Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The big ten revisited?

The other day I  saw this tweet:

And I thought "That old canard", thinking it was the "Latin phrases everyone should know" that I had addressed back in April 2013. (It was not a dead duck [as canards go ], but there were a few slips in it. And I thought that, like many old pieces on the net, it had had a 'new twease of life'.)

But the title 'Ten Latin Phrases You Should Know' was different – which should have warned me. And as it happens that title seems to have been invented by the RTd tweeter, as the linked page has the title 10 Latin Phrases You Pretend to Understand. I thought the 'should know' in the earlier post and in the tweet was  questionable, but I'm not sure 'pretend to' is much of an improvement. As I said before:
Another thing everyone (everyone who uses them, that is)  should know is how to translate and/ or spell them.
It's the word should that bothers me (I was using it myself in that instance for literary effect: it's up to you whether you bother to find out about them but if you use them you'd better know your stuff: the writer's mark for translation was 7/10 [details here], not a bad score but dodgy enough to identify the person using those Latin tags as a poseur.)

When you're not sure who your audience is, it's not clever to use fancy terms. What are you trying to prove? Does it improve your chances of communicating whatever you want to communicate if half of your audience don't know what you mean and a fair few of the others have to make allowances for your own misapprehensions (I'm thinking here, for example, of the many people who confuse i.e. and e.g.)

The ones who don't know what you mean are likely to pretend they do, which I suppose goes some way towards justifying the title '10 Latin Phrases You Pretend to Understand'; but I don't pretend to understand them (except in the Borgesian sense of  '¿Tú que me lees, estás seguro de entender mi lenguaje?' [meaning, loosely, 'How can you be sure you know what I mean?]).

Accepting (pro tem. [!]) that 'pretend', let's look at that newer post (from the mental floss stable). It starts out promisingly:
Whether you're deciphering a cryptic state seal or trying to impress your Catholic in-laws, knowing some Latin has its advantages. But the operative word here is "some." We'll start you off with 10 phrases that have survived the hatchet men of time (in all their pretentious glory).

Their 10 overlap with only 2 of the everyone should know 10: Cogito ergo sum (the mental floss page gets the translation right this time in #4) and persona non grata (this time the honours are reversed in my view: the 'unwelcome' of the older post seems to me better than 'unacceptable' [used in #2 of the newer page]).

It's strange that in #1 and #3, both with a second declension verb (which makes it pretty easy to spot the subjunctive) the mental floss page gets the translation right in #1 (caveat'let him beware'), but wrong in #3 (habeas 'you have').  The whole point of the law of habeas corpus is that if you don't 'have the body'  [an unfortunate translation, more like '"the person[al presence]"' you can demand it. Numbers #5 and #6 pass mauster, but the others are all questionable:
  1. Ad Hominem
    "To [attack] the man"

    See what they did there? Clever, but deceitful. The Ad does indeed 'mean' (there go those mental tweezers again – I'm never comfortable with any form of words that implies some kind of equivalence) but not that sort of to. They've made it into the sort of to that introduces an English infinitive, 'justifying' (the unjustifiable, in my view) introduction of a verb. So an adjectival phrase has become a verb phrase. (The to, incidentally, is the 'addressed/directed [to]' sort, and the phrase 'means' '[addressed] to the individual' (unless they want to coin a new Ad feminam argument, to be directed to the distaff side)
  2. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
    "All for the Greater Glory of God"

    Who said anything about all?
  3. Memento Mori
    "Remember, you will die"

    My schoolboy Latin (reinforced by later Romance Philology studies) runs out here, but sure as eggs is eggs there's no imperative form. And mori is 'to die' (or to be subject to certain death). So the whole tag is something like 'A reminder of mortality', which fits in with the further explanation on that page:
    ...[T]he latter [explanation] was the one preferred by the early Christian Church, which would use macabre art—including dancing skeletons and snuffed-out candles—to remind the faithful to forgo temporal pleasures in favor of eternal bliss in heaven.
    A picture like that was a memento mori. It's impossible to be 'a remember...'
  4. Sui Generis
    "Unique and unable to classify"

    Errm... where to start?  'Unable to classify' is what the management trainee is in the old joke.
    During the death throes of DEC, in the mid-late '90s, this story was current:
    A management trainee on an away-day at a farm was given the task of mucking out a stable. He finished very quickly and the farmer was so impressed he gave him another job, sorting a pile of potatoes into three heaps –  big ones, little ones, and middle-sized ones.

    The farmer came back half an hour later to find the management trainee with three very small piles, scratching his head over the next potato.

    'I can't understand it,' said the farmer. 'You were so quick and thorough at the first job, but you've hardly made a dent in the pile of potatoes.'

    'Aha,' said the trainee, 'when it comes to shovelling sh1t I'm an ACE, but ask me to make a decision and I lose the plot.'

    Something that is sui generis can't BE classified; it is 'of its own kind'. Why complicate it?

So, in the end, I can only repeat my closing words last time:
But does everyone need to know these Latin tags? I have my doubts. Some of them are useful to know, but that's not the same. They're neat and  efficient; I use them sometimes. But they're easy to get wrong, and can interfere with communication. Moreover, they are a custom-made banana skin ‐ and if you slip on it you may get egg on your f... (Verbum sat.)

Update 2014.07.10:12:15 – Bunch of typoes (that's crying out for a neater collective noun...) and
esprit de l''escalier (as usual )  
Update 2014.07.10:15:55 – Added this note:

Memento IS imperative (meminisse – perfect in form but present in meaning). I might have known that saying 'sure as eggs is eggs' was a guarantee of egg on my face.

Update 2014.07.19:17:20 – Fixed typo, and updated TES stats in footer.

Update 2014.07.21:10:55 – Added this note:
I should have warned you before that this webpage uses the rather dubious sounds like approach, and compounds the dubiousness by using 'English' to mean 'American English'. So the pronunciation guidance is specific to the right sort of reader (which is what makes the approach dubious – it makes unwarranted assumptions about who's going to be a reader: this makes it possibly less dubious on this page, but in teaching forums it really makes my blood boil )

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 44,000 views  and over 6,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,200 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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