Tuesday, December 05, 2006
What Is So Terrible About Latin?
WHY NOT USE TITLE QUO VADIMUS PLUS SUB TITLE QUOTE OR THE CASE FOR THE BICYCLE UNQUOTE TITLE YOU ARE GOING AHEAD WITH IS OBVIOUSLY MISLEADING SINCE YOU TOOK IT TO MEAN BEWILDERMENT IF YOU ARE SCARED OF A LATIN TITLE REMEMBER THAT A BOOK CALLED QUO VADIS USED TO RUN NECK AND NECK WITH THE BIBLE AND THE BOY SCOUTS HANDBOOK WHAT IS SO TERRIBLE ABOUT LATIN? ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE A SUB TITLE WHICH REMOVES ALL DOUBTWhite won this skirmish with his editor. His book appeared as Quo Vadimus? Or, The Case for the Bicycle. Quo Vadimus? means "Whither Are We Going?" and recalls Henryk Sienkiewicz's 1895 historical novel Quo Vadis? ("Whither Goest Thou?"), which has the subtitle A Narrative of the Time of Nero. Sienkiewicz borrowed his title from the Vulgate of John's Gospel (13.36):
Dicit ei Simon Petrus: Domine, quo vadis? Respondit Jesus: Quo ego vado non potes me modo sequi: sequeris autem postea.We see traces of the Latin word vado (go, walk) also in English evade, invade, and pervade. The phrase vade mecum (go with me) means a pocket reference book. There is nothing so terrible or scary about Latin, whose influence pervades our own English language.
Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.
The use of whither is withering away in English, alas, just like whence, although both words usefully distinguish notions that we now force where alone to bear, e.g. in the New International Version of John 13.36:
Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."The Latin words corresponding to whither, whence, and where are quo, unde, and ubi. When one Roman met another in the street, he might ask "Unde et quo?" (Horace, Satires 2.4.1), that is to say, "Whence and whither?" Similarly the Greeks asked ποῖ δὴ καὶ πόθεν; ("Whither and whence?" Plato, Phaedrus 227a). Today our query is more apt to be along the lines of
"How are you, strangers? whar are you going and whar are you from?" said a fellow, who came trotting up with an old straw hat on his head. (Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail, chap. XXVI)Merriam Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage discusses these words under (1) from whence, from thence, from hence and (2) hither, where we read that hither, thither, and whither "have been described by various commentators as old-fashioned, archaic, obsolescent, formal, pompous, and literary." All the more reason for antediluvians to embrace them.
Related post: Whence and Whither?