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Smart People Know Latin
"That's Latin, darlin'. Evidently Mr. Ringo is an educated man. Now I
really hate him."
A special instance of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness
and Altum Videtur
, and 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
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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 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.
- 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.
- 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 smartasses demonstrate 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 subverted in Ancient Rome. The smart people knew Greek, while Latin was everyday language of mundane things.
- 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.