Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Latin

Whenever I hear the word Latin, what springs to mind is a British comedy sketch.

Beyond the Fringe was a stage review put on by four young Brits (Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Peter Cook) for a few years in the early sixties. It is considered the forerunner of the British TV shows like Monty Python's Flying circus. This Wikipedia article gives you the whole story.

For the fans of this type of British humour, who couldn't attend the stage productions, a vinyl record was produced and we listened to it eagerly.

To my mind, one of the best skits was by Peter Cook, called Sitting on the Bench. He played a coal miner regretting the fact that he didn't fulfill his ambition to become a judge. The sketch is very funny, but best summed up in these sentences. "Yes, I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin. I never had the Latin for the judgin'."

Well I had the Latin. In my high school we all had to have the Latin, well at least for the first year. But I loved the Latin, I don't know why. Somehow it appealed to me, the orderly sense of conjugating verbs and different cases for nouns. Almost mathematical in its orderliness. We all hated the teacher, Miss Simons, with a passion. She was a cranky old unmarried teacher (probably still in her forties, I was only 12 after all) handing out detention left, right and centre, making you copy out a vocabulary word 20 times if you missed it in a test. This only happened once to me, let me tell you. But she couldn't deter me. She was my Latin teacher for 5 years, and I even took Latin honours for matriculation. I still insist it was probably the most useful subject I ever took in high school.

When I went into Pharmacy people said to me, well aren't you lucky you have the Latin. Huh? Even in the fifties the Latin had almost disappeared from Pharmacy. It was easy for anyone to learn the few expressions left, although those with the Latin knew exactly what the abbreviations meant, for example: bid (bis in die - twice daily) or prn (pro re nata -literally for the thing that is born, or as necessary).

The next use I found for the Latin was in gardening. When you are looking for a specific plant you can't rely on the common name, since the common name may refer to three different plants, depending on the region. On the other hand, one plant may have three different common names. Consequently you need to use the Latin name. Indeed, it has been a great asset to me in all the garden clubs I've belonged to over the years, with those long botanical names rolling off my tongue.

So you see I could have been a judge. I wasn't, but I could have been, because you've got to have the Latin for the judgin' and I definitely had it.


This is a bit of past whimsy from my blog.

3 comments:

james higham said...

The Latin

Whenever I hear the word Latin, what springs to mind is a British comedy sketch.

What springs to mind with me is why anyone would wish to address a table in the first place. Were the Romans weird, perchance?

Classic ending, JMB, to a surprising post from a North American:

So you see I could have been a judge. I wasn't, but I could have been, because you've got to have the Latin for the judgin' and I definitely had it.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Lovely post, jmb. here in Italy "the Latin" is still valued, I am glad to say.

jmb said...

James, welcome back. But you know I had the typical British education in Australia, only being North American for the last 46 years.