Words have always fascinated me all of my adult and ‘semi-adult’ life. Why is a word thus and so and couldn’t it be this or that word? I suppose I can lay the blame for this at the feet of Mrs. Ora Felton Goza. She is the one who taught me Latin I and Latin II. Mrs. Goza, or “Miss Felton” as she was known for decades, was a tiny little thing but if ever there was a woman who was a formidable force, it was her. I bet she was short of five feet, had a little hunch in her old back, silver hair always just so. Little bifocals on her face and she’d just as soon whack the biggest tackle on the football team as the tiniest female in high school with that ruler she seemed to always have in her hand.
I even remember what’s on the first page of the Latin I textbook. “America est terra pulcra” or – America is a beautiful land. First page of Latin II textbook was “Gallia est divisa in tres partes” or Gaul is divided into three parts. Thus began my journey into ancient history – of Julius Caesar, his conquests, his government and his ultimate death. I remember nothing about Gaul and its three parts these 65 or 66 years later, but I still am intrigued by the origin of words.
In all of the Coronovirus goings-on, one day last week I wondered about the word “pandemic”. I knew that it meant world-wide but why did it mean that? Obviously, a pandemic is more serious than an epidemic but why? What’s the meaning of the ‘pan’ and ‘epi’? I got up from my sofa and went to my computer and Googled “Latin Prefixes”. Hearing the printer spit out four pages, my husband asked me what I was printing. When I told him “Latin Prefixes”, he just gave me that look and went back to what he was doing. After 57 years, he is used to the weird tangents my mind travels on at times.
Thus, a little Latin for you – “pan” as in a prefix means “all”, a pandemic is everywhere. Mediterranean is a perfect example. It’s from the Latin word “mediterraneus”, or midland; surrounded by land. Medi – middle, terra – land, neus – meaning “hidden”. Or, the sea is surrounded or hidden by land. Common words we use every day such as ‘auditorium’ – audio – to hear; anti-against; as anticlimax or against the climax; corpus – body, corpse, corporeal punishment on the body; epi – upon or over, epidemic or epithet, what’s written over or about someone. Legis or Lex – legal, legislature; pater – father, paternal, paternity; pre-before, – premier, preview.
I think it is a sad state of affairs that Latin is not taught in our schools nowadays. I believe everyone would benefit if they were exposed to this ancient language that gave us so many, many of our words we use every day.
When my youngest son met his ‘now-wife’, in describing her to me while having a phone conversation, one of the first things he said was that she taught Jr. High and High School Latin in a private school in Jacksonville, Florida. He knew that would carry some weight with his mama and it did, and she is everything I thought she would be.
See, I may have you hooked now. Keep that computer on and Google on the home page!