I have just read Donald Clark’s account of his part in the debate on whether or not Latin ought to be taught in schools.
I’m finding myself persuaded by your argument once again, Don. You’ve put forward a convincing case that is well-reasoned, and supported by credible research and authority, as well as plain common sense. And so (sic, sic) I would like to share with you my personal experience of Latin.
They sold me Latin at my grammar school in 1962, and along with all those declensions (I thought that was something you did with your buttocks) I learned to parse clauses and avoid blackboard dusters.
“in” with the ablative
My Latin masters were aliens from the planet Grk. They justified their efforts by pushing all the “Ah buts…” you have so skilfully dismissed in your argument. One incredibly memorable thing I did learn was the list of prepositions that govern the ablative (“in, within, on upon, IN with the ablative pom, pom” – sung to the tune of “Little Brown Jug”). The “ablative” lesson taught me that, with enthusiasm and a little creativity, mixed with a little humour and by harnessing the musical rhythms of language you can teach just about anything to anyone – no matter if it be relevant or not. See! (exclamatory). How I couldn’t resist using a subjunctive in the previous sentence? (rhetorical)
So what did the Romans ever do for me?
First I enjoyed many moments of hilarity as the Latin words “hic” and “cum” appeared in The School Song. That I returned a grade 7 “O Level GCE might sound like a poor attainment, but let me put it into context; it was 2 grades higher than the grade 9 I achieved in Physics under the tutelage of the psychopath we non-too-affectionately dubbed Max Plank (sic).
I think it might have given me a liking for English, French and German on the basis that anything is better than Latin. Above all it turned me into a pedant, and even now I am unable to read a perfectly intelligent and entertaining text like yours, Don, without experiencing outrage.
A snake came to my watering hole
So as in the Lawrence poem “Snake” (acknowledgments to a great English master), I have to expiate a pettiness – I cannot, God help me (we called RE “Divinity”), avoid commenting on the incorrect use of nominative case in your second paragraph
…debate which pitched David Aaronovitch and I against Peter Jones and Natalie Haynes
I know you wanted to say,
…debate which pitched David Aaronovitch and me against Peter Jones and Natalie Haynes
Help me! Am I doomed for all eternity to be a Latinist?
(P.S. I have broken so many rules and sacred cows in this blog that I have an uncomfortable impulse (need? desire?) to stand in line outside an oak-lined study filled with the aromas of pipe tobacco and eau de cologne, waiting to be beaten.)