Thursday, January 30, 2020


Classics and Class

Charlotte Higgins, "Forget Boris Johnson—the classics are for the working classes too," Prospect Magazine (January 28, 2020):
Classics and class have the same root. That is, the verb clamare, to call out. "Classis" meant a group of people "called out," for example by means of a census for military service; and in the late 2nd century AD, the Roman writer Aulus Gellius referred to the greatest authors as scriptores classici, "classic writers"—as opposed to second-rate authors, scriptores proletarii. We now have classic books, classic cars, classic films, and so on—those called out for greatness. But the classics of the classics, the top of the drawer, the best of the best, are always smugly supposed to be "the" classics: Latin and Greek, and the worlds associated with them.
Classics is derived from Latin classicus and class from Latin classis, but are classicus and classis derived from clamare? Apparently not in a direct line. The most that can be said is that classis might be derived from calare and that calare and clamare share a common ancestor.

Robert Maltby, A Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1991), p. 134:

Alfred Ernout and Alfred Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine, 4th ed. rev. Jacques André (Paris: Klincksieck, 2001), p. 125 (classicus, classis):

Id., s.v. clāmō:
Même racine que dans calō...
Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), p. 118 (classis):

de Vaan, p. 117 (clamo):

de Vaan, pp. 84-85 (calo):

Hat tip: Jim K.


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