Updated: Mar 8, 2020
Is Latin really a dead language?
Nobody speaks it anymore these days, right? Well, maybe the Pope and some of his priests in tow. But really, as far as world demography goes, Latin is dead. Or so you think. Because really, even though the language isn’t spoken by itself anymore, Latin pervades European languages. And English (surprise, surprise, as it’s not a Roman language) has the greatest amount of Latinisms in it of all languages.
Latin is also related to Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language in which the old Hindu scriptures were written. And Sanskrit evolved into Hindi and related Indian languages. So really, maybe Latin is more of a part in English and other languages. In my fun children’s book “How Picasso Makes You A Genius” it is likened to an ingredient that you use when baking a cake.
The dictionary defines the word Latinism (n) as:
Why Are Latinisms So Important?
But why are Latinisms so important? Latinisms are considered “higher language” or “academic language.” When a person uses Latinisms in speech or writing, we instantly assume, he or she is an educated and cultured person, which carries a certain air of authority with it. So it’s cool to know some Latinisms, but where to start? And how much is okay?
The answer is not quite so straight forward as the question suggests. There are a number of factors involved to consider how much is good or when it goes over the top. First of all, consider what kind of genre you write in. If you want to create light entertainment for the uneducated masses, when using wordy language, you will lose them very quickly. On the other hand, if you use very simplistic language when writing an academic paper, chances are that no one will take you seriously.
I have heard from lower educated women that “50 Shades of Grey” was a cumbersome read because the author had inserted too many big words that they had to look up to understand and I’ve heard a university professor tell one of his students in my Comparative Religious Studies course if she were going to continue to write in a chatty style, she would fail the course.
Examples of Latinisms
If you write fiction aimed at the lay person, not necessarily uneducated, but not wishing to study academic subjects, using a few Latinisms that are more commonly known are the best approach to take. Here are some examples:
Some that are more commonly used Latin phrases in writing, rather than colloquial speech are:
20 examples of words that are derived from Latin and were anglicized:
sub, suburban, subterranean
circumference, circumstance, circumnavigate, circumspect
altruism, alternative, altitude
ambiguous, ambition, ambivalent, ambidextrous
introspection, spectacles, spectre
(See also ThoughtCo.)
Where can you find Latinisms?
Really, the list of Latin words that have been integrated into the English language is sheer endless. Especially in sciences, the medical and legal fields, it seems that there are more Latinisms (and Greek-derived words and phrases) than “common English,” although the word common in itself is a Latinism again.
A good way to find words that are less colloquial and have a higher standard of language ascribed to them is searching for synonyms on the internet. Which are your favourite Latinisms?
Have fun exploring!