I still don't speak Latin (but then, to be fair, it's only been a few months since my last confession), and now everyone seems to be speaking it, or at least talking about it, or at least taking about two people in particular who were caught out by their use (or misuse) of a few words of it.
Government Chief Whip and Conservative Party MP Andrew Mitchell last week gave a virtuoso performance of how not to use Latin when he allegedly berated members of the Metropolitan Police who had stopped him from cycling through a ‘please don’t cycle through this’ security gate (rather than walking through a side entrance like a normal human being). Mitchell (who does not appear to be a normal human being) was understandably aggrieved (probably at those who thought he was a normal human being) and proceeded to download a few choice expressions. The Sun (not always the most reliable of British newspapers) reported Mitchell as saying: "Best you learn your [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] place. You don't run this [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] government. You're [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] plebs."
Funny thing is, it wasn't the choice use of Anglo Saxon expletives that upset everyone, nor, apparently, the vitriolic attack upon the group of public servants just doing their duty, no: it was the use of the word 'pleb', the shortened version of the Latin term 'plebeian' that is generally applied to the unwashed mass of normality in the Roman world.
I've got no real concerns about a Tory MP calling anyone who isn't a Tory MP a ‘pleb’, in fact I rather like the idea of being thought of as plebeian and it would be a mark of honour to be called one by a self-important, puffed-up, port-swilling, patrician, bum-faced, public school Conservative baboon. No, what I object to is the unadulterated string of Anglo Saxon expletives that one such self-important, puffed-up, port-swilling, patrician, bum-faced, public school Conservative baboon hurled with unjustified vitriol at members of the police who were manning the aforesaid security gate. No one seemed all that bothered about these particular words and that particularly bothers me. Mitchell claims that the Anglo Saxon expletives were not expressly directed at the police, no, he was merely expressing his frustration in more general terms at the world around him.
In fact whenever I get frustrated at work, say by the photocopier that seems to possess the singular inability to photocopy anything onto A4 without first chewing the paper up and then spitting it contemptuously at my feet, or perhaps the drinks machine that can't seem to serve you a cup of tea without first liberally dusting it with dried tomato soup, I can often be seen (and heard) remonstrating with it in the following terms "Best you learn your [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] place. You don't run this [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] University. You're a [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] piece of [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted] inanimate machinery."
It doesn't help...it never does.
With immaculate timing, the UK Prime Minister managed his own Latin clanger when he dropped in on
television's The Late Show with David Letterman. Letterman, bizarrely, took the opportunity to quiz the PM on British history, which wasn't strictly fair, given that the British do have about 2,000 years more history than the US, but I have to say it was very entertaining (and simultaneously stomach-churningly gruelling) to watch. US
The quiz included Mr Letterman asking Mr Cameron what 'Magna Carta' meant, to which Mr Cameron did his best to appear perplexed. Looking at the interview again, I'm not sure whether Letterman was asking what Magna Carta meant in the greater sense of democracy and the development of civil rights OR if whether he was simply asking 'what it is the literal translation', but David Cameron huffed and puffed and admitted that he simply didn't know. Now I wasn't educated at
Eton (can you tell?) and neither am I running the country, but I think that even I could have a stab at answering 'er..does it mean Great Charter David?' (or even 'Big Charter' would have done).
Boris Johnson the jabberingly inbred lozenge-shaped gibbon / Major of London (delete as applicable) later commented that Mr Cameron had undoubtedly faked ignorance in order to make himself appear "more down to earth". Yeah, I do that a lot now you come to mention it, feigning ignorance on geography, football, physics, chemistry, football (again), biology, popular culture, cricket and football to the point that I must appear to be the most solidly down to earth of blokes. "It was a brilliant move" the toffee-nosed blond-moppet / potential next prime minister (delete as applicable) added "in order to show that he didn't have Latin bursting out of every orifice."
Every orifice….? All eleven of them?
Perhaps, if Latin is indeed an ancient orifice-busting language, then it really is something that is best avoided.
Cave quid dicis, quando, et cui