Wayzata, Minn. — The first schools in the American colonies were grammar schools -- Latin grammar. For admittance to Harvard, the first American college, students were required to read and write Latin in prose and verse as they studied to become ministers, missionaries to the Indians, or schoolteachers.
Besides Latin, children learned their ABCs, spelling, arithmetic, history, geography, good manners, and the catechism. A textbook story in English, such as this selection from Comenius's "Visible World," would be translated into Latin: "The Barber, in the Barbers-shop (Tonsor, in tonstrina,) cutteth off the hair and the (tondet Crines) beard with a pair of Sizzars." (Barbam forfices.)
More than half our English words come directly from the Latin or stem from it via medieval English, old French, or other tongues. You'll find more enjoyment in reading when you become familiar with Latin words and phrases and some of their built-in stories:
CITIUS ALTIUS FORTIUS: swifter higher strongerm
This is the motto of the Olympic Games, first held in 776 BC in ancient Greece in honor of Zeus (Jupiter) whose mythical home was in the Olympus mountain range north of Thessaly.
VETO: I forbidm
The power of the veto harks back to the early days of the Roman republic, after the last Etruscan king had been expelled, 509 BC. The patricians who made up the Senate were in control. The middle class plebeians were represented by tribunes in the Assembly, but they had no vote. The plebes revolted and won the right to shout "Veto!" against unjust actions of the government.
SAL, salt;m SALARIUS, salarym
Salt was scarcely and costly. A soldier's salary was paid partly in salt. Via Salarism was a road from Ostia to the Sabine country, perhaps named by the soldiers who knew where their salt came from.
The Roman's idea of the farthest place on earth. An astronomer from Massilia (Marseilles) voyaged north, 2,000 years ago, following the coast of Britain. Six days' sail beyond the Shetland and Orkney Islands he came to a place he called Thule. It came to mean the farthest point attainable, a name poets would write about:
"Where the northern ocean boils round the naked melancholy Isles of farthest Thule."
COMPANION: cum,m with; panis,m bread
Someone you share bread with.
TERRITORY: Terra,m the goddess of earth.
Hence terrace, terrain, terra firma, terra cotta (earthenware). Learn one Latin word and you have the meaning of others.
DICTUM MEUM PACTUM: my word is my bond.m
Motto of the London Stock Exchange.
PECCARE: to sinm
In the 1840s when the British Army was at war in the Indian Punjab, the newsmen, because of tight security, had trouble getting the story to their London papers about the capture of a strategic city, Sindh. One sharp reporter got a scoop: he sent a one-word telegram "Peccavi." It is the Latin word for have sinned.m
Sometimes a book will be printed with typographical mistakes. A list of such errors -- erratam -- will be attached to the first page, indicating where they occur.
SCRUPUS: a sharp stonem
A worry or doubt. Also apothecaries' measure of 20 grains. Scrupulous means precise, careful. Unscrupulous means careless, unprincipled.
COGITO, ERGO SUM: I think, therefore I am.m
A first principle of philosophy, posited by Rene Descartes, French mathematician and philosopher of the 17th century.
TEMPUS FUGIT: time fliesm
HORAS NON NUMERO NISI SERENAS: I count only sunny hoursm
Longtime mottos for sundials and grandfather clocks.
VOMITORIUM: vomitare, to eject or discharge.m
It was the gateway into the Roman amphitheater where plays and circuses were held. At the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minn., the underground entrances to the open stage are called vomitoria.m
VENI VIDI VICI: I came I saw I conqueredm
These three little words are well remembered by second-year students of Caesar's Gallic Wars."Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres:m All Gaul is divided in three parts."
Julius Caesar wrote seven volumes of commentaries on his many years in the provinces -- Spain, France, Britain, much of Europe, where he set up governments , drove out the barbarians. When he started back to Rome he expected to reap a hero's reward. Meanwhile, back in the Senate jealous enemies were conniving against him, accusing him of treasonable behavior, telling him not to return to Rome.
When this news reached him his troops were already at the Rubicon River, the borderline of Italy. He made the decision to "cross the Rubicon." Alia iacta estm "The die is cast," he wrote. Rome welcomed him, made him consul, then dictator for life. For a time he was ruler of the whole Roman world. Within weeks he was murdered. On the Ides of March, 44 BC.
UMBRAGE: umbra,m a shade, suspicion
To take umbrage, to take offense.
Umbrella, a little shadow.
Penumbra, in astronomy, means the partial shadow outside the complete shadow observed in an eclipse of the moon.
MOB: mobile vulgus,m the moving crowd
For some odd reason the frilly bag-shaped cotton cap, fastened under the chin , that English women of the 18th century wore became known as a mob-cap.
The motto of Lloyd's of London.
MODUS OPERANDI: way of working.
CALCULATE: calculus,m a small stone
In earlier times, pebbles were used in voting and counting. As sheep returned to the fold at night, the shepherd kept tab by dropping a pebble in a box for each animal.
The Romans occupied Britain in AD 43 and ruled for almost five centuries. They left vestiges of Roman military roads, Roman walls, Roman baths, and Roman Legion camps. Most eloquent reminders now are the cities built on the campsites , with names ending in caster, cester, chester:
Winchester, Manchester, Colchester, Chichester, Bicester, Cirencester, Gloucester, Leicester, Silchester. And Chester, a walled city on the River Dee, near Liverpool. Chester was the camp of the 20th Legion, the Valeria Victrix.m