Staff in town halls in Bournemouth, England, banned from using Latin phrases

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Edit November 5th: Good news; after a few days and a ton of media attention it turns out that this was a false alarm, and Bournemouth Council says no bannings ever took place. I'll leave the original post as is below though.

Wow, this is very odd. I actually wrote before about replacing Latin terms with English-derived terms here, but I don't agree that banning the Latin terms is a good idea, and of course the other solution is to simply start studying Latin (or Latino sine Flexione / Interlingua) again.

The biggest problem is that there's no clear borderline between Latin terms that everybody knows and those that most don't; in the middle you're going to find a lot of terms like nota bene that a great deal still know quite well but others find completely foreign.

This includes bona fide, eg (exempli gratia), prima facie, ad lib or ad libitum, etc or et cetera, ie or id est, inter alia, NB or nota bene, per, per se, pro rata, quid pro quo, vis-a-vis, vice versa and even via.

Its list of more verbose alternatives, includes "for this special purpose", in place of ad hoc and "existing condition" or "state of things", instead of status quo.

In instructions to staff, the council said: "Not everyone knows Latin. Many readers do not have English as their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult."

The second paragraph shows the problem: the alternatives are more verbose. Some of the English words I've proposed for Latin terms have been less verbose, such as groundlaw instead of constitution. Replacing i.e. with that is, and ad hoc with existing condition (two words that come from the Latin existere and conditio, mind you!) just isn't going to work.

This comment from a supporter of the Latin ban is also ridiculous:

However, the Plain English Campaign has congratulated the councils for introducing the bans.

Marie Clair, its spokesman, said: "If you look at the diversity of all our communities you have got people for whom English is a second language. They might mistake eg for egg and little things like that can confuse people.

Eg for egg? How about read (reed) for read (red), or through, though and thought? There are much larger fish to fry in the English language than a word like e.g. that might possibly look like egg. Not to mention the fact that the two words will almost never appear in the same context. Chances are when you see e.g. and a list of examples following, the subject is not eggs.

In fact, here's an example to take a look at right here:

In other fields (e.g. anatomy or law) where Latin had been widely used, it survived only in technical phrases and terminology.

Hands up those who got the e.g. above confused with egg.

By the way, this is unrelated to Latin but one thing English does needs is a resurgence of the words overmorrow and ereyesterday. There's no excuse for these words to have died out and been replaced by the needlessly wordy the day after tomorrow and the day before yesterday. It's time to start using these words again.

Edit: there's another article here on the same subject with a fair amount of replies below as well.
Edit 2: I just noticed that this is Page F30's 1000th post.


Anonymous said...

On the other hand, this would prevent the egregious misuse of i.e. and e.g.

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