"Are we Rome? Tu Betchus!" . . . or Tu Betchus Not
Several friends interrupted the Beard hermitage today (welcome interruptions, I should say, as I was struggling a bit with the start of Lecture Three) with the news that Sunday’s New York Times had an article half written in Latin. Or more correctly half written in half Latin.
Maureen Dowd’s regular column started with some reflections on the decline and fall of the American empire and a pat on the back in the global economic melt down for Seneca’s advice to “avoid whatever is approved by the mob”. (I wonder if she realises that one Roman writer held Seneca almost single-handedly responsible for the Boudiccan revolt in Britain – by calling in all his loans at the same time and so causing a liquidity crisis. Now there’s something relevant to our times.)
Then, after welcoming the rise in the study of Latin in US schools (I’m with her on that one), she launches into several paragraphs of dog Latin on the election campaign.
Some of it is actually quite funny -- featuring “Ioannes McCainus, mavericus et veteranus captivusque Belli Francoindosinini, et Sara Palina, barracuda borealis” and the rival “Baracus Obama”.
And – never mind the grammar (did no-one, for example, tell her or her Latin advisor about ‘in’ and the ablative?) – it goes on. “Vix quisque audivit nomen “Palinae” ante lunibus paucis. Surgivit ex suo tanning bed ad silvas in Terram Eskimorum, rogans quis sit traitorosus, ominosus, scurrilosus, periculosus amator LXs terroris criminalisque Chicagoani? Tu betchus!” (You can read the whole thing here. You may have to register, but it’s free.)
Yes, I laughed. Dowd is pretty smart. And it certainly worked for the New York Times website. By Sunday evening the article had attracted more than 700 hits and was the most emailed Times article. (I’m the recipient of three of those emails.)
That said, I always feel a bit of a wet blanket about this kind of thing, torn between two reactions.
Does it encourage the study of Latin – or at least put it more in the public eye? Maybe it does – just as when Boris Johnson spouts (quite good) Latin at the opening of the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum. (On that occasion I got the definite impression that a good proportion of the assembled company had no clue that the first part of his English speech was exactly what he had just said in Latin. But never mind, Latin is Latin.)
Or does it take our eye off the real intellectual interest of the study of the ancient world and turn Latin into a jolly jape, always good for a laugh on an otherwise dreary Sunday. A bit like running an article in cod-Cornish.
I don’t know. Debeo reflectare, as Dowd might have put it.