Last year I began to study Latin again, after a break of more than 30 years. I’ve found it fascinating, not just in itself but for what it shows me about our own language.
Latin is so elegant compared with English. Take, for example,
quo, moriture, ruis?
Which translates as ‘where are you rushing to, you who are about to die?’ Those 3 evocative words are so much more expressive than the unwieldy English sentence. This make me want to examine my own use of language.
I will never, obviously, be able to write with that clear brevity, or in Latin (although the Harry Potter books were translated into it – perhaps I should go and see how it worked). However, I do want to use this new insight I have to try and improve my use of English. I want to concentrate more on saying exactly what I want to say, in the fewest and best words.
Poetry is one place where we have to concentrate on making every word count. For example in Mary Smith’s short poem Graptolites we have
writing on the rock
stories of ocean life
(from Thousands Pass Here Every Day by Mary Smith, Indigo Dreams Publishing)
So much is told in those few lines, each word counts for many. I feel myself wanting to wander off into textual analysis but I don’t need to, because those few words do speak for themselves. I need to get out of the habit of over-explaining.
Taking care like this doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m determined to try harder. My sloppiness is, I fear, natural, but it can be overcome. As they say in Latin – vincit qui se vincit (she conquers who conquers herself).