Smart People Know Latin
Lydia: "I know Archaic Latin."A perfect way to introduce that a character is not only smart, but refined, well- (formally) educated, and upper-class, even aristocratic: have him be able to recite a Latin quotation eloquently or read the moribund language of the Romans as if it were his native tongue. Supposedly, this demonstrates that the character is of magnified intelligence or at least education, because Smart People Know Latin. A reason for this is that Latin's remaining uses include an extended proportion of "intellectual" and "scholarly" applications, including but not limited to etymology, science, medicine, legal jargon, the arts, deciphering ancient texts, mere quotation, et cetera. This inclination for intellectuals to comprehend Latin combines frequently with Gratuitous Greek, especially in science. While other modern languages may also have utility in these areas, their primary use - as living common languages for plebeians - obscures out alternative uses, so they are not considered as "scholarly." This has a fundamental basis on Truth in Television, as back during the Renaissance when classical Greek and Roman texts were rediscovered by Europeans, the ability to translate the original literature was considered a necessity. Even earlier during the Medieval Era, most literate Europeans were members of the clergy or nobles who were educated via clerical universities that preserved Latin as the legitimate ecclesiastical language, and ergo, had Latin as a Lingua Franca that neglects nationality. Given the above, Latin became the primary language of scholarship, and literature on science, the arts and such subjects of intellectual material were often inscribed in Latin. This is one of the reasons science's opted language for terminologies (especially in taxonomy) is Latin (combined with Gratuitous Greek). The norm only received reduction during the 19th century, when more and more scientists began to use their own languages. But for instance the English vocabulary still uses many Latin and Greek words, some imported via French. Further, knowledge of Latin (and to a lesser extent, Greek) was a sign of an elevated education as supplied by the British school system. Like the Medieval nobility, only the wealthy could acquire an education that included instruction in Latin, thus amplifying the modern connotation of class, education, how Smart People Know Latin and how Smart People Speak The Queen's English. Also, education in Latin in the present has been connected to better linguistic ability and examination scores (probably due to recognizing the etymologies behind the jargon), and it is infrequent for inept students to take Latin except when it's a requirement. And you know how many superior schools and universities have Pretentious Latin Mottoes. The names of several secondary types of school, such as Lyceum and Gymnasium, is an evidence of the Classical influence in the education and, moreover, "grammar schools" were schools who, when created, taught the Latin and Ancient Greek ''grammar''. In modern works, knowledge of Latin will often be a part of Instant Cultured if a character is subject to Screw Learning, I Have Phlebotinum!. Expect a newly intelligent character to suddenly be able to read Latin fluently, or at least ramble off the Latin roots of a word. Of course, use of Dog Latin, or worse, Pig Latin betrays a classical sort of Delusions of Eloquence.
Allison: "You know Archaic Latin?"
Lydia: "I got bored with Classical Latin."
Allison: "Just how smart ARE you?!"
Allison: "You know Archaic Latin?"
Lydia: "I got bored with Classical Latin."
Allison: "Just how smart ARE you?!"
— Teen Wolf 2x06 Frenemy
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In one issue of The Avengers, Hank McCoy (The Beast) converses with a Roman Catholic nun in Latin.
- Astérix, which takes place around 50 BC when Latin was a living language, always show the Romans speaking the same language as the Gauls. Except that whenever a group of Roman legionnaires are speaking, then one of them will likely be qouting something in Latin. Often to the frustration of the other legionnaires since it usually happen in a situation too serious for that - for example while running from the invincible Gauls.
- One of the pirates whose ship the Gauls wreck Once per Episode also has a tendency to offer pithy quotes in Latin when they're all floating on a raft.
- Batman knows Latin.
- The author of The Prayer Warriors believes this, including atheists as some of the people he believes are too stupid to understand Latin. Unfortunately for him, his Latin comes off as a "Blind Idiot" Translation. In-story, Satan tells Percy Jackson that only the traitor among the Prayer Warriors will know what the traitor's password "Deus Mortuus" means.
- The Dear Sweetie Belle Continuity uses Latin as the ancient language of the unicorns, and Professor Crescendo, and his family and students, are very much immersed in it.
- In Braveheart, young Wallace is asked about the benediction. When he tells his uncle he doesn't speak Latin, the response is "That's something we shall have to remedy." It's one of many lessons in manhood he learns, and of course, this later becomes a Chekovs Skill.
- In the film Event Horizon, the use of Latin by the captain of that ship on its Apocalyptic Log seems to be there partly to suggest what an educated guy he is, although it's the mistranslation of one of the quotes by the protagonists that turns out to be relevant to the plot.
- Natasha (Black Widow) from Iron Man 2 speaks multiple languages including Latin, which impresses Tony. Pepper, corrects him in saying no one 'speaks' Latin, as it's a dead language (which isn't true, because all that makes it a "dead" language is that people don't have it as a first language and thus it doesn't change).
- In the live-action Richie Rich movie, Cadbury is seen to be skilled in reading Latin. Richie himself apparently knows enough Latin to send him a secret message in a greeting card:
Policeman: [trying to read the card] What's this?Richie: Latin.Policeman: Latino? Thought he was English!
- The daughter in The Haunted Mansion, who is supposed to be the smartest character, takes a course on Latin.
- Edmund Rutledge in 1776, although in that context almost certainly a marker of social class. Col. MacIan mistakes it for French.
- In Tombstone, Doc and Ringo have a whole conversation of death threats by hurling aphorisms in Latin at each other.
- In Withnail & I, Withnail and Monty engage in some prep-school Latin badinage at the less highly educated I's expense.
- In A Man for All Seasons, the king tests how smart Thomas' daughter is by asking her to talk in Latin.
- Meeks is supposed to be the Brain of the group in Dead Poets Society because he "aced Latin," according to Charlie.
- In 1066 and All That, the victory of the Romans over the Britons is attributed to their superior classical education, including knowing the correct pronunciation of "Veni, Vidi, Vici." The Lollards' insistence on reading the Bible in an English translation rather than in Latin is taken as a sign of stupidity as well as heresy.
- Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. They trade all sorts of learned quotations, but Latin is part of the deal. The last time he proposes marriage to her (in Gaudy Night), he does so in Latin while wearing his cap and gown (he took a First at Balliol). She accepts in the same language: "Placet." Lat. One of his frequent terms of endearment for her is "domina" (a feminine form of "dominus" "master") meaning "lady" or "mistress".
- The Aubrey-Maturin series invokes this in universe. Stephen Maturin is a physician that speaks Latin (along with a half a dozen other languages) and he will often use Latin around patients both to keep them from knowing what he is saying (when he is talking to another physician or an assistant who also speaks Latin) and because patients are reassured by the fact that their doctor is learned enough to speak Latin. The crews of the ships he serves on often brag that their ship has a real physician that speaks Latin and Greek.
- Note that these were the times when surgeons and physicians were two radically different occupations, surgeons being little more than half-literate artisans who could let the blood, put on the leeches, extract the tooth or perform a field amputation. Having a real trained doctor on the ship (which was required to have a surgeon, not a physician) was a rare luck indeed.
- Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory are apparently writing to each other in Latin in Count and Countess.
- In Spike Milligan's Puckoon (set in partition-era Ireland) the Catholic Father Rudden laments the lack of Latin education amongst his flock. On one occasion, we are told, he recited a dirty joke that he had translated into Latin, eliciting a solemn "Amen" from his congregation.
- George Eliot complains of this in Silly Novels by Lady Novelists:
In "Laura Gay," another novel of the same school, the heroine seems less at home in Greek and Hebrew, but she makes up for the deficiency by a quite playful familiarity with the Latin classics–with the "dear old Virgil," "the graceful Horace, the humane Cicero, and the pleasant Livy;" indeed, it is such a matter of course with her to quote Latin. . . It is as little the custom of well-bred men as of well-bred women to quote Latin in mixed parties; they can contain their familiarity with "the humane Cicero" without allowing it to boil over in ordinary conversation, and even references to "the pleasant Livy" are not absolutely irrepressible
- Shadowhunters in The Mortal Instruments are quite into this, especially when trying to assert intellectual superiority over mundanes.
Simon: "Basia coquum". Or whatever their motto is.Alec: It's "Descensus Averno facilis est." "The descent into hell is easy." You just said "Kiss the cook".Simon: Dammit, I knew Jace was screwing with me.
- In the novel It Always Gets Worse, the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits assumes their leader speaks Latin because he's smart, since they don't know his backstory. Actually he speaks it because his extremely Catholic mother shoved it down his throat and put him through Catholic school from preschool to highschool. His father is also a priest who had an affair with one of his congregation, and drove it in further. He actively hates this trope and avoids Latin unless it's necessary to the plot, which of course it is because, well, see the title.
- In The Dresden Files, Latin is the formal language of the White Council and so any wizard who's a member is of course expected to know it. (Harry's own notably poor grasp of the language — "damned correspondence course" — has come up to bite him here before.) Justified in that the Council as an organization really does go back that far.
- Mockingjay implies that Plutarch Heavensbee speaks at least some Latin.
- In G. K. Chesterton's Four Faultless Felons, one of the signs that a burglar may be more than he seems is that he can translate the motto "Omnia Vincit Amor" on the jewellery he is stealing.
- Richard von Krafft-Ebing wrote the more lurid passages (and title) of his book Psycopathia Sexualis in Latin in the apparent belief it would keep the merely salaciously curious away.
- As the title quote shows, in Teen Wolf, Lydia can read Archaic Latin (She got bored with Classical Latin).
- Most of the hunters in Supernatural are able to recite Latin incantations, and many hunters like Bobby Singer can read obscure Latin texts as well as other ancient languages.
- In Smallville, Hex, Chloe is shown to speak Latin but Lois and Clark can't.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister is often fond of flaunting his Oxbridge education in front of his LSE-educated boss with Latin. Here is an example.
- Eric Sweet from House of Anubis is versed in Latin and routinely spouts Latin phrases, presumably to demonstrate how smart he is.
- President Bartlet on The West Wing, who is a giant nerd, understands Latin enough that he can spontaneously compose prayers in it.
- Though he is a Catholic (by choice, not birth), studied at Notre Dame, and wanted to be a priest at first.
- Sheldon and Wolowitz try to use this against each other in The Big Bang Theory.
- Cupid (1998 version): A love-lorn professor and Trevor Hale (who believes he is and/or may actually be Cupid) are discussing picking up women in a bar.
Jennings: Ille qui haesitat...Lat.
Trevor: ...dormit in vacuo lecto.Lat.
- A category title from Win Ben Stein's Money: "I speak Latin, ergo I am annoying."
- Dr. Huang, The Shrink / The Smart Guy / Mr. Exposition on Law & Order: SVU effortlessly steps in to correct a mistranslated Latin word in the episode "Silence".
- It's a running gag on QI to make fun of Stephen Fry's perceived posh upbringing. On one occasion, Bill made a joke about him knowing the Lord's Prayer in Latin, to which Stephen responded by quoting the first few lines of such at high speed. Helps that the Lord's Prayer is probably the most widely-known Latin text in the world, given the number of people who recite it by rote every single day, and the first two words "Pater noster" are a common alternative name for the prayer.
- An episode of Sliders had the protagonists end up in a world where being smart and well-educated is cool (they pass a punk on the street with a boombox blasting classical music and see a rap video about how cool it is to hang out at the library). Sports are all a mix of physical endurance and knowledge (kinda lends a whole new meaning to the term "mathlete"). Quinn in this world is a well-known athlete and a slider (although, Quinn-prime finds out that this Quinn never discovered sliding and was just faking). He's also involved with some unsavory types. The episode's Big Bad is a mobster who constantly likes to quote phrases in Latin and gets annoyed when the others have no idea what he said. Of course, it's entirely possible that many people know at least some Latin in this world, given the obsession with intelligence. At the end of the episode, right before sliding, Quinn departs with a Latin quip: Via Corinas Inundum. It's actually an amazingly good quip, well-suited to demonstrating Quinn's intellect - as Latin is actually a very flexible language this can be translated as either;
- "[I have to follow] the way [leadings] of my heart, you wash-outs [i.e. losers]!" AKA "So long, suckers!"(The mobster only gets this one.)
- [My] heart's pathways are flooded [with tears at how stupid you are]" as in "Cry me a river" or "You're breaking my heart."
- Response: If "via corinas inundum" is an accurate quote, it's pure gibberish, and calling it Dog-Latin would be an undeserved compliment. "Via" does mean "path". "Corinas" isn't a word at all. The word for "heart" is "Cor, cordis". Thus "Way of my heart" is "via cordis". As for "inundum"...dear god...they took the verb for "flooded" - "inundo, inundare" and added a noun ending to it. Verbs don't end in "-um" like that. The gerundive form is "inundandum ("are about to be flooded"), but you can't drop out the "-an-" from the middle like that. It cannot possibly mean "washouts". It...appears that he meant to say "my heart's pathways are about to be flooded" (with tears are how stupid you are, i.e. "cry me a river")...but this would accurately be said as "via cordibus inundandum". Now write it out 100 times, or I'll cut your balls off.
- Gil Grissom has done this a time or two on CSI-his insect names are most common, but there has been once or twice besides that.
- Temperance Brennan and Zack Addy on Bones. When the trio visit a very upscale private school, Catholic Booth doesn't get a word of its Pretentious Latin Motto; Omnia Mea Mecum Porto, snarking that it must mean, "Normal People Stay Out." Bones and Zack translate it without pause - "I carry with me all my things." In unison.
- Fred and Wesley on Angel. Angel himself is a bit of an inversion, he does have his smart areas, but isn't really upper class. He probably learned some as a youth, and the rest from experience with the old books.
- Methos on Highlander. Justified since he was alive back then and lived in the Roman Empire for a while.
- Apparently Latin is part of the curriculum at Starfleet Academy for some reason, as one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation reveals that Wesley Crusher is studying it, and in another episode, Counselor Troi suggests that Picard, who's been turned into a child in a transporter accident, can go there to "brush up on [his] Latin."
- Possibly justifiable in that a great deal of scientific terms have at least Latin roots. A decent grounding in Latin (and some basic knowledge of Greek) is enough to make deciphering Star Trek Techno Babble much easier.
- Picard and Wesley learned Latin in the 24th century for much the same reason that 20th century people do: to read works of classical philosophy in the original language, and as a mental exercise. The only difference is that instead of being removed from the sources by 20 centuries, they are removed by 24 centuries. Star Trek did this with a lot of human culture, i.e. why Picard is a fan of the works of William Shakespeare: it's hard to predict if popular and even critically acclaimed literature and films from the 20th century will age well three hundred years from now, but Shakespeare and Latin have already held up for many centuries, so they're probably not a passing fad.
- Batman: Dick's Aunt once tried to teach him Greek. He said it was all Greek to him.
- Midsomer Murders: One academic in "The Glitch" insists on saying nearly everything twice, first in Latin then in English.
- Horatio Hornblower: When Horatio comes aboard the Justinian, Captain Keene asks him about his education. Horatio says he was a Grecian at school, meaning that he studied both Latin and Greek, and Horatio actually looks slightly excited for the first time in the series. Keene promptly tells him that in the Navy, there is no use for absolute ablatives and similar stuff. However, there is, apparently. Keene uses it as a means of mocking his middies with style. He wonders what terrae incognitiae (unknown lands) they might have discovered during their navigational exercise. And because Horatio is also Good with Numbers, he's the only one who got the exercise right.
- Parodied in a FoxTrot strip where Jason says that his new year's resolution is to speak entirely in Latin. He recites common-knowledge Latin phrases such as "a priori", "quid pro quo", etc. just to annoy his sister, Paige.
- In a Dilbert comic strip, Wally has a Dream Sequence where he becomes smarter and exclaims "Suddenly I can speak Latin!"
- Brutally parodied in Loves Labours Lost when a group of foolish "pedants" get together and argue over usage of Latin grammar. None of them are right.
- Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew:
"If love have touched you, nought remains but so,Redime te captum quam queas minimo.Translation "
- In Anne Of The Thousand Days, Wolsey tells Anne that there is writing on her necklace, though she may not see it yet:
Wolsey: The writing is a quotation from a poem. It says: "Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am." You have studied Latin?
Wolsey: "Touch me not," the translation might go, "I belong to the king."
- 1776 has Rutledge showing off his aristocratic refinement by (sarcastically) referring to Delaware's bickering delegation as tria juncta in uno. Colonel McKean mistakes it for French.
- In Fallout: New Vegas your player can use Latin phrases in certain trees provided their intelligence is 8 out of 10 or higher. The lower ranks of Caesar's Legion seem only to know "vale" and "ave", while a centurion POW you meet seems to be fluent.
- Daniel Dankovski from Pathologic frequently uses Latin in his speech and even more in his diary. Justified Trope, since he is a Bachelor of Medicine.
- Doctus from Xenosaga.
- In the first Broken Sword game, George reveals that he knows enough Latin to give rough translations of the various Latin sentences that crop up. He blames this knowledge on having studied law.
- Peter demonstrates his intelligence in Bad Moon Rising by translating the Ominous Latin spray painted on the gates of the abandoned Sokolov Academy. He further demonstrates his intelligence by knowing that the quote should have been written in Italian, and that the quote itself is mangled.
- Phase (Ayla Goodkind) of the Whateley Universe reads Latin, ancient Greek, and Middle English, all part of his classism and upper-upper-class upbringing in private schools. He also speaks several modern languages, and is a snob about it.
- Despite otherwise being an evil overlord manipulating events from the shadows, Coil from Worm averts this by not knowing Latin when it comes up in Prey 14.9. This is lampshaded by the person talking, since she's using it to pass a message along to a powerful enemy of Coil's. Had he known it, he'd have realized Skitter was in danger and that a very dangerous piece of information was just given to the person who least needed to know it.
- The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Adele Rochester, precocious Child Prodigy frequents intermediate Latin courses, among other stuff like applied physics boot camp, advanced marine zoology, fencing, ballet, or opera, and she sometimes uses Latin on her twitter.
- Batman and Green Arrow exchange Latin proverbs in Justice League Unlimited to
come over as smartassesdemonstrate their intelligent rivalry.
- Regular Show, in the episode "More Smarter": Moredecai and Rigby overdose on a smart drink, and one of the side effects is that they can only speak in Latin.
- The Simpsons:
- In the "Treehouse of Horror" parody of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nerd and TV Genius Martin is seen Asleep in Class dreaming about conjugating Latin verbs.
- To cover going on a road trip, Bart tells his family he's going to the National Grammar Rodeo.
Lisa: I'm the best student in school, how come I never heard about this competition?
Bart: Maybe because you are, as we say in Latin, a "dorkus malorkus."
Lisa: That's not Latin. Mom, Bart's faking it.
Marge: Lisa, you've had your glory. Now it's Bart's turn.
- Dexter is at one point shown with a Latin textbook, for a nice combination of this trope and Nerds Love Tough Schoolwork.
- Somewhat inverted in Ancient Rome: The smart people knew Greek, while Latin was everyday language of mundane things.
- Cicero supposedly apologized for writing his philosophy tracts in vulgar Latin instead of intellectual Greek.
- Even back then there was a distinction between flowery high Latin used mainly for formal functions and more colloquial dialects of vulgar Latin that eventually separated into the Romance languages after the fall of the Empire.
- Until early 19th century, educated people all around the Western world could communicate with each other in writing via Latin, even if they could not actually speak each other's languages.
- Of course, most educated people in 18th century Europe also spoke French—even though, in some cases, they did not speak their supposed native languages very well.
- A version of this appears throughout the history of East Asia. Intellectuals in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan all knew how to read and write classical Chinese and were educated in Chinese classics. So, even when they did not actually speak one another's languages, they could still communicate intelligibly in writing.
- Vatican City, home of the Catholic Church, has no official language, yet theological writings are first written in Latin before other translations. Also, one can still find a Mass where most of the liturgy is still spoken completely in Latin.
- There are countries where Latin and ancient Greek are still taught in school.
- In the past, the classical stream (where Latin and Ancient Greek were taught) was where went the best pupils and, moreover, was the only way to went to college before the apparition of modern stream (ie. without Classical languages), which was thought to be lesser in status and intellectual level.
- The non-english nomenclauture of anatomy, the "Terminologia Anatomica" is in latin (and is taught at medical universities in non-english speaking countries). It can be found here. Medicine itself is filled with Latin terminology, and generally, the language of medicine in non-english speaking countries is still latin.
- In seminary (studying to be a priest), learning Koine Greek or Hebrew is usually compulsory, so that one can read The Bible in its original language.
- Mensa, the high IQ society, has a Latin name. "Mensa" means "table" in latin, signifying the coming together of equals.