Latin: A Ghost Among Us

People say Latin is a “dead” language because people don’t speak it anymore. Well, that much is true. But if it is officially dead, Latin is a ghost that still walks among us.


  1. Latin Built English


Latin and German are the building blocks of English. Learning one or both brings clarity into how language works and its diverse methods of giving meaning. For instance, the English “patience” derives from the Latin patientia which means “suffering.” That gives more flavor to the meaning of patience as with the English “compassion,” which in Latin means “to suffer with.”


Word origins give explanation to the shades of meaning within words. Most libraries have an Oxford English Dictionary which gives the etymology for every word in the English language. Check out this fun video for a quick breakdown of the roots of Latin and German in modern English and “The Double Vocabulary of English”  (←Click on link).  It explains the cultural weight of certain words as opposed to others.


  1. Latin is the language of science, especially medicine.

Consider the Latin genus and species names of plants and animals. These were developed in the Enlightenment and modern periods because Latin was the language of scholarship, of the educated. Scientists in many countries could communicate through the common tongue of Lingua Latina.


Today even, Latin provides the names of most of the body parts of anatomy and physiology that medical science relies upon. Cardiologists, heart doctors, for instance, do not take their name from the germanic “heart,” but from the Latin “cors.” “Ology” is further derived from the Greek “to study.” The name of the “respiratory” system comes from the Latin “spire,” which means “to breath.” Ironically, the word “doctor” itself comes from the Latin verb “to teach,” which is why the title overlaps with academic doctors of philosophy (Ph.D.s). The Latin word for doctor was, suitably, “medicus.”


This fascinating article (←Click on link) gives an overview of the development of medical language and how it has been handed down through cultures as one of the few subject matters that has survived societal rises and falls, giving it a unique linguistic inheritance. The Latin names themselves are still useful for medical students and for patients who wish to understand what type of doctor they are seeing when they visit a “podiatrist.”


  1. Latin is the language of the West


The works of past have formed us more than we tend to realize: Virgil, Cicero, Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas.


The names of the ancient writers, emperors and medieval theologians are largely forgotten, but their influence is indelible. Through language, they gave shape to the philosophical, cultural, theological, and literary debates that drove the great conversations of West Civilization, that have filtered down into today. Latin is one of the great languages of our ancestors and the study of it brings access, awareness and awe at the great novel of history, the most recent lines of which we are writing today–but never in a vacuum, always as continuous with all the previous chapters, whether we see it or not.


Stephanie Pacheco, Subject Coach, Novastar Prep



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