Monday, February 11, 2008

Taking No for an Answer

I read Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life by Harry Mount over the weekend and found it fascinating and enjoyable. Especially so since I skipped the declension and conjugation tables, which the author encouraged. Mount, a journalist who majored in classics at Oxford, explains Rome and the Latin language in a breezy and fun manner and confirms suspicions long held about some of the prep-school Latin masters.

Mount and others have said that learning a language is akin to peeking inside a culture's inner thoughts. This may well be true. I was especially struck by how questions in Latin are constructed in two different ways. A question prefaced by "nunc" is asked when the anticipated answer is yes; when prefaced by "num," the answer would be in the negative. Romans, it seems, were adverse to being surprised.


Steve said...

So, in a situation where the asker of the question has incorrectly anticipated the response (for example a positive when the reality is a negative) does the responder than have to do a "Yes, we have no bananas," type of reply?

Diligent Blogger said...

I think the Romans were wise enough to not ask question that would elicit an unfavorable answer. Kind of like corporate culture.