Monday, December 06, 2004

From the Mail: More on Latin

Dear Bill:

Your Latin is usually excellent. I wish my logic was as impeccable as your Latin. . . .

I guess I don't agree that stock Latin expressions should be inflected based on their position in an English sentence. Take the phrase "homo sapiens." We could say, "Homo sapiens is doomed to extinction" with no hesitation. But I don't think we'd want to say, "An evil fate awaits hominem sapientem," on the grounds that "awaits" is a transitive verb and direct objects of verbs are normally accusative in Latin. I'd simply say, "An evil fate awaits homo sapiens." Otherwise you run into all kinds of issues. The verb "utor" in Latin takes the ablative. Does that mean that if we followed"uses" in English with a Latin noun, we'd have to put that Latin noun in the ablative case? Simplicity should be the rule. You could probably find a reliable authority to contradict me, though.

Best wishes,

Mike

BV: I take your point, Mike. The practice of inflecting Latin expressions depending on their position in German sentences was Kant's. See here. The present thread started here.