As a Latinist, are there any neologisms that you find particularly detestable? Any Latinate or Latinoid words that sound particularly jarring in your ears?
Over the years, I’ve ultimately learned that it’s a losing battle that nobody cares about except basically me and the people I went to grad school with, so I’ve stopped saying anything about it for the most part, but, yeah, there are like four classes of ways people treat Latin that anger and/or mystify me.
1) This is the closest to what you’re asking about, but I hate when people coin new terms for words with no concern for whether they’re using Latin or Greek roots, especially mixing them, ESPECIALLY when they’re creating a new term for something for which a word already exists. I probably don’t need to tell you that the key offender here is “quadrilogy,” a bullshit word that a) mistakenly assumes the “tri-” in trilogy is Latinate even though -logy is a Greek as hell suffix and b) ignores the existence of the word “tetralogy.”
Along these same lines, but less offensive, is when people make new compound words using elements from an existing word but don’t break the elements of the word apart at the right place. Let’s say, for example, someone used the term “hydrocopter” to describe a helicopter that can take off from water or whatever. Okay. The problem is that the division of elements in helicopter isn’t heli/copter, it’s helico/pter. This happens pretty frequently, actually, but I’m blanking on the example that’s been bugging me recently. But no one’s ever going to get that right, no one cares, okay.
2) The other thing that bothers me is when people try to use Latin somewhere—their online profile or forum signature, tattoos, or worse, a published book—without any concern for how Latin works as a language. Like, okay, I get it, I guess. It’s not anyone’s native language, so who cares, who’s going to call you out on it except some meganerd, so why not just piss on three millennia of linguistic and literary tradition and legacy? Why not shit on our roots, right? It’s just some dumb bullshit. No one will know.
Okay, kind of got off track there. My point is, people who don’t know anything about Latin (or languages in general) often assume Latin (or any other language; this is hardly restricted to Latin) works just like English, when the fact is, that isn’t the case at all. Ask any twelve year old Latin I student: they can tell you that Latin syntax and grammar is notoriously different from English. Latin is a highly synthetic language, meaning the roles of words in the sentence are determined by putting those words into different forms. While English has retained this a little (for example, the grammatical differences between he/him or she/her; suffixes that help determine verb tense, such as -ed; forming plurals with -s and possessives with -’s), for the most part, meaning within a sentence in English is determined by word order. This is not the case (no pun intended) in Latin, and even someone who’s taken one week of Latin classes can tell you this.
To give you an example of what I’m talking about, let’s say someone wanted to put a twist on that old Latin chestnut “deus ex machina.” What if, instead of a god from a machine, we got a MACHINE from GOD, holy shit. Okay, well, the well-meaning unilingual English-speaker will go, “Machina ex deus,” boom, we did it, take five, everyone. Except that’s wrong?
It’s hard to express why that’s wrong in English, but it’s a bit like if I went around saying things like “Him ask she for she name.” You got lucky that the different forms of “machina” are orthographically indistinguishable in English, but the form “deus” can only be used as the subject of a sentence (okay, there are more uses for that form, but I’m not teaching a class here; that’s the main thing it does), not as the object of a preposition, as you have it here. It would need to be “machina ex deo.” But: no one cares, who gives a shit, I should just eat a bullet, wow, who cares, nerd, San Dimas High School Football rules.
Similarly, I saw someone who had a forum signature of “pluribus ex unum,” intending it to mean “many things out of one thing,” but instead it still means “out of many, one,” except it looks like an idiot said it (accurate).
Anyway, this one is a losing battle.
3) Along the same lines, people who, for FOR REAL PUBLISHED THINGS THEY GOT PAID FOR, either use Google Translate for their Latin translations or just flip through a Latin dictionary and write down the first words they see.
Google Translate is a goddamn robot, you guys. Language requires discernment and finesse, and, for example, the ability to tell the difference between homonyms.
There are literally, as far as I know, no two languages where translation between the two is just a one-to-one thing like it’s a fucking decoder ring.
I see this shit all the time in comics. You can always tell who used Google Translate because their sentence or motto or whatever has “is” in it. Look, that word exists in Latin, but using it unnecessarily/wrongly is a red flag for a total scrub.
Same for just looking something up in a dictionary and just writing down whatever you see, apparently without understanding how dictionaries work? I see you, tattoo that wants to mean “Born to sing” but just says like “Natus -a -um ad cano canere cecini cantus v/t.” I see you. I see that you are perhaps not smart enough to operate heavy machinery.
4) Finally, I really hate people who try to be fancy with Latinate plurals with total disregard for how Latinate plurals actually work.
I don’t know who decided that any word in Latin is pluralized by changing the ending to “-ii,” but I see this mystifying bullshit EVERYWHERE. IT IS EVERYWHERE. WHERE DID YOU LEARN THIS?
-ii is not an ending. There are zero Latin words made plural by changing the ending to -ii. There ARE words that end in -ii, that’s true; radii for example. BUT in that case, the word was radius to begin with! Notice how the -us is changed to -i, but NO ADDITIONAL I IS ADDED. It’s not radiii, as apparently the internet would desperately have it!
I SEE THIS EVERYWHERE.
More than one penis? Penii, obviously! More than one crisis? Crisii! More than one deus? Deii, duh!
WHAT THE FUCK WHERE DID YOU LEARN THIS
PLEASE UNLEARN THIS
Also, also, also:
The ONLY ONLY ONLY ONLY ONLY acceptable plural for the word “omnibus” is “omnibuses.” That is all. That’s the only one. Stop saying omnibi. And for FUCK’S sake stop saying omnibii.
Look, I get where you’re coming from. You might be aware that (some) Latin words that end in -us get pluralized to -i. Alumnus, alumni. Cool, good job.
Here’s the thing, though: the ending of “omnibus” isn’t -us. It’s -ibus, and that form is ALREADY plural. The word omnibus, the origin of the word bus, means “for all people.” It’s already plural. You cannot make it more plural. How much more plural can it be? None. None more plural.
Anyway, this went on a lot longer than I thought it would, but, yes, I see these things, and, yes, they annoy me. But unless someone asks me right out, I am unlikely to say anything about it, because, you know, who gives a shit.