Doomed to be a Latinist

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.)


A little license now and again.

Years ago I was working in a school where the head-teacher had replaced a much-loved boss. Eager to establish her presence in a community that had been dominated by her predecessor, the woman arranged a festival to celebrate an imminent milestone in the history of the establishment. What an ambitious project it turned out to be. An event worthy of PT Barnum was conceived, planned and organised totally in secret by the new incumbent. It was a classic act of “I’ll show the buggers”.

As I was perhaps the least recalcitrant member of her deeply resistant staff, she took me into her confidence and invited me to view the arrangements she had made. She read aloud the acceptance letters from the Chief Education Officer and the Lord Mayor of the city. She showed me the extravagantly colour-printed posters, flyers and programmes that had newly arrived from the printers. Each one bore the same beautifully crafted image of the school’s heraldic badge which she had painstakingly drawn by hand (This was the late 1970s and long before the digital age.) Beneath the wings of the phoenix which fanned the flames of a bright new future was the motto, “Be Strong and of Good Courage”.

Feeling anything but “of good courage”, I swallowed hard and said, “I think it’s truly wonderful, Enid, but Don’t you spell centenary with an “A”.

Some months later I was looking for new horizons. I stood in her office again and said, “I’m really surprised I was not shortlisted for that promotion. I never heard a word about my application.” She responded with ill-disguised triumph, “Well here’s a little hint dear; the next time you boast of a clean full driving licence, spell it with a “c” and not an “s”.

This all came flooding back to me when I received a note of gentle censure from a much-respected client to whom I’d sent an email to say, “I’ve put it on my diary.” “No you haven’t,” he wrote back, “you’ve put it IN your diary.” And he was right of course – if you live by the sword… (By the way forgive me for beginning the previous sentence with a conjunction and neglecting to include the modal verb.)

Then only this morning (Oh Happy Day), I read his own email referring to “a stationary box” It could only be a typographical error – I have no doubt. Should I point out the error?
Should I disingenuously reply, “What I’d really prefer is a movable box?”, or should I do the decent thing and let the matter pass unremarked?

I’ll let it pass; after all everyone deserves a little “license”.

But before I leave the subject l recall the old joke about the girl behind Woolworth’s counter who was asked, “Do you keep stationary?” She looked at the young man who’d posed the question and answered, “Only until the foreplay, and then I go really wild.”

Have a nice day. It’s a god job no-one reads my blog.