ABC ET CETERA (The Life and Times of the Roman Alphabet) by Alexander and Nicholas Humez

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ABC ET CETERA (The Life and Times of the Roman Alphabet) by Alexander and Nicholas Humez

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Publishers Synopsis

In classic abecedarian fashion ABC ET CETERA takes from the rich Roman cornucopia more than enough to demonstrate the fact that sixty percent of our working vocabulary descends directly from the Latin. Nothing in Roman culture - and Romance - is beyond the measure and mischief of the brothers Humez: not unicorns, Vestal Virgins, and maledicta balloons; not Roman nomenclature, dating systems, and numbering; not Roman religion, education, humor, law, slavery, literature, and not, of course, the gluttonous Ampersand.

Preamble (of the book)
This is a book about the Roman alphabet and the people who used it as a medium for the transmission of their civilization. Primarily, this means the Romans and their Italic subjects, speakers of Latin who disseminated the language, and the culture of which it was an expression, throughout Europe and the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea: at its height, the Roman empire included what is today Italy, Switzerland, Austria, France, Spain, Portugal, Rumania, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and the greater part of Britain and the German Rhineland. A traditional story has it that Romulus, legendary founder of Rome, was promised a twelve-hundred-year future for his city. As it eventually turned out, this promise was fulfilled: counting from the legendary founding of Rome in 753 B.C. to the overthrow of the last emperor by Odoacer in 476 A.D., the city just squeaked by though if one adds on the days during which the Byzantine Empire (formerly the Eastern Roman Empire) actively perpetuated Roman culture, another thousand years goes into the tally. Moreover, the establishment of Christianity with its seat at Rome provided a vehicle for the perpetuation of at least some aspects of Roman culture down to the present day, for Latin remains the lingua franca of the Roman Catholic Church and the official language of papal encyclicals. Which is by no means to suggest that Latin is otherwise extinct: over the years, the language has not-so-quietly transmuted itself into the Romance languages of today - Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Provenal, Rhaeto-Romance, Rumanian, Sardinian, Spanish, and their numerous dialects. Or, put another way, the language of the Romans is alive and well in the form of Latin's temporally far-flung dialects, the modern Romance languages.

As speakers, readers, and writers of English, we are greatly indebted to the long line of purveyors of Latin in its various forms. We have borrowed the alphabet from them not once but twice - the Runic scripts of Ireland, England, and much of Scandinavia were offshoots of the Roman alphabet that eventually replaced them and that we use, in only slightly expanded form, today - and we have rarely missed an opportunity to appropriate handy Latin linguistic terms and idiomatic phrases when given the chance, making them our own to the tune of some sixty percent of our present working vocabulary. This has meant liberally helping ourselves in the early days to the small change of linguistic currency during the Roman occupation of Britain and, in the later days during which Latin served as the European lingua franca par excellence, to seconds from Late Latin. The Norman invasion brought an updated version of the language that permeated much of English life, and subsequent contact with the world of Romance has yielded us further linguistic bounty of a Latinate persuasion. And it has always been fair game to grab some Classical Latin nuts and bolts when a new technical term has cried out to be invented.

When words are borrowed, concepts come with them - what else, after all, are words for but to express ideas? So, if we have borrowed a wide variety of Latin words, it follows that we have also borrowed a great deal of the cultural stuff that they encase, even allowing for some mislabeling, re-packaging, and inventory shrinkage during the process of transmission. This book takes a look at what the authors consider to be some of the more intriguing cultural/linguistic goodies that have crept willy-nilly into the English language over the ages from the Latin cornucopia. The approach is appropriately abecedarian: each chapter of the book concerns a different letter of the canonical Classical Roman alphabet; the accompanying narratives look at English words that derive, more or less directly, from Latin words beginning with the letter at hand and explore the aspects of culture that lurk behind those words. The final chapter treats the letters X, Y, and Z (and a few others for which the vast majority of Romans apparently never felt a pressing need), and a bibliography offers suggestions as to where to look for more.

Praise for ABC ET CETERA
"Whether expounding on mythical beasts, Etruscan or classical verse in questionable taste, the authors provide the amateur philologist with a basketful of goodies:"Boston Globe
"Unfailingly witty." St Petersburg Times


1st edition 1985, Pb, 274pp, 14.5 x 23.5 cm



ABC ET CETERA (The Life and Times of the Roman Alphabet) by Alexander and Nicholas Humez
14.99 EUR 18.48