I’m no Latin lover

30Sep05

11:00 a.m.

Boss: We’ve got this new product, but we want to make sure people pronounce the name right. The boss wants to put a bar over this c so people know to pronounce different syllables, like in Latin. Does that make sense?

Me: Well, I’m not sure you can even do a c with a bar over it. I thought it was just for vowels. Do you mean an acute accent? A cedilla? A circumflex? Does that symbol exist? Is it linguistically correct? Even if so, do we have this character in the Windows character map? Or on the Mac? Would the designers have to manually draw it in every time somebody wrote the name of the product? That would be a lot of work for them. And would the diacritic change the pronunciation for people who understand it? Would it match how we actually want people to call the product? Or would it be like how when Mötley Crüe go to Germany, the fans call them “Moetley Crueh”?

Boss: I don’t know. How does it work in Latin?

Me: I don’t know Latin. They don’t teach it in school anymore. I really mostly write in English.

Boss: But there’s someone you can call, right?

Me: I don’t think I know any Latin professors or ancient Romans.

Boss: Well, can you figure it out?

Me [sighing]: Yes. I will learn Latin.

5:00

Me: “Salve, sir. I figured out your answer. I couldn’t quite figure it out from looking online, so I just told our oldest copywriter I wouldn’t sign off on his ads until he told me everything he remembered from high-school Latin. By the rules of Latin, the penultimate syllable is automatically stressed, so we’re good there. You don’t need to use the macron, but if you do, you’d actually put it over this e to indicate that this is the stressed syllable. Unfortunately, it also changes the vowel sound. In Latin, when you have a long syllable, you have a long vowel. So people wouldn’t pronounce the name of the product the way we want.

Boss: What about the English Latin rules?

Me: There … aren’t any English Latin rules. They’re two different languages. We’d be making them up as we went along.

Boss: Well, what about the English rules then?

Me: Well, English doesn’t really mark for stress, except in the dictionary. We could use this stress mark that looks like a straight apostrophe, I guess. But it wouldn’t look good.

Boss: No, it wouldn’t. What about the straight line?

Me: The only time I ever saw that in English, it was used over long vowels. So anyone else who learned that would pronounce it as ee. I would, anyway.

Boss: I see. Well, thank you.

Me [lying]: No problem.

5:15

Boss: Hey, why haven’t you signed off on those ads I gave you this morning?

Me: Well, I spent most of the day learning Latin.



3 Responses to “I’m no Latin lover”

  1. 1 Trite R.

    Your misery brightens my day – thank you. By the way, I think I once had that same boss. There’s a story here about a forced translation of the untranslatable, but that’s a story for another time. Man, I don’t miss the office.

  2. 2 Ken

    They taught Latin in my high school, and I only graduated a year and a half ago. And cause I’m gay for language like that, I took four years.But like you say, you automatically stress the second to last syllable so we never were taught to use or comprehend such marks for Latin usage.

  3. 3 N

    I don’t understand why you won’t tell your boss about the English Latin rules.


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