Latin and Greek: definitely not dead!

Having spent seven years at school studying Latin, and five studying ancient Greek, I know I am extremely fortunate to have had access to a world not accessible by many schoolchildren. I also know that this exposure to such culturally and linguistically rich history has helped to make me the person I am today.

A fierce defender of the ancient civilisations and the many ways in which they have enriched our 21st century culture, I must confess that it frustrates me when people refer to Latin and Greek as “dead” languages. So, I would like to delve into this world just a little bit, to offer a mere snapshot of how both languages are still very much alive in our everyday existence (that’s Latin, by the way).


Facing our fears

Do you have any phobias? These will come from the Greek word “phobos”, meaning “fear”. Perhaps you have arachnophobia (arachne – spider – Greek), or agoraphobia (agora – marketplace – Greek). Perhaps you have xenophobia, but would you admit it? In its original and literal sense, “xenos” refers to anything that is unfamiliar or unknown (including foreigners), but the term has come to have a much more sinister and unpleasant meaning. Or perhaps you have philophobia (philos – love – Greek), a fear of love and emotion, though you could be a philosopher (sophos – wisdom – Greek). Any guesses as to the word meaning fear of fear itself? Yes, it does exist!


How are you feeling?

If you require antiobiotics (anti – against – Greek / bio – life (in this case, of the bacteria) – Greek), you will need to see a medical (medicus – Latin – doctor) professional. The document (docere – to teach – Latin) he will give you is a prescription (praescibere – to order – Latin) which you will need to take to your local pharmacy (pharmakia – drugs – Greek). The dose (dosis – Greek) is important, as some treatments are really potent (potentia – power – Latin). Be careful, as I wouldn’t want to go into the effects of an overdose (corpse, post mortem, funeral – all Latin, by the way).


The lives of the people

In the developed world, we are privileged to live in a democracy (demos – people – Greek / kratia – power – Greek). We are not ruled by a dictator (dictare – to say often – Latin), so if we disagree with a decision, we can protest (pro – publicly – Latin / testari – assert – Latin). We have the ability (habilis – able – Latin) to change the system, vociferously (vox – voice – Latin / ferox – fierce – Latin) if we have to. This can even lead to a referendum (Latin) – think Brexit. Regardless of your political (politikos – of a city – Greek) agenda (agere – to do – Latin), we are liberated (liberare – to free – Latin).


Evil on the left?

And finally, a little bit of Latin-based trivia, to prove that language changes as much as it stays the same. Did you know, for instance, that “sinister”, in Latin, means “left”? Over time, the word took on connotations of evil and misfortune, but originally there was nothing sinister about it at all. Equally, the term “dexterity”, meaning "skill with one’s hands", comes from the Latin word “dexter”, meaning “right”. People who are ambidextrous, literally have “both right” hands.

But, to all you lefties out there, don’t worry; sinister left-handedness is by no means inferior to dextrous right-handedness, and the proof of the pudding is in the following: Einstein, Darwin, Newton and Franklin were all left-handed!



So there we go, my fellow homo sapiens, a bona fide final dictum from terra firma. An ad hoc little extra, if you will. My message? Carpe diem. After all, tempus fugit. See the aurora borealis et cetera. I will carry on in situ, watching my phobias and fearing my videos (or vice versa). Don’t quote me verbatim. I should probably veto this post scriptum, but my alter ego is dictating. Mea culpa.


Great article

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