Saturday, March 1, 2008


Maggie, who posts stunning photos, tagged me for the book meme that's been snowballing its way through the blogosphere.

The rules are simple. Look up from the computer, look around the room where you're sitting and pick up the closest book. And closest really means closest. No cheating by running upstairs to unearth your pink-highlighted college copy of The Critique of Pure Reason or the Prolegomena. Open the book, turn to page 123, count down to the fifth sentence on that page, and then post the next three sentences.

Now, if the meme hadn't been limited to books, you'd be reading a selection from the large stack of home decorating magazines piled next to the guest room bed. Something like: The kitchen cabinets, hand-crafted from exotic African wenge, make a definite fashion statement, their rich, dark color playing up the whimsical jewelbox tones of the tumbled marble backsplash.

Instead, what you get is this:

interea, meanwhile; sometimes nevertheless, notwithstanding.

interemptor, -oris, m., murderer.

intereo, -ire, -li, -itum, to be lost, to perish.
I suppose it's appropriate enough, since (if you haven't already noticed) I have kind of a thing for Latin and I think that all kids should study it.

Here's my reasoning: Unless you speak a second language at home or you're lucky enough to have a school with an immersion program, you're unlikely to learn a foreign language well enough to be of much use. In Latin, you don't have to waste your time trying to get the accent right, so you can focus on the content and structure of the language itself. Learning Latin increases your knowledge of English, since much of our more abstruse* vocabulary is rooted in Latin. Latin is also perfect for dissecting the workings of grammar, since you can put words in any order you like and the sentence will still mean the same thing. The only difference between The gladiator killed the lion and The lion killed the gladiator is which noun is in the accusative case. Plus you can learn hilarious Latin jokes like semper ubi sub ubi and, since sub means 'under' ubi means 'where,' heh, heh you said underwear!

What language did you take in school? How well did you learn it? Has it been useful?

Because this meme is so easy, I'm going to tag lots of you. (Though go ahead and skip it if you've already done this one or you avoid memes as a matter of principle.)

ewe are here
one tired ema
law mommy

*Case in point: abstruse comes from the Latin abstrusus, 'put away, hidden,' from abstrudere, 'conceal,' from ab, 'from' + trudere, 'to push'

Edited to add: And (though I can't think how I missed seeing this before), it's kind of appropriate that one of the Latin words on page 123 means "to be lost, to perish" and another means "meanwhile" or "nevertheless."


Rebecca said...

I did French, German, and Latin. Did French for all seven years of secondary education, and nearly did it for my degree. Did German for two years and sucked at it. Did Latin for three years and you're right, it helps so much with English grammar and figuring out what obscure words mean. My A level English teacher used to call me and my friends "The Grammar Corner" because we had all done Latin and were excellent at grammar.

My school Latin textbooks were called "Ecce Romani!" which means "Look! Romans!" which still makes me laugh ten years later.

Suz said...

I did take Latin starting in the 5th grade and then French. Oddly enough, I loved Latin and was good at it. Not so much with French.

And I had the same text as Rebecca.

the dragonfly said...

I always wanted to learn Latin. Is it too late?

niobe said...

Dragonfly: Absolutely not. This site is a fantastic resource. It has vocabulary lists, very clear explanations of grammar, practice sheets, and even little animated "movies" to reinforce vocabulary and reading comprehension.

My Reality said...

I love being talked dirty to about kitchens. It so does it for me.

Ms. Planner said...

5 years of Latin. Did wonders for my SAT and GMAT scores. It does help tremendously with grammar. I took French as an adult but wish I had dedicated more time to it.

Bronwyn said...

I had 4 years of French in high school (in my piddly New England town it was either that or Spanish), 2 years of it in college. I also had 2 years of German in college before I went to study in Germany (where I really learned the language by having to use it to order beer and contraceptives). I also took French while I was studying in Germany, and I learned way more German in that course than French. Now I live in Quebec, where they speak a kind of French, so most of my German is long gone... Schade.

niobe said...

Bronwyn: In contrast, I took German while I was living in France. And, though, my French is perfectly adequate for most purposes, I have a terrible time trying to decipher the French they speak in Quebec.

Patti said...

Niobe, I spent the first 6 years of my life in Montreal and excelled in french from Grade 3 to Grade 13 while living in Ontario, and I don't understand what they speak in Quebec either. It can be so bastardized and full of "'orrible h-accents" that they don't teach Quebec french in Canadian schools -- only "international" french. So even though I speak french well, I'm just as lost in Quebec as any other Anglophone. If you'd like a laugh, go here and watch the video:

Angelisa said...

I took French in 7th & 8th grade. Then, I studied Spanish for 3 years in high school. I took one year of Modern Greek in college (I grew up hearing Greek, but it was the secret language of the adults in our family). Then I went to Italy and, armed with only a handful of words and phrases, I became fluent via living la vita italiano.

Italian is the one language that finally stuck. Obviously helps having lived there and having an Italian husband (or does it? He speaks an incomprehensible Neapolitan dialect that sounds like a cross between Chinese, Italian, and Swahili...mammamia!)

Katie said...

I took latin at school, and I have to say I agree with you. I think it definitely helped me think about the laws we apply in English, and I actually understand where some words come from, and as a Biologist latin is very useful!

LAS said...

I took German all the way from 8th grade well into college. I can't say it's ever been useful though. Even when I went to Germany last year, I spoke more English than German.

CLC said...

I took Spanish for 4 years in high school and for 2 years in college. Sadly, I still have a hard time understanding it when spoken by someone fluent, although I can read it semi-decently. It probably would have been more helpful if I had spent a semester in Spain and made to speak it every day...

Elizabeth said...

3 semesters of Latin in college. Not as useful as the Quechua I took in graduate school (at least for my research purposes). But singing "Veni veni Emanuel" in Latin at christmastime was pretty cool.

thrice said...

I took Latin for five years, that I started in seventh grade. I took French for two years, that I started in ninth grade. My mother was a Latin-Greek major and I guess she assumed that I would have her skills. Unfortunately, I didn't. I do have to admit that Latin was much easier for me than French, because I didn't have to speak it. A gift for the giftless-ear for language that I have.

Did it help me? Who knows? It certainly didn't come across in my SAT scores, where college admission interviewers asked if I where part-Chinese to explain my 200+ point spread, favoring math. As you well know, my current use of grammar is much to be desired. But, I do believe that those weaknesses have more to do with a then-teaching system berating me for being lazy, instead of working with my ADHD. In fact my mother still chooses to chide me for my "laziness." Sigh.

ewe are here said...

Great photo.

I studied French from the second through the eleventh grade, and took a refresher course while doing a masters degree at U of Edinburgh (still not fluent). And Latin while at University to avoid linguistics courses... ;-)

As for the meme, funnily enough, I did this one a year ago. The link if you're curious:

Ahuva Batya said...

What a gorgeous photo, as always. I took a year of Russian in college, and have been studying Hebrew on and off for the past 2 years. I also studied Dutch by myself for about a year. One of my dearest wishes is to be proficient in a second language... I've decided that will be Hebrew, and my next step is to take classes at the university, maybe after the summer?

Maggie said...

Awww, now I'm all blushing and embarrassed. And honored - you are too kind...and your photographs are perfection, this one included!

I know a little Latin, although not enough to count for much. I had to take French, German, and Spanish in sixth grade, and ended up taking German for 7 years. I don't know that it is particularly useful, but I can get by in German if I have to, although reading is easier than understanding people. I know the basics in French and Spanish. And American Sign Language, although I didn't learn that until I was in college.

Amelie said...

My first foreign language after primary school was English -- but only for a few weeks. Then we moved, and in the new city I was put into a class studying French (the main reason being that this class was not as crowded as those who started with English). Given that I was in the bilingual French branch of my school for years, I must have known it pretty well, but now I'd mix it up with Spanish (which I never took in school) right after "je m'appelle Amelie". I (re)started with English two years later, and I daresay it has been sort of useful.
Latin never got a chance, because I preferred an artificial language (they were taught at the same time, I couldn't do both). Which, given what I do now, has also been useful. Nevertheless I might have an easier time with Spanish if I knew Latin.

Caro said...

I did French and German in school and despite my good grades in both I had been put in the "science and maths box" and so assumed I was bad at languages. German was also the one subject where my school report stated that I didn't talk enough in class (as opposed to too much).

German has been useful since I moved to Denmark and had to learn another language properly for the first time. Many of the words in Danish are either similar to English or German. Apparently I'm not too bad at this as I certainly have faired much better than my husband in learning enough to communicate on a daily basis.

Mavis said...

French in high school, and Italian in college (complete with a year studied abroad in Rome). I remember very little of it when I'm sober, but put a few drinks in me and an occassional string of quite the sentence has been known to fly out of my mouth.

Elizabeth said...

I took French in high school and college and a year of German in college as well. I briefly considered getting a Master's in Comparative Lit, so I needed the languages. I don't use either language now, but learning them was helpful. My undergrad degree required a semester of Old English, and German came in very handy while I was studying it.

I love languages, though. My in-laws are French and German (and Scottish and British), so it helps to be able to throw out the occasional phrase.

leanne said...

I started with German in 8th grade and went on to complete my Master's in German. I also studied Russian for 2 years.

Though I don't use my language skills very often anymore, they have come in handy on occasion -- for translations and simple conversations with visitors to the university where I work. Simple conversations because it's been more than a decade since I finished school.

Learning a foreign language also helped me become a better writer and editor (or that's how I justify the years I spent studying only to head onto a different career path -- yet, I don't feel particularly guilty about that as I love what I do).

Bon said...

French from grades 4 through 10, but only useful in terms of introducing me to the concepts of grammatical terms and conjugation, since grammar wasn't taught in English classes at all. knowing how to ask how to sharpen my pencil or go to the washroom has not proved particularly helpful when interacting with my French inlaws and their extended family, however...alas.

i studied a bit of Korean when i lived there but never really got to practice b/c everyone wanted to practice their English with me instead!

Lori said...

French. Virtually no use to me now. Slightly useful when I was in Paris.

My son would love to hear you say he doesn't need Spanish! Although, I'm not sure what he would think of trading it for Latin...

Julia said...

English. I studied English in school. Started in first grade, but it turns out my specialized schools (I switched school in 4th grade) sucked at teaching English, and I learned more of it from the teacher I had in my math and science high school the last two years before leaving for the US. When I got here, I could understand a lot, but speaking was not easy. Then I got a summer job at Burger King, and that was the beginning of me being fluent in English.
I can also kinda read Hebrew, but my vocabulary suxs.

Anonymous said...

I studied French from the age of nine, later took Swedish and Latin finally at college.

Niobe, there is another language with free word order, namely Finnish. Try that! There are actual living people you could communicate with.

Amanda said...

I finally got around to finishing the meme. As for languages, I studied French in high school, 9-12 grade. I also studied in college through Advanced Conversational French. I could speak French like nobody's business -- in Oklahoma. When I went to France, however, I was great at reading things, but not at holding conversations with actual French people.

In retrospect, I think my inability was less about my actual ability and more about my perception of my ability (or the lack thereof). At the time, I was quite afraid of failing or sounding foolish. Now, all these years later, I'm quite comfortable with being foolish. Unfortunately, the majority of my language skills have disappeared. Isn't that always the way?