Sauce for the Latin Goose and English Gander


BORNE down by the humiliating consciousness that I am an old-fashioned man, and being reiteratedly assured by all my condescending acquaintances of a younger and therefore wiser generation that “ e pur si muove,” I have not the temerous intention of disputing for a moment the correctness of the modern pronunciation of Latin, as now taught at most institutions for the indoctrination of adolescents in Uteris humanioribus. When my latest horn comes home from school, and quotes an ancient warrior (whom he indicates as Yulius Keyser) to the effect that “ Wayny, Weedy, Weeky,” I try to persuade myself that my ear rather than his tongue is at fault, as regards an apparent loss of virility in the once differently familar utterance. Similarly, when what seems to me like the Germanified ghost of the dead language is raised in the baccalaureate oration of my second son, I bow to his superior scholarship; and if I fail (as I usually do) to comprehend any three consecutive words, I think to myself (I dare not venture to say it with my antiquated accent) : “ Si volet usus, quem penes arbitrium est et jus et norma loquendi.” Who am I, that I should oppose my tympanum to the pipes of tripodists who had the advantage of being born thirty years after me ? I never heard an old Roman speak his native tongue in the flesh, — neither have they, for that matter, — but in these later days of mediumistic materializations, mayhap some more authoritative connection than I wot of between the letter and the spirit has been made out; and when I hear the venerable head of my Alma Mater repeat his classical formula with the old-time sonorousness, in distributing diplomas on Commencement Day (so called, with oldtime perversity, because it is the ending of the collegiate career), I feel that we are both sadly behind the age of one and twenty.

But in the mental attitude of an erased tablet, plastic under the style of recent orthoepy, I would humbly ask if consistency do not demand also an application of these classical wise saws to vernacular modern instances. Accepting the dogma that the Latin “ g ” had always the guttural guise of gamma ; that all the “ c’s ” were hard as kappas, “ Omnia Græce, cum sit turpe magis nostris nescire Latine; ” and that to “ spell it with a we, my lord,” signified the sound of “ w ” even more in the Virgilian than in the Wellerian orthography ; throwing out of court, as altogether irrelevant, the degraded softness of to-day’s Italian inheritance of dialect, I would submit that the large part of our English vocabulary which was derived from the Latin in the bygone days, when our ancestors were ignorant of proper pronunciation, ought to be revised in accordance with correcter present views. If the times be changed, we, too, should be content to change with them.

Such Græco-Roman wrestling, so to speak, with our stepmother-tongue cannot, in this enlightened republic, be shirked under the specious pretense that we received these parts of speech second-hand and somewhat the worse for wear from the Norman French. Our lexicographers have discarded the flimsy sham of “-our,” and honestly confessed the immediate Roman ownership of “ valor,” “ favor,” and the like ; and many, if not most, of the derivatives in commonest use were adopted directly from the original long after the roots planted in the Norman conquest had ceased to bear verbal branches.

To put the process to the test, oblige me, gracious peruser of this paper, by reading aloud (if to some erudite upholder of the “ Roman pronunciation,” so much the better) the following paragraph, remembering to throttle every “ g ” into a tetanic hardness which typography cannot indicate: —

“ An ekkentric gentleman innokently exerkising keremonious kiwility and wigilant solikitude in kelebrating his akkession to easy kirkumstances after warious wikissitudes, the kensorious akerbity of the wikinity excrukiated him by the general and inkessant kirkulation of exaggerated, ungenerous, and unwerakious wokiferations that his inwinkible wiwakity prokeeded from kerebral inkapakity. Wikious elderly wirgins of the prekinkt, espekially, prekipitately perwerted his geniality in the rekeption of his fellow-kitizens into a takit ewidence of mental hallukination and degeneration, nekessitating a yudikious wegetable regimen, if not medikinal agents and incarkeration.”

These may not at first sound quite like familiar household words, but no conscientious ineulcator of Kikeronian oratory can impeach the propriety of their intonation, and I confidently anticipate its adoption by the pulpit, the rostrum, the bar, the stage, and polite society at large, unless the Fonetik expositors of the “ Inglish langwag” succeed in abolishing etymology altogether, or pedagogues admit that

“ Grammatici certant, et adhuc sub judice lis