A Useless Thing I Learned in Catholic School

I went to a catholic school, its true. No plaid skirts, sadly, but crucifixes in every classroom, nuns and priests for professors, special masses throughout the year including graduation mass, starting every class with the Our Father and sometimes the Hail Mary as well, and occasionally praying in Latin.


On the list of almost entirely useless skills I left college with are the ability to say the Our Father and Hail Mary in Latin and the ability to translate things to and from Latin.

I’m not talking about translating Latin phrases for really misguided tattoos you’ll regert (sic) and will find out later mean something completely different than what you were led to believe they meant. Yes, I’m talking to you girl who thinks her Chinese characters say “peace hope love” when really they say “slippery fat monkey” and to you as well man with “autonomy joy” inked in Latin or Greek down your right forearm. I’m not talking about translating simple mottos and phrases either, although mistranslated mottos amuse me immensely. I used to translate the likes of Cicero and Cinna, Ovid and Virgil, and Horace with his hexameter. Latin insults make me giggle. I even translated the entire Aeneid to English once (long, long ago) simply because I could.

If you’ve ever seen Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”, think on the scene where that one Jew (who says he is actually a Roman whose father’s name is Bigus Dickus) is berated by a centurion about his incorrect translation of the phrase “Romans Go Home.” His hair was pulled while trying to correctly conjugate the verb and a gladius hispaniensis* (sword, see note) was held to his neck until he realized he was making a direct address and needed the vocative before finally being told that he needed to write it correctly 100 times or have his balls removed. That is what taking Latin was like, only instead of a centurion in a short leather battle skirt it was a 4 foot 7 inch tall Irish priest with a grey wool sweater that could tear our best translations apart because of unknown rules of Latin grammar that you only actually know if you fluently speak Latin, which only happens at the Vatican. He could bring even the premed and prelaw football players to tears.

Why is this on my mind? Who knows.

Maybe it’s the Latin phrase on one of the leg warmers I’m wearing today.

Maybe it’s the grey sweater I wore to stay toasty that I now realize is exactly like the one that terrifying Irish priest used to wear when he would destroy my perfectly correct except-for-this-other-rule-that-only-applies-on-a-full-moon-in-early-spring-when-the-budding-leaves-were-covered-in-a-thick-frost-in-morning-two-days-agone translation. (Okay, so I may have made up that rule but some of the rules he gave were almost that complicated and I will never remember them because I don’t live in Vatican City.)

Or maybe sitting in the ER of a catholic hospital and staring at the crucifix somehow jogged my memory.

I realize this completely useless skill (useless except in bar bets and when encountering centurions at midnight) is a bit rusty. It has been 15 years since I did any serious translating! I certainly don’t immediately recall all the words I used to know and I have to think for a minute on the 36 possible endings for any given noun, but I can still translate a dead language for shits and giggles and I’m willing to bet I’m one of a very small population of people who can say that.

And that’s got to count for something, right?

*The gladius hispaniensis is a Roman short sword that was adapted from a style of sword used by the Celtiberians**, whom the Romans encountered in their conquest of Hispania.

**Celts living in the Iberian peninsula during the last few centuries before the birth of Christ.***

***Because today I’m in the mood to show off the amount of completely (completely!) useless information I have floating around my melon.

9 thoughts on “A Useless Thing I Learned in Catholic School

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  1. Girl, if I ever find myself in a n indiana jones type situation where I need to translate some latin to get into some kind of vault filled with magical treasure, Ima hit you up! Also; nice socks!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There was a sign over the blackboard in our Latin class that was made of cut out lettering. There was a “t” missing from one word in the sentence. Missing is not quite accurate. Removed by intellectuals at an all boys Jesuit high school is more correct.

        “Latin and Greek are not dead…the are immor al.”

        We were a fun lot. 😎

        Liked by 1 person

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