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Do you think Latin is a worthwhile language to learn?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on May 27, 2005

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Photo of Iffume Jones

“Yeah. It’s an ancient and dead language. A lot of people forget about it, but it has a lot of historical value.”

Photo of Kathy Kalbac

“Sure. Pretty much everything in our culture stems from Latin-speaking societies.”

Photo of Ryan DaMetz

“I think it’s important to understand the root of our own language.”

Photo of Dan Smith

“I think in life you would need a language like Spanish more, but it really helps on standardized tests.”


redbird 12 years, 5 months ago

"Only fools laugh at Latin"...yes but only because they don't understand.It may not be the basic structure of our language but it is helpful to know some of its meanings to better understand medical terms and the beginnings of modern languages....

Fangorn 12 years, 5 months ago

Um, English is a Germanic language. Something Ms. Kalbac apparently doesn't realize. Latin should still be taught in school. My daughter's school does. That's one of the reasons we chose it.

neopolss 12 years, 5 months ago

klatu ...

verata ....


(so perhaps it isn't latin, but it's stuck in my head)

sunflower_sue 12 years, 5 months ago

Had a good dose of Latin in high school. Back then, it helped with college entrance exams. Today, I almost never have to go to the dictionary to look up a word and I can do a killer crossword puzzle. Then, sometimes, it's just fun to mess with your kids by telling them something in Latin and watching their cute little faces screw up in thought! ;) If I had to do it all over again, I would have taken spanish. (At the time I thought I was going into medicine and it might come in handy) Oh, hindsight!

Fangorn, read your last comment from yesterday this morning. I agree with you on supply and demand. (I'll keep demanding my corn fuel and it wil get cheaper to manufacture) Thanks for being a fellow patron.

Jay Bird 12 years, 5 months ago

I think I'd have to agree with Kenny G, from free state. Spanash would help more then Latin. Unless as others have stated, you are trying to get the book of the dead to protect Larryville from the Deadites. In which case, you better shop smart, shop S Mart.

Tell em Ash sent ya.

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 5 months ago

Of course, some people had to demonstrate their incredible smarts by only writing a brief phrase in Latin and that's it. Wow, you're impressive.

Consumer: I never have understood why anyone would subject themselves to a church service in a language that they don't speak. One must learn a lot from that.

No, I don't think Latin is a worthwhile pursuit is you're a student. Concentrate on more contemporary things like computer science. If you're out of school and bored - sure, it could be a good hobby.

Ceallach 12 years, 5 months ago

I loved Latin in high school. True, English is not a Romance language, however, many of the words we use in daily life have Latin roots. I think Latin is much easier to learn than English.

s_sue, I also love crossword puzzles, Latin does help.

one_more_bob: Are you sure you are out of state? You sound amazingly like my brother. For a reason I will never understand he takes offense if he hears international people speaking in their native language in public. One of his favorite ways to embarrass me was to speak Pig Latin to everyone at our table, the restaurant staff, etc. He would not communicate in English, we had to translate to some of the younger staff. Did the internationals get his message? Not that I could ever tell. But he was my little brother, and darn cute, so we tolerated him hoping he would grow out of it. I'm still waiting for that to happen :o))

jonas 12 years, 5 months ago

klatu. . . verata. . . uh, uh, uh, ngngggthtthuuungggcoughcough

acg 12 years, 5 months ago

Uh, fangorn, yesterday when I was talking about the lines at the gas pumps I wasn't implying I thought the situation was the same as it was in the 1970's. I was just stating that the angry people in long lines reminded me of stories my mother told me of the shortages in the 70's. Thanks but I understand that there are economic differences in the two different scenarios. We're not all slack jawed yokels, here. Some of us even have some book learnin'. :)

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 5 months ago

Has anybody else read the article in the Star about Giddens' and the bar brawl? At the end it says that he hasn't been in trouble since he arrived here at the end of 2003. Wow...a whole year and half without any involvement with the police. How DOES he do it??

Ceallach 12 years, 5 months ago

extreme_makeover: I have no doubt you will.

Ceallach 12 years, 5 months ago

A Pig Latin translator?? Aint the net great!

remember_username 12 years, 5 months ago

Studying Latin is great for an "extracurricular" activity, but hardly necessary to function successfully or happily through life. Our tax dollars make up a limited resource from which to operate our government and provide public needs. In the same way time and funds make up the limited resource from which we can draw to educate the next generation. There has been an incredible growth of knowledge in the past couple of decades and this knowledge must be imparted to our students - but we have a fixed resource to draw from. Thus, when we decide to provide education on a new subject, like computers, then we must pass on an old subject, like Latin.

I have long been an advocate of extending public institutional learning so that we can stop sacrificing courses (the fine arts usually) in order accommodate the wealth of new knowledge that is becoming available on a daily basis. However, I haven't figured out how to pay for it - any ideas?

David Ryan 12 years, 5 months ago

Remember 1066? And those Normans who invaded England and imposed a level of French (a Latin-derived language) on top of the English spoken by natives?

That's why we have both "mansion" (French) as well as "house" (German) "dinner" (French) as well as "supper" (German), "visage" as well as "face," et cetera, et cetera.

So, while English is indeed a Germanic language, it's also overlain with numerous Latinate words we use every day.

Not only that, but if you've ever wondered why people tell you it's "wrong" to split infinitives in English, Latin's the culprit: in Latin (and successor Romance languages) infinitives are single words -- e.g., "etre" in French for "to be."

So, wanting English to be as "classical" as Latin, it was dictated that English verbs in their infinitive form should never be split either, even though they were indeed split.

So when someone tells you not to split infinitives, you can respectfully decline to follow their wishes.

neopolss 12 years, 5 months ago

Posted by Hong_Kong_Phooey on May 27 at 8:30 a.m.

Of course, some people had to demonstrate their incredible smarts by only writing a brief phrase in Latin and that's it. Wow, you're impressive.

Consumer: I never have understood why anyone would subject themselves to a church service in a language that they don't speak. One must learn a lot from that.

No, I don't think Latin is a worthwhile pursuit is you're a student. Concentrate on more contemporary things like computer science. If you're out of school and bored - sure, it could be a good hobby.


One who pays no tribute to history has no understanding of the future.

Computer science? the pay is already shrinking in that field.

ms_canada 12 years, 5 months ago

I agree with ceallach - english is a difficult language to learn and try teaching it to a newcomer to your country. We have many Chilean refugees in our city. I became involved with them doing some translation work for Social Services a few years back. (I speak spanish) Then was asked to help some of them learn english. They struggled with words such as thought, taught, could, and read as in I read the paper daily and I read the paper this morning and she wears a red dress. Studying one of the Romance languages can take you many places in the world. If you know one you can get by in one of the others. My husband always says that studying latin in high school was a waste of time. When I went to school language study was compulsory and it was either french (our 2nd official lang.) or latin. I chose french which I used for the first time many years after graduating when travelling to Quebec 2 years ago. For my husband his latin did him no good in Que. Not to say it is not useful at all. I did have to learn some latin in my nursing studies. And I believe that lawyers use latin. Regardless of usage, any type of study is an exercise for the mind and I believe language study to be the best exercise.

ms_canada 12 years, 4 months ago

davidryan - thank you for your post above. I am sure you could have gone on to a great length. Etymology is a most fascinating study. I have promised myself to, one day, take a course at the university. The origin of many words has long intrigued me. Words such as boreal as in the boreal forest and antibellum as in the antibellum mansions of the deep south. We use a lot of words never knowing how they came into being. My inquisitive mind want so know. :-)

jonas 12 years, 4 months ago

FlakeyT: Hate to break it to you, but Latin chicks don't, um, actually speak Latin. Although, I suppose, if you know Latin, mastering Italian or Spanish would probably be pretty easy, with the grammar rules mostly taken care of.

Otro Mas Bob: I heard they tried to sign that football player on to do a drop the chalupa commercial, and he didn't want to do it. Me, I would have gone for it in a heartbeat. The only way to cope with being a jacka$$ and humiliating yourself is publicly laughing about it later, preferably while making a profit.

simple_simon 12 years, 4 months ago

Me thinks that too many people were making fun of lonely guy and that's why he doesn't come around here any more. Who's kansas cheer? And as far as today's question goes...I still have trouble learning my Roman Numerals---nevermind learning how to both read and speak Latin!!

Smarmy_Schoolmarm 12 years, 4 months ago

MSN's online dictionary is pretty handy and has the etymology of every word I've ever entered.

Ceallach 12 years, 4 months ago

extreme: Certainly not. I have read too many of your posts to every think that :) Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to clarify my reply.

"illegitimi non carborundum"

I may be wrong, but I think that while the loose translation is -- "Don't Let the offsprings of unmarried parents Grind You Down,"

the literal translation is -- "I shall grind away at them even as they grind away at me."

It may seem quirky to some, but to those who love words and wordings, I think the literal translation is expressive in a far more graphic sense than the short, cute version.

It is your ability to steadfastly fight on that I do not doubt :)

Carmenilla 12 years, 4 months ago

My husband took Latin at his Catholic HS. He always talked about how his Latin teacher was an ornery curmudgeon (sp?) who smoked in the class room and repeatedly set the garbage can on fire with his butts. Hey, sounds like Latin was fun after all!

J.Lo is about as latina as Paris Hilton. What is with the "whitening" of ethnic women in this society? My honey would say Salma Hayek over J.Lo anyday!

ms_canada 12 years, 4 months ago

smarmy_schoolmarm - muchas gracias! for the website for etymological references. I will make use of it, I am sure. carmenilla - I agree, Salma Hayek over Jennifer any day. refuse to call her J.LO. I guess I just got sick of seeing J.LO, J.LO everywhere.

Fangorn 12 years, 4 months ago

acg: Sorry, I believe I read too much into your remark. I've heard similar remarks recently that were meant to compare the 1970s and today. I mistakenly attributed their meaning to your post. Thanks for clarifying!

davidryan: Yes, I'm well aware of how William the Conqueror's trip across the Channel affected not just the English monarchy but also the language. Just as Latin words through the French were overlaid on the eleventh-century English, so English still carried an undercurrent of the Celtic languages spoken there before the arrival of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries. My earlier post was made in haste, so I'd like to "revise and extend" my critique of Ms. Kalbac's comment. My objection is to her assertion that "pretty much everything in our culture" has its origin in Latin-speaking cultures. This is demonstrably false. I would argue that a far greater portion of our culture comes from northern Europe.

missmagoo 12 years, 4 months ago

time to vent...

i think it is absoultely ridiculous that the missou chief of police will go unpunished and in a way commended for his actions agains the three KU students that attended the MU/KU game. since when does an out-of-uniform police chief get to use his title and force on a couple of kids who had already gotten permission to use the banner? he had absolutely no right to grab the kid and one of them was even arrested. there's nothing different about that banner than kids wearing 'muck fizzou' shirts or 'screw mizzou' with a picture of a jayhawk and a tiger in a compromised position. i know the rivalry is intense but c'mon, can't take the heat?

and then, for mizzou to come out and say that he acted appropriately for the absoultely ridiculous. at least apologize to the kids.

muck fizzou.

CroCop 12 years, 4 months ago

Don't go to the moon bar unless you want to mess with the japanese mafia, my friend almost got beat up there too by a bunch of asian dudes

Carmenilla 12 years, 4 months ago

What a surprise, OMB! And what do you expect?

Ceallach 12 years, 4 months ago

Quick, somebody, say something profound in Latin and rescue the thread.

I know, Dominus Vobiscum -- Et cum spiritu tuo.

Sorry, consumer1, I couldn't help myself (as I am now a fully recovered Catholic :)

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

Ok, guys ... "muck" all college sports, for all I care. They get way too much profile and prestige, I think. No wonder the "kids" think they're bigger than they are.

Now ... the language question. At my high school in another (English-speaking) country, they brought back Latin as a subject. Lo and behold, they left the choice up to the PARENTS. Some of my colleagues were most upset by the fact that their oldies made them do Latin. Once we all grew up though, some of them appreciated it! Now ... Fangorn ... umm ... exactly how "Northern European" are we? Remember, that Latin pervades Spanish, French, Italian, English, even some "Germanic". If anything, the English language is highly European-influenced ... all of Europe that is. I don't see too many words that are Swedish or Danish in origin. But you can find French, spanish, Italian, German ... EvErYwHeRe ...


Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

"The great lie ... Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"

-- Wilfred Owen, WWI poet extraordinaire ...

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

Anyone still think war is a great idea?

Wilfred Owen Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And floundering like a man in fire or lime.-- Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-- My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

No Bob, I didn't say we should have left Europe to the Nazis. Actually this was WWI. All I said was that war is never a good thing. It was even worse in WWI, I think, because of the wholesale slaughter of thousands over a few feet of trench each day.

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

Besides, Hitler was an open book. After the horrors of WWI, the world should have known what he was up to. He even put it in print, almost 18 years before the invasion of Poland.

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

... oops! Mein Kampf first print edition was 1925, not 1921. Sorry :)

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

.. so he told us he was racist and ready to exterminate Jews 14 years before the war.

Ceallach 12 years, 4 months ago

Be fair Centrist, I don't think anyone of in this forum has ever said they thought war was great. Some may think it is necessary but that's not the same thing as thinking it is great.

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

Egads! Off subject again. Sorry guys ... ok, Latin would be interesting to learn, yep. Cheers!

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

Yeah I know Ceallach, I kind of let my beliefs in there didn't I .. embarassed

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

The West (and possibly East as well) should have put together a Coalition and instigated a "regime change" in Nazi Germany ... before WWII began.

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

Assassination, or perhaps bombarding the German public with propaganda might have worked, who knows ... all I'm saying is they saw him coming ... and did nothing until it was too late. With a united Coalition, he could have been easily defeated in a very quick space of time with minimal casualties.

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

The inept League of Nations (as it was called at that time) didn't help matters either. They should have rebuilt Germany as a democratic country instead of greedily demanding reparations. This only fed the National Socialist movement.

Centrist 12 years, 4 months ago

Have a great weekend everybody!! gone

Ceallach 12 years, 4 months ago

Pax tecum to all -- hope you enjoy your holiday weekend!

ms_canada 12 years, 4 months ago

WW I you say. The Green Fields of France by Eric Vogel

Well how do you do, young Willie McBride, Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside, And rest for a while 'neath the warm summer sun I've been walking all day and I'm nearly done.

I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen, When you joined the great fallen in 1916, I hope you died well and I hope you died clean, Or young Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.

Did they beat the drum slowly, Did they play the fife lowly, Did they sound the death march As they lowered you down. Did the band play the last post and chorus, Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest.

Did you leave ere a wife or a sweetheart behind. In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined. Although you died back in 1916 In that faithful heart are you forever nineteen. Or are you a stranger without even a name Enclosed and forever behind a glass pane In an old photograph torn and battered and stained And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame. Chorus The sun now it shines on the green fields of France The warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance. And look how the sun shines from under the clouds There's no gas, no barbed wire there's no gun firing now. But here in this graveyard it's still no man's land The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand To man's blind indifference to his fellow man To a whole generation that were butchered and damned

Ah, young Willie McBride I can't help wonder why Do they that lie here know why they did die And did they believe when they answered the call. Did they really believe that this war would end war.

Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory the pain The killing and dying were all done in vain For young Willie McBride it all happens again, And again and again and again and again

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly Did they sound the death march As they lowered you down, Did the band play the last post and chorus, Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest.

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 4 months ago

Neoplss: Again, as you did yesterday, you only see what you wish to see in posts. Please...point out the part in my original post where I say that we should completely ignore history? What's that?? You can't. Of course you can't - BECAUSE I NEVER SAID THAT, you ignoramus.

bugmenot 12 years, 4 months ago

Posted by Hong_Kong_Phooey on May 27 at 8:30 a.m. No, I don't think Latin is a worthwhile pursuit is you're a student. Concentrate on more contemporary things like computer science. If you're out of school and bored - sure, it could be a good hobby.


One who pays no tribute to history has no understanding of the future.

Computer science? the pay is already shrinking in that field.

How does latin help with understanding history or learning of the future. If you want to learn history, then take history not latin. Also I guarantee you could make more in computer science or something worthwhile than learning latin which is a dead language.

Fangorn 12 years, 4 months ago

Centrist: It looks like you may have signed off for the day, so I hope you do end up reading this post. I don't really think we have a disagreement (or not much of one). You're looking primarily at language, which of course is what the question was about. My criticism of the young woman's remark regarded her assertion about the origin or content of our culture. Language is an aspect of a culture, albeit a predominant and highly recognizable one. But language is not the sum total of a culture. The fact that our language uses many words of Latin origin (mostly due to the Norman Invasion) does not support her assertion that our entire culture derives primarily from the "Latin-speaking societies".

Swedish and Danish are Scandinavian languages that developed from the Northern German branch of the Germanic family of languages. English came from the Western German branch. As such they are like siblings within the Germanic family and you may be less likely to see their influence as having an outside origin. The Latin languages are more like a distant cousin within the Indo-European super family of languages, making their influence more noticeable. Dangle, drip, fog (but not Phog), kidnap, ombudsman, rift, skulk, and smile are all Danish in origin. Boulder, flounder, kink, lug, gauntlet, sprint, spry, and wicker are all of Swedish origin.

As an interesting side note (interesting to me, at least) is that Finnish is not an Indo-European language. It is from the Uralic family, of which Estonian and Hungarian are also members.

Smarmy_Schoolmarm 12 years, 4 months ago

I just got a spam email from Chuck E. Cheese's. I wish I had Italian Princess' address...I'd forward it.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 4 months ago

Actually, here in the last week, I've found it fun to teach my kids "Pig latin" at the dinner table (I'm fluent in that language and they think it's a hoot!) For all you true Latiners out there: Dorme bene! (Sleep Well) I hope that is right...been way too many years! For those true pig Latiners out there: Eepslay ellway!!!!!

ms_canada 12 years, 4 months ago

Hola sunflower_sue. Yo digo a usted, duerme bien esta noche, graciosa senora y sus ninos tambien. Y su esposo. Y yo espero que manana estaria un dia muy feliz por usted y por su familia. Adios.

mankso 12 years, 4 months ago

Yes, I do think Latin is worthwhile learning - however I spent 7 years at it in highschool, but made much better progress in German and French. Then I discovered ESPERANTO, which has been of much more practical use to me during my life. It confers most of the same benefits usually claimed for Latin, but at a much smaller cost in time and energy. A great pity that so many people know nothing about it, or are prevented by their preconceived notions (prejudices!) from looking into it. You can even listen to daily radio broadcasts in it now. Start your search here: or here [info in 62 languages!] Esperanto opened up a vaste new world of foreign languages and friendships for me. The Latin tag: "Ignoti nulla cupido" is very apt here - one has no desire for something one knows nothing about. At least give it 10 minutes of your time.

sunflowerks54 9 years, 10 months ago

Latin helped me more in school and college more than any other single course I took. Learning the structure and root of words also helped me learn other languages. It is definitely worth the effort.

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