For a good summary of the pronunciation of h in classical and ecclesiastical Latin, see Geoff Pullum’s self-flagellating post in yesterday’s Language Log. And don’t miss his touching peroration:

This morning in Language Log Plaza little knots of staff writers are talking to each other in low voices and then breaking off when I come by. When I go into our coffee shop, the Latté Linguistica, people get theirs to go so that they won’t have to talk to me; they rush off, or pretend to be looking down into their coffee cup as if they thought they’d seen a bug drop in there… I’m being ostracized. I made a remark on Language Log without checking it out yesterday. And today I am the lowest form of linguistic slime. I am no better than a BBC science reporter.

I am probably not going to be here very much longer. The call will come to present myself in the Big Office where MYL sits, and I will be introduced to the security guard who will help me carry the things from my desk to the front door. Then they will shut down my email account and scrub the hard disk on my desktop machine in preparation for handing it to the new staffer who will replace me…


  1. Too bad about Geoff. It’s a pity that a whole lifetime of honorable behavior should be blighted by one mistake. Sort of like Peewee Herman.

  2. I propose a moment of (unaspirated) silence to mark the solemn occasion.
    . . .

  3. Michael Farris says

    I guess out of respect for one who’s about to be formally shunned, I’ll only mention here the _other_ major mistake he made.
    He wrote that the cardinal in question had a thick Chilean accent enought though the cardinal did clearly say papam /papam/. But Spanish has no final /m/ and Spanish speakers routinely turn it into /n/ so a thick Chilean accent would be /a’Bemo(h)’papan/.

  4. To the above poster, correct. I too did not hear a thick Chilean accent on the Cardinal, but a mild one. And it was a mild Spanish (though Latin American) accent, not specifically Chilean. I assumed that comment was made to identify the Cardinal’s nationality.

  5. Geoff, I am a Roman Catholic and I am familiar with Latin and Greek. Your mistakes are just common in the time when the old classical culture has died. In a Pontificale Romanum of the late nineteenth century you can stil find a laus dedicatoria in classical hexameters, but this has gone. Around the turn of the century – I mean 1900 of course – ignorance was already so rampant, that the French made a special abridged dictionary for those schoolboys who would not go on with the study of Greek. I find your ignorance not inexcusable, for it is general and far older than you and I have learned to accept the comments at college, when I did not translate pontifex maximus. For I was wrong they said. They said people really will not understand that. You have to say ‘pope’ or something like it. You’re living among ignoramuses and you have to adapt. A matter of survival.

  6. I am not at all theologically conservative, or Catholic either, or even Christian or theist.
    But it still pissed me off when I went into a Catholic bookstore and they didn’t have a little handbook of Gregorian chant.
    They just looked at me. I’m not sure they knew what I was talking about.

  7. John, it should not be too difficult to find a Kyriale at used bookstores. You can find a giant PDF of one here, but it is just the music and words, no guidance.

  8. On behalf of all science reporters, I wish to protest.

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