"..a bardy view!"

British PM fails in Latin…is he a pleb?

 David Cameron knew the significance of the Magna Carta when asked by David Letterman - the problem was that he didn't know the English translation

I was led to believe that public school educated toffs were given grounding in Latin – after all, it may be a defunct language but it is still nevertheless the building blocks from which the great languages of today stem from.

Churchill used to struggle with his Latin. He would complain that whilst it was a useful knowledge to dissect word origin and sentence structure, he couldn't understand why he had to formulate Latin structured sentences. It was a meaningless exercise as far as he was concerned, and had little relevance in the modern world.

He was right of course. Politicians didn't stand up in the House of Commons and make their speeches in Latin, nor did authors write their books in it. Indeed, the easiest method of the academia and politicos to alienate themselves from the plebeians (there's a good one) was to address them in Latin, or lace their speeches with Latin or classical Greek references.

It's bad enough when they use French. It is the mark of the pretentious to add such words or phrases in their speeches and writings, and particularly galling when a perfectly decent alternative would suit – so if you want to get your message across then stick to plain old bog standard Anglo-Saxon English.

For example why, after 800 years, are we still calling the Magna Carta the "Magna Carta", when everyone knows (apart from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) that it is the Great Charter?

Even if many don't know that it was a document signed by King John at Runnymede in blah blah (1215 if you must know) giving rights to the barons (not the hoi polloi - Greek for the common mass incidentally), then at least we all would know that it was a "Great Charter."

Actually I thought most people knew that, and I only went to a secondary modern, and the closest thing we got to Latin was during morning assembly over Christmas when we would sing hymns such as Gloria in excelsis deo (Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis) etc… 

But that's my symplistic view. Churchill was probably the most high profile person to come out of the closet and admit that he suffered from Latin blindness. It's very refreshing to know that he struggled with it to the extent that he was regarded as a bit of a thicko at school.

The grammatical table of carta in the singular for example has six expressions in the nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative. eg cartacartamcarte; and in the plural carte,cartascartarum, and cartis. And that's even before discussing the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Declensions.

See, I've lost you already – with just one word! I'm such a clever bugger!

So perhaps we shouldn't be too critical on David Cameron for his ignorance.

Actually we should be!

Churchill didn't frequent populist US chat-shows for political propaganda purposes. Although had he done so it's likely he would have had a few choice Latin expletives at the ready – laced with one or two good old English vulgar ones – just in case! 


September 29, 2012 - Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, History, Humour, Politics, Religion, United Kingdom, USA | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. My dear old chap I have forgotten most of the Latin I learnt at school also. It was a long time ago. But to be Prime Minister and put to dogs by some (sum)so Americans will understand, by an American chat show host, is a despicable insult? And we can no longer send in the Navy to sort them out either. Very poor show.


    Comment by spookmoor | September 30, 2012 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: