06.27.08

Figuratively Speaking

Posted in Figuratively Speaking, On writing at 8:22 am by Marion

Latin Lovers

One of my favorite activities … more fun than spraying the dogs for fleas, even … is to read the dictionary and take note of the origins of words.

No matter what trips a word takes through Olde English or French, chances are good it all started with Latin.

Few words have a hold on us like the Latin ones.

It’s called a dead language, but you’d never know it. That’s a good thing. Latin gives everyone a forum, and refuses to take sides in any debate.

Latin persists, though no country has actively spoken it for hundreds of years. We can thank our great Roman countrymen for spreading it throughout the old world — the Mediterranean Coast into Europe, minus the Goths, Celts and Franks, of course.

Today, Latin is invaluable in medicine, philosophy and even marketing and the military (semper fidelis anyone?)

It’s also a writer’s best friend. It started in 9th grade when I learned “ibid,” which means, “the same place” and is the same reference as the footnote above it.

There was also “loc cit” which means “in the place cited” which repeats an earlier footnote reference.

Journalists and editors know the term “stet” quite well … it means “let it stand.” That’s what you write after scratching out a paragraph you hated, then realize you can’t say it any better after all.

One term that once baffled me is “c.q.” It appears before unusual spellings at the head of a story on the news wire — “Smyth is c.q.” It means “this spelling is correct” but you’d never find that abbreviation in the AP Stylebook. It was always a sort of inner secret you just had to figure out in context.

In today’s Internet Age, of course such mysteries are easily cleared up. Wikipedia provides this refection on the term:

Cadit quaestio.
Latin for “the question falls.” It’s a legal term indicating that a settlement to a dispute or issue has been reached, and is now resolved. In English, a related phrase is “the shoe has dropped,” or as I use it, “waiting for the other shoe to fall.”

In journalism, the abbreviation “CQ” is used to indicate that a fact, such as the spelling of a name, has been checked and found to be correct.

Latin makes medicine possible, too, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll look at why the life-giving doc speaks a dead language.

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