Pipilare June 19, 2013

Cute little story on NPR’s Morning Edition today:  Parvum Opus: Followers Flock To Pope’s Latin Twitter Feed.  I didn’t realize this, but the Pope’s Twitter account was only available in Latin as of this year.

When the Latin account was launched in January, Vatican officials didn’t expect more than 5,000 Latin nerds, that is, followers. But by May, it had surpassed Polish and was in a tie with German at more than 100,000.

“The surprise is that nerds are in all walks of life — cab drivers from South Africa, homemakers, journalists,” says Monsignor Daniel Gallagher, one of the six language experts working in the Vatican’s Latin Office.


Gallagher says his office gets letters — as well as tweets — from all over the world. Many are from Muslims and atheists who don’t necessarily like the Catholic Church but are grateful it’s keeping the ancient language alive.

He acknowledges that Twitter can encourage shallow thinking and knee-jerk reactions, but is convinced Latin’s economy makes it better suited for tweeting than many other languages.

“It tends to express thoughts as briefly, as concisely, as precisely as possible,” Gallagher says.

I was never good enough at Latin to enjoy unpacking those dense words — “The sailors bring flowers to the beautiful girls” was about my speed.  I was planning to take more Latin in college, but the conversation went like this:

Me:  I want to take Latin.
Course advisor:  C’mon, take Greek.
Me:  Oh, I dunno, I think I want to take Latin.
Course advisor:  Simcha.  Greek.  C’mon.

Please understand, he had a southern accent and blue eyes, and I was 18.  So I took Greek.  And now I can say, “Do the gifts of men persuade the gods?”

Anyway, it was a trip to hear Sylvia Poggioli say “ancient language” instead of “dead language.”  Gosh, what a weird century.

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  • Patrick Tramma

    The new RSS feed makes us click through! ugh!!!

    • simchafisher

      Does it? Rats. I’m not sure if I can do anything about that. You can sign up for an email subscription, though.

  • Tim in Cleveland

    Did Latin ever have the aorist tense? It did (once and for all) not.

    • David J. White

      Yes, Latin once had a tense equivalent to the aorist. It and the original perfect collapsed into one tense early in the language’s development. This single, combined tense is the one we now called the “perfect” tense in Latin. Vestiges of the fact that it was originally two different tenses can be seen in the variety of perfect tense forms found in Latin. Reduplicated forms such as tetigi, cecidi, cucurri, and dedi are old perfect tense forms. Forms with long stem vowels (feci, veni, vidi, vici) and forms which add an -s to the stem (which is sometimes disguised as an -x, if the -s is added to a palatal — e.g., scripsi, dixi, duxi, mansi) are old aorist forms. I can think of one verb that shows both; apparently the verb is so seldom used that custom and practice didn’t permanently favor one form over the other, so both survived. The third principal part of pango is seen both as panxi and as pepigi.

      • Tim in Cleveland

        I can see why people choose Greek over Latin.

        • mallory hepburn

          The fact that in Latin the aorist and the perfect are combined actually makes it easier than Greek.

  • I recall a saying on campus: “Latin is supposed to be easier…but everyone passes Greek.”

    • simchafisher

      I also remember overhearing a conversation:

      Disgruntled student: Mr. Shea, why did you put me in with [name of unpleasant roommate]?
      Mr. Shea: You passed Greek, didn’t you?

  • richard

    I studied both Latin and Greek. I cannot determine where Greek ever helped me but Latin makes it easier to understand Spanish and Italian. Perhaps French. I don’t know.

  • Esperanto? 🙂

  • pagansister

    Good Grief! I had enough trouble passing French in HS and I made certain I didn’t take a language in College!!

  • Latin grmmar makes my head spin. Way too complicated. Thank God the Romance languages simplified it as they evolved. They probably didn’t understand it themselves. Common folk are way more practical than your typical pointy headed elite. 😉

  • anna lisa

    I took Spanish in College so I could understand what my future husband’s family was saying when they’d all begin laughing and looking over in my direction.