A Nasty Flashback

The Curmudgeon attended a five-year high school and took Latin all five years.

His father’s decision, not his.

Then he attended college and took two more years of Latin.

His decision this time, because he already had a head start and hoped it would help.

It didn’t.

The Curmudgeon was just an awful Latin student; he has no talent at all for foreign languages. A student teacher in second grade taught him no Spanish, five years of Hebrew school left him with the fun ability to read words in a totally different script yet not know the meaning of a single one of those words, and he was so awful at Latin in high school that he couldn’t even pass out of college-level Latin 1 based on his score on his achievement test.

It’s not that he didn’t work at it, either. He believes he’s on pretty safe ground when he suggests that he spent more time working on Latin than on any other subject during his five years in high school. The same was true in college: the class met three times a week but he disliked it so much he could only bring himself to go twice, but he would always – always – spend the hour he was skipping in the library studying his Latin, going through the same reading as the class but free from the sheer terror of being called upon to read and translate. Join him on a trip to the public library in the neighborhood in which he grew up (Welsh Road branch, behind Korvettes!) and he’s pretty sure he can lead you to the volume with the translation of the major work of Latin poetry, Virgil’s Aeneid, that got him through his senior year of high school – Latin 5! – and Latin 3 and Latin 4 in college. The book was still there the last time he checked, about ten years ago – complete with his tiny ink markings (yes, he knows, he’s ashamed) – and it wouldn’t surprise him at all if he was the last person to withdraw it, back in 1977.

He thought his involvement with the study of Latin was firmly in life’s rear-view mirror. After all, at age 60…

Alas, he thought wrong.

Now his stepson, a high school junior, is taking his first year of foreign language study.

Latin, of course. His parents’ decision.

As a dead language, Latin hasn’t gotten any easier over the years, and it’s not easy for his stepson – hard enough that even though the kid is wicked smart and pours far more time into his school work than The Curmudgeon ever did, the family employs a tutor who comes to the house once a week to drill the young man because even though both his mother and his stepfather both studied Latin in school (his mother majored in French and Italian in college), everyone knows that while parents can pitch in with homework once in a while, taking on the job of tutor is a profoundly bad idea.

And as The Curmudgeon types this brief lament, the sound of his stepson and the tutor working together during an early evening tutoring session is giving him ugly flashbacks…

First declension.

Conjugate verbs.

The verb-to-be almost always ends in “re,” usually “are,” “ere,” or “ire.”



Let’s review the difference between the genitive and the dative.

Do we remember what an ablative absolute is?

It’s an absolute nightmare of a flashback, that’s what it is!

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