Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hugh Lunn, 1989, Over the top with Jim, Latin class

Hugh Lunn, 1989, Over the top with Jim, University of Queensland Press.

Latin was a subject I just could not do, no matter how many times I got the cuts for not knowing my vocab, or no matter how many declensions I learned by heart, like "amo, amas, amat,amamus, amatus, amant". We used to say in the C class: "Latin is a dead language, dead as dead can be, it killed off all the Romans, and now it's killing me." We sang hymns in Latin, like Tantum Ergo; we said Mass in Latin; and we even said whole prayers in Latin - but still I knew nothing about the language. I just memorised sentences, like when I first learned to read at the convent. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa I knew was "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault" - only because both Latin and English versions were said when beating your chest with your right fist.

The good boys from the A class used Latin whenever possible, to show how superior they were. Even school reports on football matches contained Latin phrases. When our first 15 disastrously lost a rugby union match to Brisbane Grammar in my junior year, the school magazine said: "Fluctuat, nec mergitur", whatever that meant.

(Page 191)

Phil: I love Hugh Lunn's book of 1950s and 1960s reminiscence and biography. So much I can relate to as a fellow inmate of the Catholic schools and education system of those days. Ah, the good old days when language learning really meant something (different?) Perhaps that Catholic beating the chest with your right fist and chanting mea culpa can be viewed as an early form of Total Physical Response. Unlike Hugh, I loved Latin and French and still can spend hours looking up origins of words in my OED. My daughter says I am just like the Dad Gus in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Now, gimme a word, any word, and I'll show you how the root of that word is Greek. See Hugh Lunn's website - an Australian journalist and author of great humour and down-to-earth insight into human reality.

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