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17 February 2005 — Carpe Diem (14)

The weather continues to be cool and crisp at night, but warm and clear during the day. It's as if the Willamette Valley has been transported to Central Oregon. This weather is appropriate for Bend, not for Portland. The days are beautiful, it's true, but our Februarys (Februaries?) should comprise mostly mild, misty days during which we long for the coming of spring. I fear that we'll regret these balmy afternoons during the coming summer drought.

The fine weather makes walking a pleasure, not a chore. I take my Latin book in hand and stroll through the neighborhood, seeking new paths.

I went for a walk yesterday, but I didn't get far. I had intended to walk up to Oak Grove Boulevard, to head west to the boat ramp, and then to follow River Forest Road until it reached Risley. The complete circle would have provided a two-and-a-half mile walk and about five thousand paces. Instead I took maybe three hundred steps.

I got sidetracked by the older couple who lives next door.

Tom and Roberta were outside working on their new house (for which the foundation has been partially poured). I stopped to say hello. For the next 75 minutes, the three of us chatted about the neighborhood and its history. They gave me more information about our house. They showed me the plans for their new house. They disabused me of the notion that our Redwood is a century old. (It was planted forty years ago by the former owners of our house.) They explained how they're able to grow a dozen fruit trees through organic methods; they never spray.

When we'd finished chatting, I walked home to fix Hamburger Helper (yum) for dinner. I hadn't managed five thousand steps, but it had been a good walk nonetheless.

In the evening I studied my Latin.

I've hinted at this pursuit for the past month without explaining it. Suffice it to say that this AskMetafilter question was the catalyst for this endeavor. I've always wished Latin had been offered at one or more of the schools I attended (it never was), and recent reading has made me long again for at least a rudimentary understanding of the language.

"Why do you want to learn Latin?" Pam asked when she heard about my latest crazy hobby. "Why not something useful like Spanish? Or even French or German?"

I rolled my eyes and said, "Because they're not Latin", which was snotty, and not much of an answer.

But it's true. I'm not trying to learn a foreign language for the sake of conversation. I want to learn Latin because it'll help me become a better reader.

I love how I find myself obsessed with etymology lately. For example, the latin pulchra (beautiful) is the root of the archaic English word pulchritude (beauty), a word seen with moderate frequency in older novels. Why don't we see the word any more? Probably because Latin is no longer the mandatory school subject it once was. I suspect many Latinate words have fallen into disuse because we, as a whole, no longer have the education to understand their meaning.

Of course, maybe some of the words have fallen into disuse because there are better options. I was musing on the words pulchra and pulchritude in the shower this morning (to Kris' delight, I'm sure). "If pulchritude is beauty, then what is beautiful?" I asked. "In Latin it's pulchra, but surely that's not so in English. It's probably something like pulchritudinous," I joked.

You know what? It is pulchritudinous, which is not very pulchritudinous. No wonder some Latinates have fallen into disuse. They're not very beautiful.

(Another fun etymological path features the Latin fabula (story). Its connection to our fable is clear, but think also about the word fabulous, which I've always simply interpreted as great. Now it's clear to me that fabulous carries connotations of fabrication; when something is fabulous, it's great, but in a kind of "fish story" way.)

At first I was using Wheelock's Latin for my text. It's a good text, but it's most effective when a pupil studies daily.

Daily study is a problem for me; there are often periods of nearly a week during which I cannot set aside the time required to study Latin, to memorize vocabulary and to puzzle out declensions and conjugations and the like.

This was leaving me frustrated until I stumbled upon an old junior high Latin textbook at Powell's a few days ago. This book's approach is different, less concerned with the technicalities of the language than imparting practical skills.

I intend to master this junior text first in order to gain some footing in the language, and then I'll move up to the college level stuff.

A few famous Latin phrases:

  • Errare humanum est. — To err is human.
  • Labor omnia vincit. — Work conquers all. (Useful motto for studying Latin.)
  • Ad astra per aspera. — Through toil, the stars.
  • Mens sana in corpore sano. — A sound mind in a sound body.
  • Non scholae sed vitae discimus. — We learn not for school, but for life. (This could be my motto.)
Who says Latin is a dead language?

On this day at foldedspace.org

2004A Walk in the Country   As part of my new fitness regimen, I've introduced light exercise. My favorite light exercise activity so far is a walk from Custom Box Service, through the nearby housing development.

2002Chronic   When I was young I was often sick. Sick many times during the course of a year, and sick for long periods. As an adult, I've been much more fortunate. This winter, however, I've been sick four times now. Five?

On 17 February 2005 (08:15 AM), J.D. said:

A quick Latin anecdote (probably funny only to me, but still funny nonetheless):

Powell's stocks the Loeb Classical Library, a series of small books featuring Classical works (which literally means those from Greek and Roman authors) in their original language with English translation on the facing pages.

In addition to learning Latin, I've begun the St. John's College reading list, the first part of which comprises many Classical texts. My Latin isn't nearly good enough to actually comprehend any of these fully, but I thought it would be great fun to read Homer in the Latin.

I searched and searched the little red-spined books, but could not find Homer. Virgil, sure, and many others, but no Homer. This made no sense. I found a Powell's employee and asked for help.

"Here's the book," she said, reaching up to the green-spined books above. She handed me a copy of the Iliad and left me feeling stupid. Duh! Homer is in the Greek, not the Latin.

On 17 February 2005 (09:55 AM), Tony said:

JD, there is a reason you are the only person who has commented on your weblog.

On 17 February 2005 (10:30 AM), Anthony said:
we, as a whole, no longer have the education to understand they're meaning.
I'm being snobby, too. I suggest you reread Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

And, uh, congratulations on learning Latin. I would really like to learn it for the edge it gives in the botanical realm. Unfortunately, I doubt I have the discipline to add the study of Latin to my life right now, so for now I'll have to settle for laughing at you while you learn it.

JD, there is a reason you are the only person who has commented on your weblog.
I agree. Not even geeks care about Latin.

On 17 February 2005 (11:44 AM), mart said:

thirded. check thyself, o geeky one.

On 17 February 2005 (11:48 AM), J.D. said:



re: geekiness of Latin

Yes, yes, I know. That's why I've tried not to delve into the subject. But I figured it's a big part of my life and I have to mention it, so there it is. Now that it's done, I'll try to keep it to myself again.

I'll write about cats tomorrow, or comic books, or something! :)

On 17 February 2005 (11:54 AM), Jenefer said:

Latin is a wonderful base for many other languages, certainly all the ones involved in Western civilization. I don't think that it is geeky, just a more academic pursuit in this day and age. Back in the day, I had four years of Latin in high school. It gave me a great understanding of roots for all future studies. When Latin was offered in my son's high school, I encouraged him to take it. This was 1999-2002. It is still a great base or foundation for many other things, including all the romance languages. My mother still remembered a lot of her Latin from four years of high school in the late 1930's. She used it all the time and helped all of us years later. She loved words and language. More power to you JD. Just disciplining yourself to learn Latin in an additonal benefit.

On 17 February 2005 (03:54 PM), pam said:

I most certainly never mentioned you learn German (nothing against German), but the point I was trying to make was that you could learn a latin based language, which could acheive some of your goals, plus be functional on a daily basis (say, when you are giving your employees a ride home).

On 17 February 2005 (07:51 PM), Scott Smith said:

From your study, does the following translation come anywhere close to proper syntax?
Adquirábis id pro quod tibi expendás.
(You get what you pay for)
I translated it myself from the little bit of latin I ran across in law school.

On 17 February 2005 (09:36 PM), sennoma said:

Science fiction author CJ Cherryh used to teach Latin, and she claims her method is easier than most. You can test her claim here:


On 18 February 2005 (10:04 PM), Kristin said:

I actually took a year of Latin in college for reasons similar to yours. Sadly, not much has stuck with me, although I still have 2 textbooks (one being Wheelock's) and my notebook. I tried to come up with a clever (Latin) response to one of your earlier entries but finally gave up, lacking confidence that I would use the right tenses, etc.

On 28 March 2005 (04:04 AM), Madniteowl2 said:

Latin is a fascinating Language. When I learned Scientia est Potentia and learned what it meant,I wanted to learn more for free or extremely low cost My funds are limited,but we are all in that position in some fashion?
Have a great week, Folks!!

On 17 May 2005 (02:19 PM), alexandrus said:

Wow, how refreshing it is to find out that I am not the only nut alive who wants to study Latin for the sake of inproving English vocabulary - there are other nuts. =)

I was always fascinated about history of roots in my native Russian, and one day had this theory that maybe if I got through Latin, I could feel more confortable with words like "pulchritudinous" ... one of my favorite fish is named pulcher - and now I know what it means!

...Alas, where could I find enough inspiration for disciple?! =)

On 08 September 2005 (05:03 PM), Brent said:

For Scott Smith (I hope he will eventually read this):

Your translation was a decent attempt, but had several errors. The first word isn't a word but it looks like you are trying to use the second person future for acquire. Assuming that is what you were trying it would say:

You will get it for the sake of you pay which to you.

A more correct translation would be:

Illa nanscisceris cui solvis.

or if you want to use your second verb:

Illa nanscisceris cui expendas. (but that has more the sense of to weigh out, pay out, ponder, or pay (a penalty) where as solvere means to pay (money).

On 08 September 2005 (05:11 PM), Brent said:

By the way, if you want to use the verb for acquire in the future tense and the second verb (to make it as close as possible to your original sentence) it would be:

Illa acquires (or adquires) cui expendas.
Literally translated as: You will acquire that for which you pay.

The previous was: You get that for which you pay.

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