Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Ecce Romani!

Not a euphemism to be had for love nor money, as I've been very sensible all day - apart from a small (but explosive) rant about the Middle Classes of Bristol snorting cocaine whilst asking whether the milk in their Fairtrade coffee is organic.

So to cheer myself up (being sensible is vile), I've unearthed my Latin exercise book. (It was buried in the garden in a Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin, so that verb is fully justified.) On p.3 a bold, cross scrawl: Number your pages and name your book! On the front cover in careful copperplate I have printed: I name this book Polyphemus III. I was an irritating little git from the start.

I should have paid more attention in Latin. Really. My ma(ter) said it would come in useful (it hasn't) and that I'd thank her for forcing me to take it (I don't) and that it would help with my English (my English was fine by itself, thanks all the same). And how much fun was to be had in the act of declining. (You're telling me.) Still, now that I have reached the Age of Reason, it would be nice to nod gently at the Young Scholars and say something witty in Roman.

In the High School on a hill in Yorkshire (posts passim), any child too dim for bottom set French had to study Classical Greek, so I suppose I should count myself lucky.

My Latin translations have comments (scrawled in a bolder, even crosser hand): Where is the comprehension? Feeble. You have not thought very hard about this. This is ridiculous. You are writing absolute nonsense. RUBBISH. Most pathetic. And no mark is above zero. Most are well into the minuses.

This is immensely cheering. And my feeble, rubbish, ridiculous attempts at translation are even more cheering. Occasionally, younger relatives beg, wheedle and cajole, 'Please, please, read your Latin translations, O Moptop. Read the one where Caesar burns his socks and trips over a centurion. Or the one where as Antoninus is hesitating, the Volcis put up their tents and proceed to run about which greatly worries the Romans.'

My final translation, before I sat (and somehow passed) an O Level, reads: The camp of Pompeius was attacked by cohorts of whom there were some left defended bravely. But the rest of the soldiers who had fought, who had frightened them and were tired, left their weapons and thought about the camp's defenders. Then when he threw down spears into the mountain and or valley -

See? Latin didn't do my English any good at all.

But what's this? A final sentence: out of breath they weren't able to keep it up for long.

It might not be the euphemism I've spent the day looking for, but on a wet Tuesday evening an entendre - even one as obvious as this - is not to be sniffed at.



  1. Latin eh? I rather fall into the same challenged category as the raw army recruit who was informed by his RSM, "tonight lad, I'm orf to a litererary talk, given by our heducated Captain. 'e's gorna talk about Keats. But then, I don't s'pose you even know what a Keat is, do you?"

    When I was editor of a University paper, there were often polite coughs from distinguished members of the editorial board whenever a Latin joke was aired. It was their well-intentioned way of reminding their chums of my secondary modern grooming.

    Are you going bury the book again? After all, some say it's dead language.

    Would you believe your word verification is lataan?

  2. Mine was just an ordinary high school. I don't know why the Head had such a bee in her bonnet about The Classics, because it was Highly Unfashionable at the time. I expect she's Special Advisor to Cameron, D. now.

    I once crawled the entire length of the science block to avoid being seen by the Latin Mistress, whose classroom overlooked the Science wing.

    There I was, on hands and knees, crawling through Bio. Phys. & Chem.

    "What are you doing, Moptop?" the various beaks bellowed.

    "Hiding from Miss Ullman, Sir."

    "Very good. Carry on."

    (My WV is highly empathetic.)

  3. I once attempted (rather rashly) to write a poem consisting only of Latin (or Latin-sounding)words and it was quite as bad as it sounds (sample lines:
    scrotum flora exit in conundrum
    scapula vertebrae momentum theorum)
    My only excuse is that my Latin teacher banged her head falling off her horse when I was in fourth year and was never quite the same.
    p.s. I think you'll find the word 'unearthed' is LEFT justified, and not as you stated FULLY justifed. 8-)

  4. first of all, you have broken my heart. I am totally, boringly, sensible and practical. Haven't got a frivolous bone in my body. According to you it is (therefore I am) vile. I shan't get over that in a hurry.

    I will give you another chance, I've added myself to your followers list.

    Secondly, there is one translation out of De Bello Gallicus which amused me (and countless others kids) no end. In translation into German) it goes:

    The Romans p . . . ed over the Rhine.

    I suppose you had to be there to find it funny.

  5. @ Friko - not everyone who is sensible is vile. It's just that I find it vile being sensible. It goes against every fibre in my being. People will no longer sit next to me at very sensible meetings because I write irreverent things on notes and make them giggle (and get into trouble). Once at an extremely sensible meeting with the Police Authority, The Council and other Important Institutions, I suggested instituting an Annual City-wide Comedy Vegetable Contest ...

    Have I proved my point?

    My favourite declension went blum,blum,blum, bli, blo, blo,bla,bla,bla, blorum. bliss, bliss.

    Anyway, thank you for following!

  6. @ BB - scrotum flora has left me with rather an unpleasant mental picture ...

  7. Made me giggle. I tried to learn Latin last year. I thought it would help my English teaching. It probably would have done if I hadn't been so rubbish and given up after six weeks. Amo, amas, am ... am .... am ... Oh, darn it.

  8. I tried to re-learn it last year, too. (Great minds and all that.) I bought that Amo, Amas, Amat book.

    I went into a decline ...

  9. Very funny, Moptop! I always liked to tell people that I regretted not having taken Latin at university (where I lasted only one term anyway) because it made me look almost as good (in my regret) as if I had actually taken it. Without all the work.

    However, I do find that the miserable amount that I know was, in fact, enormously helpful to my parenting skills. In that I could pounce on a word and hold it up in front of my easily impressed and gullible children, saying, 'and THAT comes from the Latin word ******'. This works less well now that they're older and some of them have actually completed university.

    PS and thanks very much for coming over to my blog and adding yourself. You might want to reconsider that since it's generally way too serious and sensible. I would understand.

  10. @ Deborah - I did a similar thing with Moptop Minor, except we played Scrabble in Croatian.

    I always won.

  11. My Latin teacher was very hands on. When he died they lit bonfires in the street. "I'm glad he's dead," was one comment - from a lad he used to grab by the hair in order to bang his head on the desk.

  12. Anonymous - did you attend St Custard's? The beaks there weren't slow to whack.