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Volume 3 #2 October/November
When I started Latin in the ninth grade, I happened to
be the only Protestant student in my parochial school classroom.
At the beginning of each class, the students would stand
and recite the Hail Mary. In French class, you said it in
French. In Spanish class, in Spanish. On the first day in
Latin class, Sister Cordula asked whether anyone knew it
in Latin. To Sister Cordula’ s dismay, mine was the
only hand that went up. What she didn’t know was that
I was a long time piano student who had been subjected to
an endless string of student recitals. There was always some
little voice student who sang either “Pale hands I
love, beside the Shalimar,” or the “Ave Maria.” Never
mind. It made an impression on Sister Cordula.
The other day I was reminded of how a little Latin can
sometimes go a long way, by an e-mail asking me how to get
a student to put the “g” in recognize
since it is almost universally pronounced without it. The “g” is
there because it comes from the Latin verb, “I think,” or “cogito.” It
is related to cognition-- thinking or understanding, where you can actually hear
it. The prefix, “re” often means again, and if you think again about
something, you re-cog-nize it. (Without that “g” you might be re-conning
somebody. Dear me.)
The same approach can be used to spell “necessary”. Ne- is a prefix
that means “not”. Cede and cess are Latin roots that mean to
give up something. If you are not (ne) willing to give up (cess) something,
ne-cess-ary to you.
A lot of funny looking spellings in English can be attributed
to the huge number of words we have that have been borrowed
from other languages. For
the letter, G, is sometimes “soft”, when followed by an e, i, or
y, as in George, gym, or gin. (Don’t write. I know there are a lot of exceptions.)
A ‘”g” followed by a, u, or o, is “hard”, as in
goat. Now the French have the same rule about g’s, and their final
letter, e, is silent, just like ours. So with Gallic logic, they finish
a word that ends
in a hard g by spelling that sound with -gue to give us vague, plague,
league, vogue, fugue, etc. Also they tuck in a u to keep the hard g before
an i or an
e, s in guilt, guest, guitar, guild, or guide. Did I forget Huguenot and
Obviously you don’t make your hapless student memorize all this. You just
need to know it so that you can explain why some English spelling seems so weird.
Often students will need to do a particular spelling exercise
several times before it is all right. These papers I call “practice” papers.
Then I keep the last, best ones for students’ folders.
One clever tutor told me that she gives her students all
the practice papers and lets them tear them up and throw
them in the wastebasket, themselves.
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