Wednesday, April 05, 2006

April 5: Veto Day

Today is the anniversary of the first veto in American presidential history. On this day in 1792, President George Washington was presented a bill that would apportion representatives among the states, and he vetoed it. The word veto has its roots in Latin, literally translated I forbid. It dates back to the days of the Roman Senate when the Roman tribunes had the power to unilaterally refuse Senate legislation.

For more than 2000 years, English has borrowed liberally from Latin, the most important language in European history. Long before English was established as a language of note, let alone a global language, Latin was the language of the Roman Empire, and even after the fall of Rome, Latin survived, evolving into what we know today as the Romance Languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Rumanian. Until the 20th century Latin was the prestige language of government, religion, and academia. No wonder when a new republic was established in America, it turned to Latin words for its legislative practices and Latin mottoes for its currency.

As noted by Wilfred Funk in Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories (Grosset & Dunlap, 1950), some Latin words were Anglicized as they were adopted into English, a Germanic tongue. Hundreds of other word, however, came into English with little to no changes in spelling, which is one of the reasons English spelling is so ideosycratic. Here are some examples of Latin words adopted directly into English: recipe, vim, memorandum, stimulus, vacuum, veto, via, item, exit, minimum, affidavit.

Today's Challenge: From Athens to Rome

All of the ten words below are English governmental terms that were derived from either Latin or Greek. Using a good dictionary, identify which five are from Latin and which five are from Greek.


Quote of the Day: Man must be arched and buttressed from within, else the temple will crumble to dust. --Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

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