John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Friday, May 15, 2009
The treason of the clerks
Christopher Francese, a professor of classics at Dickinson College, has published a well-reasoned and traitorous essay in The New York Times advocating the abandonment of Latin in college diplomas.
I don’t much care that graduates cannot read their own diplomas. The Universitas Syracusana, which conferred on me the degree Artium Magistri thirty-four years ago, has as its motto SUOS CULTORES SCIENTIA CORONAT, generally rendered as “Knowledge crowns those who seek her.” I doubt, judging from the noise level in the library during my time there, that Syracuse undergraduates paid much more attention to the English version. But I believe it still.
Diploma Latin, artificial and obscure as it is, is a link to the past, however tenuous. And you, graduate, you with your major in whatever was easiest for a passing grade, you see in the Latin on that piece of paper you will never look at again a link between your own feckless pursuit of knowledge and Bologna in the twelfth century, where the first university in Europe began the laborious recovery of learning for the West.
Frame the thing and put it on the wall. The Latin will do you no harm.
*My daughter, Alice Elizabeth Marian McIntyre, who holds an honors degree in Latin and Greek from Swarthmore, teaches Latin at the Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills and will teach a unit of Latin this summer for a Center for Talented Youth class at Dickinson College.