CONJURING MAGIC WORDS – TURNING LATIN TO SORT OF ENGLISH

I WOULD CONJURE MAGIC, BUT …
NO LATIN ALLOWED


I hadn’t thought about it. To be honest, my eyes have seen it. My brain has skimmed over it. Whoosh. Away it went with no thought given to its meaning. I do know what a couple of “Latin as part of English” shortcuts supposedly mean.

“Illegitimi non carborumdum” — which I believed (and lots of other people also believe) translates to: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” from the mock-Latin word, illegitimatus, or bastard, and carborundum, an ancient brand of abrasive stone. But apparently, it’s not “real” Latin. Who speaks “real Latin” anyway? Whatever Latin you speak, it ain’t the real deal. Whoever speaks Latin speaks a reconstruction of it based on what we know from old writings. No native speakers hanging around in this century.

But QED? From this morning’s Boston Globe’s Theresa Hanafin, comes this bright light for the day:


The Question of the Day from The Old Farmer’s Almanac is: What does the abbreviation “QED” stand for? It’s Latin — quod erat demonstrandum — and means “that which was to be demonstrated.” It’s often used at the end of math proofs or philosophical treatises where the writer reaches a conclusion. Sort of a “ta-da!” I always thought it stood for “Quick, eat the doughnuts,” which has been very helpful over the years.”


What does this have to do with anything?

Well, since I cannot find any conjurable magic (is that a word?), the closest I’ve got are those little Latin sayings we drop into our English language. When I was first working as a tech writer in the U.S., having been working in Israel as a tech writer for five or six years, I encountered an actual English-language editor. My editors in Israel had been a lovely French woman who had excellent English, but sometimes her editorial decisions were a bit … continental. I had a great Russian guy and some of his editorial decisions were … unique.

This was the first time I got to fight over my words in my native tongue with another New York native.

ARTWORK: Evil Squirrel’s Nest

She was fixated on never using a Latin expression if there was an equivalent English word for the same thing. Should she come upon “etcetera” she would always change it to “and so on.”

“We do not speak Latin in this department,” she would announce. To this day, when I’m editing anyone else’s work — Garry or one of the other writers on our “team” and I see an etcetera looming, I can hear her voice carrying over the television or audiobook:


WE DO NOT SPEAK LATIN IN THIS DEPARTMENT.


I am forced to change it to “and so on” and occasionally, to something more obscure like “moreover.” Can’t use “ad infinitum” either … a sad waste of clever language skills.


Ad infinitum is a Latin phrase meaning “to infinity” or “forevermore”. Description: In context, it usually means “continue forever, without limit” and this can be used to describe a non-terminating process, a non-terminating repeating process, or a set of instructions to be repeated “forever,” among other uses.


It’s amazing how a single determined editor can fix something in your brain forever, even when you have long since passed a point where you need instructions.

Thus if you are doing any conjuring today, please do it without Latin. We don’t speak Latin here.

64 thoughts on “CONJURING MAGIC WORDS – TURNING LATIN TO SORT OF ENGLISH”

  1. QED stayed with after school. After each geometry theorem we wrote QED and I think it meant “which was to be proven. Just a decoration in our exercise books. Even Pythagoras got it with his right angled triangle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She and I had MANY rounds, but I had several thousand pages to edit and you can’t fight over every paragraph. Eventually, I just did it her way. In the writer-editor relationship, the editor ALWAYS wins. Even when they are wrong. You can argue and sometimes win, but it’s exhausting to keep battling, especially when you’ve got a mountain of work and every little battle cuts into that time. If for no other reason, they win by default.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There are actual language textbooks from Roman times. I have a good friend who’s a classics professor at Purdue, strangely enough. I met her at a conference. We were the only two presenters on any medieval topics and we hit it off immediately and permanently. Her presentation was on the Goliards and it was great and funny (as appropriate to the Goliards). Sometimes you meet someone who isn’t you, but enough LIKE you that you think, “This is almost me if I’d followed my bent and majored in classics.” I studied Greek — Homeric and Hellenic and I really liked it, but, alas, it wasn’t to be largely because of my lack of self-confidence.

    Latin came into our language so many times from so many sources — I think a lot of “our” Latin is derived from medieval Latin. As for native speakers, the closest we probably have are those Romansch speakers in the back of beyond in Switzerland.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always wondered what native Latin would sound like. Some think a bit like Spanish or Italian. But they are guessing.

      When they had to revive Hebrew after it being a “dead” language for more than two thousand years, it took a while before it sounded like a language. Lots of changes — and it is still changing, developing dialects and nuances it lacked. Making up for the total absence of “technology” in it. It has borrowed from every language on earth in its reconstruction. If they ever decide to revive Latin as a living language, that would be entertaining.

      I’m sure they have all the grammar and structure for Latin because it was written and kept being written … but no one remembers exactly how it sounded. I imagine sort of “romance” language-like. You think?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. We had to take several years of Latin because of its roots that led to the “Romance Languages” (Latin, French, Spanish,and English. I wonder what your editor would have done had she encountered an errata sheet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She really wasn’t a great editor, but she tried very hard. She had a book with “rules” for technical writing and she followed it. I think it may have been the book Microsoft published. They have since completely changed their style too. I like having an editor, but it’s difficult when your editor has a set of unbreakable rules and sometimes, you need to break them. Errata sheet! She couldn’t even cope with recognizing there ARE times when passive voice is the only correct voice because YOU DON’T KNOW WHO DID IT. That really made me crazy. But eventually, she got laid off. In fact, eventually, everyone except ME got laid off.

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    2. Slret, have you found a use for Latin in “normal” conversation.

      I’ve found my high school and College Spanish to be useful across the years.

      Hasta luego, Senora.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Latin was only useful when in family conversations when I was still taking classes. Since then, I’ve only found a use when trying to understand the occasional new word — finding the derivatives has been helpful. I took a lot of French, too — once had to translate a brochure, but that was the only use for French. I wish now that I had taken Spanish — living in Southern California, it would be most helpful!

        Liked by 2 people

          1. When we were in school, the second international language was French — that diminished rather quickly, and English became the primary useful language, with whatever secondary was spoken in the area where one lived. Spanish would be much more useful in most of the country now!

            Liked by 2 people

        1. Slmret, during my working years, I would sometimes find myself with someone talking to me in Spanish. I would slow my brain down to get words and phrases I understood. I would then SLOWLY respond with my “fair”Spanish. Made my day.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. LOL…I took Latin in high school…and failed miserably. I didn’t even learn the cool cuss words like the kids in Spanish did. After 6 weeks my teacher threw up her hands and declared it not only permissible to drop her class, but not to let the door hit me on the way out. She may have used some of those cool cuss words as I dropped off my books – we will never know. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was required to take a language…too slow to get into Spanish. lol Kept hoping that I could somehow graduate without it…. lol I have no ear for languages and failed every class I took, but at the time, if you got enough credits, you graduated…or maybe they were just eager to get rid of me? lol

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    1. Glo, I trook Spanish in High School and College. I was a fair student. Just fair. I retained enough to be able to use it conversationally during my TV News years. Gave me an advantage on the streets.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My older son, the aeronautical engineer took Latin in H.S. in Minot, ND My mother had taken it, I am not sure where…but a latin textbook was still wandering around the place when I was a kid.
    but it is good for figuring out the roots of a lot of words…. I didn’t. Just took little bits of several, and learned Swedish/Norwegian along with along with English as my grandmothers were weaned on their respective backgrounds, my dad’s parents both grew up in Sweden, and my mother’s mother in just settling Eastern Wisconsin from Norwegian and ? parents… Learning early, makes it easier to adapt to a different language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So I understand. I just never really had an ear for languages. Everyone seemed to think I should have — musical and all that — but I didn’t. Perhaps if I had learned Yiddish when my parents spoke it, that might have helped. They didn’t want us to learn it. It was the ghetto language.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For many when they came to this country or at least the second generation, deliberately dropped that “mother tongue:. It was a mistake. In my various readings, not that many years ago, it was demonstrated that children who were exposed to various languages from birth did better in school, etc.. It expands the brain connections and associations in some way…… And then this great
        .country of ours did their best to make us a on language country to our detriment, in hindsight…
        Hmmmmm. In Europe most people know more than one language and often multiple ones. Because each country has their own language and history thereof.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know. In Israel, it wasn’t uncommon to meet kids of 9 or 10 who spoke three or four languages fluently and two or three more not quite as well. They grew up in Russia or Georgia (Russian Georgia) or someplace like that. They learned a couple of languages locally and a few more in school and everyone learned languages early. We don’t. By the time we start learning languages, we’re already teenagers and it is much harder.

          I took Owen to Israel with me. In six months, he spoke like a native and I could barely stumble my way through a few sentences. He also learned a bit of Arabic too and would have learned more had he had the chance. I could still barely stumble my way through a few sentences.

          I wanted to learn Yiddish but my parents wanted us to be Americans, no hint of ghetto. it’s a pity because none of us in my generation learned it — and the language is dead.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Sandy, I felt illiterate during some of my overseas travels because I only spoke English and some Spanish. I usually crammed if I was on a working trip. You NEED to speak other languages as a reporter or you’re lost. You lose stories . You may also lose your job.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Sandy, I recall my first trip to Paris. A 20 something in the mid 60’s. A lovely young woman chatted me up in French. I paused, smiled and said – “Oui”. So much for that brief encounter.

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  6. Latin was the language of many scholars for a thousand years or more in our past, carried on largely through our most common (European) religions and is retained, in part, in Biology and Botany, Medicine, Zoology and Law. (Not to mention religious litany of course). 🙂

    it’s also still very popular in Heraldry and Institutional crests/mottos!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Veritas Liberabit vos! Quid est veritas?

        Cogito ergo sum!

        Mens sana in corpore sano! 😉 In vino veritas 🙂

        (D)Ipso facto. 😉 😀

        Nahhh – far from it mate! The schools i went to never had it as a subject. Most of mine i’ve picked up from British law and cop shows like Rumpole of the Bailey… or reading the Asterix comic book series as a kid…. and again as an adult! (a VERY informative cartoon is Asterix!)

        “Alea jacta est” as Caesar would say. 🙂

        In closing may i just say: In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi… in angulo, cum libro
        (Everywhere have i searched for peace and have found it nowhere….except in a corner, with a book! )

        Liked by 2 people

            1. Bob, there are still a lot of Americans who think EVERYONE should speak “American” even when they are travelling in other countries. It’s embarrassing.

              “The Ugly American”

              Liked by 2 people

                1. Bob, Rick’s a great guy. Hey,why don’t we meet for cocktails at Rick’s place? I hear Sam’s playing there again. Just watch out for the Gestapo. Those goons in gray, trying to get free drinks.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. I can see i need to be more specific with my offers!!! 😉 I was thinking more like a Tom Collins or a Manhattan.

                      I haven’t yet worked out how to turn dreams into reality – sadly.

                      Liked by 2 people

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