Column, Looking Back

Looking Back: Remembering Latin

Where did Latin go??? If you went to high school up until the late ‘60s it was a subject that most schools required for college prep students. But by the ‘70s it gradually began to fade from school curricula.

Latin was my favorite high school subject. It was like figuring out a puzzle. The structure of sentences in Latin is not the same as an English sentence. The subject, object and verb can be in any order and an adjective can go before or after a noun. Phrases can be split by words that would be out of order in the English language.

My plan back in the ‘60s was to major in Latin and teach it. I entered Trinity College in Burlington in 1962 and declared it as my major. There didn’t seem to be any concerns by the school that only three students chose that major. We all loved the nun who was our Latin professor. Her name was Mother Emmanuel.

One girl in our Latin class had a car and would sometimes give our professor a ride to educational events. Mother Emmanuel was very concerned about staying within the speed limits during the road trips so we affectionately called her “Mother Radar!”

Many college hours were spent reading Latin grammar books as well as Horace’s “Odes” and Virgil’s “Aeneid.” Our attic now holds all my college textbooks as I am too sentimental to discard them. It would be like throwing away some of the most important and fun days of my early life.

Latin is not thought of as a “spoken language.” In fact that aspect was fading away as early as 750 A.D. As time moved forward it was spoken primarily by students as they learned the language and studied the works of poets and orators. Much of the English language stems from Latin. It helps us to learn new words as we observe similarities with words we learned in Latin classes.

For our senior yearbook each student was asked to select a quote that we wanted to live by. I chose “He has half the deed who has made a beginning.” It is from one of Horace’s works. That phrase comes to mind many times when I am putting something off. It’s motivation to get started.

Little did I know that within a few years after my college graduation Latin would be dropped from the curriculum of most high schools. I was able to teach Latin for three years at Wallingford High School along with some English classes. Then I was told that Latin would no longer be offered. Area schools that still had it in their curriculum had no vacancy. So I decided to enter the business world as being strictly an English teacher just wasn’t for me.

Out of curiosity I checked online to see if any schools are offering Latin today. I was surprised to find out that 6% of schools offer it. There is a school in Westminster, Virginia, that feels Latin is a very important part of their curriculum. Among the reasons they stated for offering it is the fact that half the words in the English language are derived from Latin. It can help you decipher words that are new to you. It provides a solid base for learning romance languages more easily such as French and Spanish. It is also an aid in fields such as medicine, law and the arts that pull heavily from Latin.

You know the expression, “It’s never too late.” Perhaps I should apply for a Latin position at Westminster School in Virginia and put my degree to use. After all, I only had that opportunity for three years and that was over 50 years ago.

There is also an expression, “What goes around…comes round.”

If I live long enough maybe Latin will be offered again in the Rutland area schools. I can come out of retirement. After all there is probably not a surplus of people who can claim a B.A. in Latin!

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