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Memories of the 28th Century

Classical Languages

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I was conversing with a woman who is a university senior in premed, n d it came out that she has never studied either Latin or Greek. I can understand that lack for business majors, but people in the sciences need to have a fair knowledge of Latin and at least some Greek. It wasn’t long ago, when one could not be admitted to college without a working knowledge of both languages. The requirement for knowledge of Greek was dropped in the late nineteenth century, when colleges were overwhelmed by men coming back from war without a knowledge of Greek. The colleges abandoned the requirement but retained the requirement of knowledge of Latin, and there was no problem there, because Latin was used for so many things.

I don’t know when the Latin requirements were abandoned, but it was after I with to college, or perhaps it was being phased out, because there were people who got in without any Latin within a few years after my time.

I pointed out the utility of Latin to that premed with examples from medicine where a knowledge of Latin gives the meaning of specialized terms. And it is interesting that the first time where this came up was when she looked at my business card and asked what “misanthrope” means. If she had a good vocabulary, then she would have known the meaning, but it is a relatively rare word, so I don’t mind that, but if she had a slight knowledge of Greek, then the meaning would have been obvious. The root “Anthropos” is reasonably well known, and the prefix “miso” is also not rare, but someone could have missed it.

Then I mentioned the roots behind coronavirus. Someone with a decent knowledge of Latin would readily understand that, even though the word “virus” is peculiar. In medicine, there are many words that are freshly coined from Latin and Greek roots, and I find it convenient to have some knowledge of the ancient languages and words. On the other hand, I am impoverished in money; although I am rich in useful information. Sometimes the classical knowledge comes in handy in real estate, law and other places. I remember when some property owners came into an Assessor’s office and commented that they were the property owners not tenants. I explained the origin of the word “tenant”, and they were satisfied.

I have been told that some people study Spanish to get some of the advantage of Latin, but Spanish has changed considerably from Latin, and a significant proportion of the root words are from Basque, which makes a lot of sense for the Iberian Peninsula, but it doesn’t help with other languages. When I studied Latin, I was not enthusiastic about it, but I did understand the reason for the course.

I’m not sure that Latin could be reintroduced, because there may not be enough qualified teachers, but I don’t know. Gaining some knowledge of Latin would make it easier to learn other Romance languages, but that might not be a good reason for school administrators. But I just made a little search about it and learned that there is a movement toward classical education in private schools and with some home schoolers, so maybe it will make a comeback.

What do you think? Should a working knowledge of Latin be required for entry to university level education? And what about Ancient Greek?