Years ago I attended a lecture in which the professor’s thesis was that Yeats in his “Wild Swans at Coole” consciously chose to use almost all Anglo Saxon words until he could drop Latinate words and cause little bombs to go off in the reader, little excitement bombs. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by how languages have come together to make the great language that is ENGLISH. In my case it is Standard Edited American English, but English nonetheless.
With this enthusiasm in mind, I created an assignment for my Juniors. I asked them to look up and define their favorite twelve English words of Latinate origin. This is my own over-the-top response to the assignment.
<<Advocate>> from the Latin vocare, meaning “to call.” I like this one because it can be used as both a noun and a verb. I also like it because I consider my profession a calling. I am an advocate for my students because I hope to arm them against the terrors of adulthood.
<<Avuncular>> from the Latin avunculus, meaning “uncle.” This is one that I always recall because a student “used” it in a poem, and I knew the poem was plagiarized, but just in case, I asked her, “Define avuncular.” She said, “Oh, I just replaced another word with that one as the synonym.” “What did it replace?” That’s when she admitted she had cheated. I like it when my boss uses an avuncular tone.
<<Bear>> from the Anglo Saxon bera, meaning “the brown one.” Here I depart from my assignment, which I suspected would be a bear, but it turns out I like it.
<<Beautiful>> from the Latin bellus, meaning “pretty.” It’s obviously French as well with that “eau” at the beginning. What a beautiful day this turned out to be, after the sun set.
<<Delicious>> from the Latin delicere, meaning “to allure.” I suppose the whole point of being a good cook is to allure a suitor. It’s a delicious ploy, no?
<<Density>> from the Latin densus, meaning “thick.” I have liked this one since seeing Back to the Future, when the boy says to the girl, “I’m your density.” He meant to say destiny. I just laughed and laughed.
<<Egg>> from the old Danish or Viking tongue, meaning “egg.” That’s wonderful. What? Was no one in England eating eggs until a bunch of Vikings took the beach?
<<Heart>> from Anglo Saxon heort, meaning “heart.” I love how silly a heart can be. You gotta have heort.
<<Heaven>> from the Anglo Saxon hefon, meaning “heaven.” The Latin for the same place is paradise, but the Anglo Saxon word suggests it was lifted up, heaved (as it were).
<<Homage>> from the Latin hominaticum, meaning “a vassal’s service.” I like this word because it has a silent “h.” Films are often in homage, especially those of the Coen Brothers. I love all their movies. I think they’re offering service to the stories they have always loved.
<<Human>> from the Latin humus, meaning “soil.” Well, if that’s not Biblical, all of us humans made of soil, nothing is.
<<Jocular>> from the Latin jocus, meaning “joke.” Jocular may sound like it has something to do with athletes, but it has more to do with nerds. Ha!
<<Knife>> from the Anglo Saxon cnif, meaning knife. The old folks of England would have pronounced the “k.” That I like. It sounds funny rather than threatening. “I’ll k-nife you!” “Oh, k-nut it out.”
<<Mankind>> from the Anglo Saxon man, meaning “to think” and cynde, meaning “native.” It’s great to think the old folks believed people had to think to be defined as mankind.
<<Mysterious>>from the Latin myien, meaning “to shut the eyes.” That’s why faith is all tied up with the mysterious. It’s seeing with your eyes shut. It’s knowing with your heort.
<<Pine>> from the Latin pinus, meaning “Pine tree.” Just because it sounds like a man’s body part in the Latin doesn’t mean anything. Pine means pine.
<<Pistol>> from the French, Greek, and somehow Czech pisk, meaning “a whistling sound.” The name of the pistol must be from the sound of the bullet whizzing past your ear in a wild west gun fight.
<<Pneumonia>> from the Greek puien, meaning “to breathe.” It’s strange that the disease pneumonia (don’t pronounce the “p”) springs from the opposite meaning.
<<Sheep>> from the Anglo Saxon sceap, meaning “sheep.” If we talked livestock, like sheep and cows, with the old folks, we might be able to communicate.
<<Sky>> from Old Norse, another Viking tongue, sky, meaning cloud. It’s funny to think when sky came into English it shows the English positive thinking. They were seeing the blue, and Vikings were seeing the storm.
<<Sultry>> from the Middle English sueltrie, meaning “oppressed with heat.” Consider that the English had no use for such a word as sultry until the French took the crown. What could that possibly mean? The English went to the Riviera for the first time?
<<Sure>> from the Latin securus, meaning “secure.” The English use of “sure” in answer to questions sounds an awful lot like “yes” in Mandarin.
<<Voodoo>> from West African, and meaning “sorcery.” I just wanted to have one of those beautiful other worldly words in my list, and there’s nothing like that voodoo that you do.
<<Wish>>from the Anglo Saxon wisc, meaning “wish.” This wish of a word shows how the Anglo Saxon words tend to differ from the Latinate. They are short little words with great big powers, when you wish upon a word. “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”
<<Woods>> from the Anglo Saxon widu, meaning “wood.” “From this wood do not desire to go. ”
<<Yes>> from the Anglo Saxon gese, meaning “yes.” This might be the most favorite word of all, this one and a name. My favorite sentiment about “yes” comes from Kevin McIlvoy. “The language of miracles is yes.”
On that note, I finish. I am pretty sure I hit twelve Latinates, and I loved this, far more than I thought I would. Yes. Yes. Yes…