Monday, August 1, 2011

Bring Out Your Dead

The other day a friend applauded me for using the phrase "deus ex machina," which translates to "god from the machine." Don't ask why I used the phrase - the content of the conversation is irrelevant here. The point here is that he applauded my use of a high-fallutin' foreign phrase. It always surprises me when people react to such things, either to applaud me or to sneer at me for showing intelligence. Really it does. To me, stuff like that is just standard. I don't expect everyone to know everything I know any more than I expect to know everything everyone else knows. But I'm not going to not use what I know, y'know? Yes, please pass the aspirin - that kind of cramped my brain too.

Many thousands of years ago as I was approaching my freshman year of high school, I met with my assigned guidance counselor. We reviewed my grades, talked about possible careers (as if the average 13 year old - I started school when I was 4 - knows exactly what she wants to be), and discussed the course work that I should plan on taking. There was never any question but that I would be taking some sort of language course. I wanted to take Latin. My guidance counselor said, "Don't be foolish. It's a dead language. No one speaks it. Take a language you can use."

So, I chose a three year course in German and a semester of French. I also chose to study Latin on my own.

Yeah, yeah, I'm a polyglot. So shoot me.

What I really learned in the process, besides the basics of three languages, was that my advisor was full of shit. Latin was hardly dead. Latin is used in legal terms, medical terms, scientific terms and is the basis for many other languages. Knowing Latin as a base language opens up all other kinds of other knowledge doors. An understanding of Latin almost always gives me at least a shot at understanding English words that I'm not familiar with.

Anyway, I got thinking about all of that last week when my friend did his little joy-joy dance over Deus ex Machina. That little bit of Latin is actually a phrase I learned way back in my drama class days. It comes from the days of Greek theater when the authors of plays would introduce a god to explain overblown and/or intricate plots. Point is, I've known that phrase for probably 35 years. I simply haven't forgotten it the way I've forgotten, to paraphrase what Paul and Art so aptly sang, all the other crap I learned in high school.

I'd really like to go back and have a conversation with that idiotic counselor, who at this point, if he's still alive, is well into his geriatric years. I'd like to tell him that I've used my autodidactic Latin far more than I've used the German and French that put A's on my report cards. I'd like to tell him that his thinking was likely deader than any language out there. Mostly what I'd like to do is reprimand him for ever telling any child that what they really wanted to learn was useless or pointless. Shame on him for saying, "Don't bother learning it unless you can use it."

I'm a fortunate kind of stubborn. I took his advice and went with his suggestions, but said to myself, "Oh yeah? I'm going to learn it anyway." And so I did. My knowledge of so many things is greater and richer because of that attitude. However, I can't help but wonder how many other kids he discouraged from learning something that would have enhanced their knowledge base, or at the very least, simply brought them joy in learning.

Learn and the use becomes known.

Or if you prefer it in a not-so-dead-after-all language:
Disceres atque usum innotescit.


  1. My guidance counselor told me that, since my grades were so horrible & I would NEVER get accepted into college, I needed to consider some kind of trade school & develop a career that way...

    Bitch had a mental breakdown a few months later-- I'd like to think her imminent meltdown was part of her poor advice.

    I'd also like to give her a massive paper cut with my college diploma (little good that it does me, lol).

  2. You had me both laughing and contemplating here. I am intrigued by the thought of how many children's passions were (and are) destroyed/averted/stifled by a thoughtless comment by an ignorant adult. Sadly, I'm sure there aren't too many Barb Black's out there who pursue their interests despite being dissuaded. You're just awesome like that.

  3. How dare anyone hinder the inquiring mind, especially of a child or young adult. From there its only a few steps to burning books because its not "right knowledge." Everything I have seen, done, read, written, thought or learned-forget about remembering it or not-has gone to make me what I am. We unmake people by circumscribing their reality to fit our own.



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