My generation was taught (bashed actually) Latin ‘roots’ with accompanying prefixes and suffixes at primary school. As I understand it, the aim was to create a basic understanding of a key formative influence in the English language and to enable us to ‘crack the code’ when encountering new words for our vocabulary. Frankly, I think it worked though I probably didn’t appreciate it too much at the time. Similarly, in order to matriculate to University at that time, four years of Latin at High School was required. I must confess that not too much detail from that time has remained with me. However, again, I think that the time spent sharpened those ‘word attack’ skills as well as introducing me to a culture that was foundational to an understanding of the world in which I found myself.
It is undeniable that specialist environments continue to use language heavily related to Latin especially Anatomy and Physiology, Law and the taxonomic aspects of science though I don’t know how students handle that problem nowadays. In the not too distant past I helped a nursing student who was grappling with anatomy which I have never studied. I was intrigued as to how what little Latin remains to me was of assistance in understanding the terminology. My GP diagnosed a skin cancer of mine as a keratoancanthoma but had no idea of the derivation of term (‘acanthus’ as in the leaf of the plant name for the bear’s paw it resembled as well as the cell type).
However, apart from such arcane references, Jones goes to considerable lengths to trace the origins of Latin (less so Greek) and other languages in forming the terminology and structures that inform practically all aspects of our life and which continue to evolve. This might all sound rather remote but Jones’ incredible depth of knowledge on this topic shines through in an informative and enlightening manner.
This is not a book I could recommend for reading through completely and directly. Rather it is a resource that can be accessed by topic area and then left for visiting other areas as the mood, or need, arises. It rewards browsing over a period of time and can be very rewarding often in ways of which I was quite innocent.
Jones is but one year younger than me and thus was touched deeply by similar educational and cultural experiences. An MBE, Peter Jones has a Cambridge Classics doctorate on Homer. Don’t let that put you off as an ivory-tower isolate. He has been very successful in popularizing classic languages and literature (Q.E.D. and ‘Eureka’ for the Daily Telegraph), politics (‘Vote for Caesar’) and generally attuning the contemporary world to the ever-evolving contributions of the classic world, its tongues and their derivatives.
Some people will happily reject this book out of hand. Certainly a good friend of mine who regards my occasional excursions into Latin references as the acme of tiresomeness and boredom will not be a candidate (pace Gary). However, to be picked up and used as something to be dipped into, Jones serves us well.