of your lungs: “Ubi didicisti gubernare curram? In fuga ab Hunnis?”—“Where did you learn to drive, fleeing from Huns?” Besides the astonished look you’ll get, they won't know how to respond!
The book even contains some great Romulus and Remus jokes, including:
ROMULUS: Quem ob rem pullus viam Appiam transivit?—Why did the sacred chicken cross the Appian Way?
REMUS: Nescio. Eum evisceremus ut, extane ostensura sint illius infausti facti causam, comperiamus!—I do not know. Let us cut it open and see if the entrails provide an explanation for this inauspicious behavior!
I know, I know—you’ve heard this hoary chestnut a thousand times, but it’s still a toga slapper!
Anyway, I’m going to get re-acquainted with an old (and I mean very old) friend and I would suggest my brothers and sisters in the writing trade (and other trades as well) do likewise. Or, make a new friend. Remember—you can’t have too many friends.
Until the next post:
Morde citharam meam!