Monday, 5 December 2016

Macaronic Latin plurals

Who knows about Latin plurals? I have always found them to be a bit tricky. These days, I tend to forget and to simply Anglicise them. I think this is becoming a global trend.

I have noted that few people say 'celli' when speaking about the cello section in an orchestra. And - depending on the company you are keeping, of course - you can look like a numpty if you use the Latin plural correctly, or if you don't. Damned each way, really.

Anyway, I was trying to find what the plural of Professor Emeritus/Emerita was, for an official letter to a Uni (and I thought I had better get this right). provided some people who really knew their grammatical construction.
Bobyoungbalt said "A Latin passive participle, the 4th of the 4 principle parts of most verbs, is often used as an adjective, and is always given in the nominative singular masculine form and in the 2nd Declension form and is declined accordingly. A single judge who is a man would be a Judge emeritus, a woman would be a Judge emerita; two women Judges emeritae, two or more all men or a mixture of men and women, Judges emeriti. It's exac[t]ly the same as alumnus: you have one alumnus or alumna, two alumni or alumnae". Bobyoungbalt went on to say "As to the propriety of mixing an English word with a Latin modifier and declining the Latin (at least as far as respects number and gender -- we don't pay attention to case), this is not infrequent. In fact, there is a word for it: macaronic"(, 2001).
Nice and clear. This post got a number of replies, including the following, from Tsuwm:
"the 'original meaning' [... pertained to] a burlesque form of verse in which vernacular words are introduced into a Latin context with Latin terminations and in Latin constructions. Also, applied to similar verse of which the basis is Greek instead of Latin; and loosely to any form of verse in which two or more languages are mingled together" (, 2001).
Tsuwm went on to say that macaronic was likely:
"to have been invented by Teofilo Folengo (‘Merlinus Cocaius’) whose ‘macaronic’ poem (Liber Macaronices) was published in 1517. He explains (ed. 2, 1521) that the ‘macaronic art’ is so called from macaroni, which is ‘quoddam pulmentum farina, caseo, botiro compaginatum, grossum, rude, et rusticanum’"(, 2001).
I like it. We smash English together with Latin endings in a way that is big, rough and rustic, like blending cheese and flour. Fascinating. 

With the result that even today, more than 500 years later, we can use Latin adjective endings and be 'correct'. 

Thus, two Professors Emeritus are Professors Emeriti, regardless of whether they are male or female. 



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