Small Latin and less Greek were good enough for Shakespeare, but some Brits want to rid English of its classical roots

Dennis Baron debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU
Tue Nov 11 05:29:12 UTC 2008

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Small Latin and less Greek were good enough for Shakespeare, but some  
Brits want to rid English of its classical roots

Three town councils in England have banned Latin words and phrases  
common in English because, as the folks in Bournemouth put it, "Not  
everyone knows Latin." Even worse, Latin's a problem in Bournemouth no  
matter what language you speak: "Many readers do not have English as  
their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult."

Banned from this seaside Dorset city of 163,000 with its seven miles  
of sandy beaches are eg and ie,annoying abbreviations that now must be  
replaced with the fully-articulated English for example andthat is.

Gone from Salisbury, best-known for Stonehenge, are ad hoc, ergo and  
QED (Latin for ergo, sort of). And ex officio's officially out in  
Fife, whose civil servants must only act 'in their official  
capacity' (even though official comes from Latin), and whose stand-up  
comics can no longer ad lib. What they'll do instead is anybody's  
guess, though if they go on ad nauseam no doubt they'll get the hook –  
the comedians, that is, not the civil servants, who can't be removed  
from their jobs for anything as simple as malfeasance (which is French  
for not doing your job).

Bournemouth's not one of the old towns of Roman Britain like Londinium  
(London), Cirencester, or Verulamium (St. Albans). It dates from the  
later 19th century, but like many of England's newest institutions,  
the town gave itself a Latin motto, pulchritudo et salubritas, to make  
it seem much older. Despite the Latin ban, there are no plans afoot to  
change the Bournemouth motto to 'beauty and health,' words easier for  
English and non-English alike to understand, even though motto is  
Latin for 'grunt, mutter,' beauty comes from Latin, via French, and  
the residents of Bournemouth are not all beautiful or healthy.


The tradition of "going native" goes back at least to the sixteenth  
century, when Ralph Lever created a philosophical vocabulary for  
English out of Anglo-Saxon roots instead of Latin loanwords: terms  
likewitcraft, 'logic,' foreset, 'subject,' and saywhat, 'definition.'  
Not to be outdone, a century later Nathaniel Fairfax, who insisted  
that native words were closer to their referents than foreign  
borrowings, produced a few hundred Saxon alternatives to Latinisms,  
including unsproutful, 'infertile,'lightsom, 'luminescent,' and  
middlekin, 'medium.'

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Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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