Wexford People

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Carpe diem

Latin, a dead language? Not quite yet in my experience. Ireland may never have been invaded by the legions of Julius Caesar but the words which the conquering Romans spoke as they rampaged around Europe, Asia and Africa linger on, an often overlooked presence permeating our modern speech and our writings into the new millennium.

The connections with the classical era are sometimes dry and dusty - phrases of ghastly import printed in an old legal tome maybe. Or perhaps they are words picked out by sunlight on sacred stained glass. And of course modern English dictionaries are well stocked with entries derived from this not-so-dead dead language.

Some of these have survived whole into modern speech, their ancient provenance scarcely altered. We travel 'via' the M50. We retreat at times of stress into an inner 'sanctum'. In moments of exasperation, we suggest that some lazy individual could use a good kick up the 'rectum'.

Oxford, Chambers, Webster, Collins and the rest are bursting with other words which have been adjusted over the centuries… A sage primary school teacher of my childhood decided that his pupils should learn the rudiments of Latin. Thus, as eager sixth class pupils, we learned of 'agricola' (farm) which percolates down to us in English through all things agricultural; of 'miles' (soldier) who could not have been more military; of 'terra' (land) for the territorially minded.

Modern Catholic Christianity has largely ditched spoken or chanted Latin in favour of the local vernacular at Mass time. Nevertheless, it remains the 'lingua franca', the common language allowing learned priests and theologians of all nations in the Vatican to debate great issues together.

Attending court, it is notable that lawyers maintain the tradition of peppering their professional speech with Latin. They say 'simpliciter' when they mean something is exactly what it says on the tin, or they say 'in absentia' when acting for a client who has not bothered to turn up. Phrases such as 'mens rae' and 'ultra vires' still swirl around our halls of slow moving justice two millennia after the aforementioned Julius received the more direct verdict of Brutus at the lethal point of a knife.

And Hermione, fun loving Hermione, has never forgotten that the advertising industry has also been known to turn a Latin phrase to its advantage. Thanks to a long discontinued campaign promoting beer, she has adopted 'carpe diem' as her motto. All the adverts and all the Latin in the world could not have persuaded her to try so much as a mouthful of the beverage being promoted in the ads. But the phrase stuck: 'I am a carpe diem sort of girl,' she says these days with a light laugh.

Carpe diem. Seize the day. Carpe diem. Do it now. Carpe diem.

One day is not sufficient for Hermione to be seizing. Others may feel they are seizing the day when they wake up and decide on a whim to have an egg for breakfast. Hermione operates on a much grander level. She leaps from the bed full of plans that extend far beyond the morning at hand, far beyond a solitary egg.

She has a habit, at once impressive and yet daunting, of seizing days that are far over the horizon contemplated by her spouse or her offspring. At present, she is busy already seizing August 27, shaking it around with all the vigour and enthusiasm of a puppy with a teddy bear in its mouth.

August 27 is a Sunday. I know this without looking it up on the calendar because Hermione has been pre-occupied with making the most of the last Sunday of the summer holidays, August 27. We may stay at home and barbecue. We may catch a flight and sip sundowners looking out over the Adriatic. We may jump on to a ferry and walk through fields of sunflowers in France. We had better make up our minds soon, she insists, so that she may move on to seizing November 15. And then can plans for Christmas be far behind?

I limp along in her wake. She may be a 'carpe diem' sort of girl but Hermione has the ill fortune to be saddled with a 'sine die' sort of chap. I just looked it up, sine die is Latin for putting things on an infinitely long finger.

Wexford People