The Vatican's Dictionary of Recent Latinity

How do you say neutron bomb in Latin? ScannerMicrophone? Enter the Vatican's Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis, or Dictionary of Recent Latinity. Published in two volumes (the first in 1992, the second in 1997) by Opus Fundatum Latinitas, or the Latinitas Foundation, the Lexicon covers over 15,000 words of recent vintage, from the Renaissance up to the late 20th century, and is the work of 14 experts, edited by Carolus Egger.

The original, two-volume edition is an Italian-to-Latin dictionary. There is a one-volume German-to-Latin dictionary, the Neues Latein Lexikon, as well. Apparently there is also an equivalent one-volume Italian-to-Latin edition that was published in 2003, but only in a run of 500 copies.

Some words are simply scientific, coming from Greek and Latin suffixes, prefixes, and roots. A microphone (Italian microfone) is a microphonium or a microphonum.

Similarly, a neutron bomb (Italian bomba al neutrone) is a pyrobolus neutronicus.

Some words get translated using circumlocution: a scanner (or scanner in Italian), as in a flatbed scanner, is an apparatus opticus et electronicus ad legendam imaginem: an optical and electronic device for reading images.

I have found the Lexicon indispensable for modern terms. Nevertheless, as usual, there is much argument on Vicipaedia as to the correctness of some translations. With the Internet, and especially with Google Books, it is becoming easier to research and to read original Latin texts from the Renaissance, which adds veracity to any argument.

Take, for example, the word gas, as in the third phase of matter (as opposed to gasoline). In Italian, this is gas, and the Lexicon translates this as gasium, -ii, a neuter noun of the second declension. A statement was put forward on Vicipaedia for gas, indeclinable, as the Latin term, because the located scientific usages of the term in Latin texts (from 1652, which even gives the etymology) are just that. Too, Vicipaedia has a policy, and rightly so, of not making up words, and so attested forms (preferred) or dictionary forms (if possible) must be used. If nothing is possible, then the word in the original language is used, and not Latinized.

The Latin writers, though, had no such qualms. By 1794, writers of scientific Latin, perhaps fed up with the non-Latin sound of gas as an indeclinable, had changed to gas, -is, a noun of the third declension. Then again, by 1828, into gasum, -i, a neuter noun of the second declension — a form possibly in use since 1777.

So clearly there wasn't universal agreement on the Latin for gas. Nobody ever got together at some lexicographic congress and solemnly vowed to nail down these terms. Maybe one branch went with gas, -is while another went with gasum, -i. Finding out is the type of research the Oxford English Dictionary would do.

So what does Vicipaedia do when someone wants to write about gas? The main article on gas lists all the posibilities. And, like the scientific writers of the past, different people have used different forms. Just don't get into a conversation about which term is "the right one" or "the best".

Done with Latin I, starting on Latin II


		MILLER
	What is it?

 		DJ
	I've been listening to the 
	transmission. And I think Houston 
	made a mistake in the translation.

		MILLER
	Go on.

DJ plays the recording again. Stops it abruptly.

		DJ
	They thought it said, "Liberatis 
	me," "Save me," but it's not "me." 
	It's "tutemet:" "Save yourself."

		MILLER
	It's not a distress call. It's a 
	warning.

		DJ
	It gets worse.

Miller stares at him.

		DJ
	It's very hard to make out, but listen 
	to this final part.

He plays the recording again.

		DJ
	Do you hear it? Right there.

		MILLER
	Hear what?

		DJ
	It sounds like "ex infera:" "ex," 
	from; "infera," the ablative case of 
	"inferi." "Hell."

		MILLER
	"Save yourself. From Hell."
		(beat)
	What are you saying, are you saying 
	that this ship is possessed?

-- From the script of Event Horizon, 1997.

I need to pay more attention to my relatives.

My relative pronouns, that is. Thanks, I'll be here all week, try the fish sauce.

While I was able to recite "qui, quae, quod" in my sleep, (and not via this insanity), I think I could have used a little more translation practice on them before going into my final test in Latin I. But that's OK. I scored almost perfectly on the test. There were 22 translations, and it took me about 45 minutes to get through the first pass. The first few were pretty basic, and I spent maybe 30 seconds each on those, but they started become harder towards the end. One of them really puzzled me for a few minutes, but I was able to work it out. I spent the last 15 minutes double-checking, especially on the English-to-Latin translations. I checked those by re-translating back into Latin to see if it made sense. I ended up changing the order of words on some of those to make the meaning more clear.

We are allowed to use the dictionary in the back of the book, but obviously referring to the dictionary often enough will sink you time-wise. I find this very realistic and practical.

I'm definitely looking forward to Latin II.

I feel that I'm getting a very good, thorough grounding in Latin. At first I felt that the classes were slow going, but that's because I was used to ripping through a Latin grammar (and learning very little in the process). It turns out that my recall on the material we learned is now nearly perfect, which is great, so clearly Andrew, our magister bonus, knows his stuff.

Of course, I'm motivated: Latin is a hobby for me. I have no idea what someone who has to take Latin would think. I guess that's no different than with any subject.

I'm also very much looking forward to third-declension nouns. I found in my aborted translation of the Artificial Intelligence Wikipedia article into Latin that the third declension came up very often.

Why Latin?

"Quidquid latine dictum sit altum viditur."Whatever is said in Latin seems profound. —Unknown

Why learn Latin? Why not? Latin is the basis of many Western languages, even if they're all bastard sons of Latin and native tribal languages. I am embarrassingly monolingual, and learning Latin will help me pick up and understand other languages more easily.

Also, there are medieval scientific works that I want to read, and back then they were mostly written in Latin, that being the scholarly lingua franca. That and Greek, but I haven't seen a lot of medieval manuscripts in Greek.

Also, I want to write articles on Vicipaedia.

I've spent maybe two years already reading various Latin grammars (especially M&F and Wheelock's), and fumbling around the Latin forums and materials at Textkit, and found myself none the wiser. Sure, I can painstakingly slap together a highly stilted Latin sentence, or get the general (but not exact) meaning of a Latin sentence. But that's not good enough. My attempted Vicipaedia articles were turning out to be a disaster, and my medieval translation was grinding to a complete halt. But hey, I made this great bumper sticker.

So instead, I signed up for a live online formal course in Latin, the Carmenta Online Latin Classroom. Three days a week, one hour per class, plus homework and tests. The tests are taken while the teacher is online, so you have an hour to complete the translation tasks. Certainly, learning in a classroom setting is slower (and more expensive) than just plowing straight through M&F, but I find myself learning and retaining much more this way. And, in the two (or more) years I plan to study Latin formally online, I hope to be in much better shape than I was from the previous two years of informal study. Maybe informal language study works for some, but apparently not me!

I'm currently nearing the end of the first semester, and we've gotten through 1st and 2nd declension nouns and adjectives, the complete active and passive present system of verb conjugations, six forms of ablatives, and a whole bunch of vocabulary (presented in easily digestible sub-bunches). More as I pass major milestones. If you're interested in learning Latin in a classroom, but don't have any local colleges that offer Latin classes, I highly recommend checking out Carmenta.

Ave et vale.