Latin For All Occasions

Latin for All Occasions

Lingua Latina Occasionibus Omnibus
Henry Beard
Villard Books, 1990; Second Edition (paperback), 2004

In 1990 National Lampoon magazine co-founder Henry Beard dished up a Roman feast’s-worth of laughs with this book. And in About the Author he wryly explains why he undertook the task, speaking of himself in third person: “He is happy to have an opportunity to make some use of his knowledge of a language that really hasn’t been all that helpful over the the years, except for the time he suddenly realized that the thing he was about to order from a restaurant menu in Rome looked an awful lot like the Latin word for eel.” (The book sold so well a sequel soon followed: Latin for Even More Occasions.) So why not have some fun with the language* of Ancient Rome, especially if you waded through Latin lessons in your schooldays?

In the right company, tossing out an everyday comment or complaint or query in Latin may get you a laugh… but only rarissime (very rarely): Overusing an old-as-the-hills language will quickly old. These two books are obviously tailor made for enjoying a laugh-a-minute browse in a comfy chair, and the dozen examples that follow will give you a taste of the author’s approach.

  • Apudne te vel me?  “Your place or mine?”
  • Heus, hic nos omnes in agmine sunt!  “Hey! Were all in line here!”
  • Di! Ecce hora! Uxor mea me necabit!  “God, look at the time! My wife will kill me!”
  • Id imperfectum manet dum confectum exit.  “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
  • Quanta mora volatui fiet?  “How long will the flight be delayed?”
  • Quanto putas mihi stare hoc horologium manuale?  “How much do you think I paid for this watch?”
  • Braccae tuae aperiuntur.  “Your fly is open.”
  • Tuis iube meis dicere.  “Have your people talk to my people.”
  • Non alor sed umor est qui nobis incommodat.  “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”
  • In tabulario donationem feci.  “I gave at the office ”
  • Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum.  “Garbage in, garbage out.”
  • Spectaculum carissimum est Periculum.  “My favorite show is Jeopardy.”

More to Like (Ad Amandum)

Not everything is so short ’n’ sweet. In the first book you’ll learn how to write an all-purpose postcard message, an all-purpose voicemail greeting, and more. In Latin for Even More Occasions, the General Latin chapter includes a chain letter in Latin, an all-purpose bedtime story, and even a note to Santa Claus (Sancte Nocholas).

Almost all English in these books is matched with its Latin equivalent, from the title page, copyright page, and the table of contents to About the Author (De Scriptore). The initial book’s twelve chapters run from Conversational Latin (Lingua Latina Conlocutioni) to Formal Latin (Lingua Latina Ritibus), with Tactical Latin, Sensual Latin, Gastronomical Latin, and seven other chapters in between. The sequel’s chapters take a more targeted (if decidedly tongue-in-cheek) approach and include Sports-Fanatical Latin, Pop-Cultural Latin, Commercial Latin, Convivial Latin, and eight others.

Dipping into Beard’s books also enables you to pick up a few Latin words or rub the rust off any Latin you studied back in the day – a nice bonus. Labra lege (read my lips): The books are not only funny but very much worth your while.

*The Middle English word language came from the Latin lingua (tongue) – but by way of France. Lingua took the French pronunciation (and spelling) langue, which evolved into the Anglo-French langage and, finally, language (first recorded use, fourteenth century).

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