LATINOMETER

Keeping a beady eye on the logosphere!






Latinate Density and

You

(Owner’s manual)

For this project, I divided up the English language into these categories: Greek, Latin, French, Germanic, and Excluded. (Curious how French, Latin and Greek on? Click here!)


Many factors affect how you speak and write. The Latinometer™ will enable you to choose your word from the right group.


First, you need to understand an ancient fault line that cuts through cultures and creates these oppositions.


upper-class

culture

abstract

reason

hypocrisy

male

Latinate

lower-class

nature

concrete

emotion

sincerity

female

Germanic


English, like many languages, reinforces these divisions by matching them with two sets of words. As English speakers, we connect lofty subjects (the top row) with words derived from the classical languages, and we connect every-day things in the real world (the bottom row) with words derived from Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language. English does this with its division between words derived from Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language, and words from the classical languages, Latin, French and Greek.


To make the contrasts more clear, I excluded the common words (Excluded words) and gave different values to words from the classical languages.

  1. Excluded (function words, foreign words, names) Not counted

  2. Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) 0 points each

  3. French (Modified Latin or Greek words) 0.25 points each

  4. Latin 1 point each

  5. Greek 1.25 points each



Excluded Words

The Germanic density would be much higher if I included function words (prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns) in the count. Following the advice of statisticians, I omitted them in the interest of clarifying the distinction between Germanic words and words from Latin, French, and Greek.


English has adopted an open door policy for words from other languages, welcoming words from all over the world. Words like tortilla that have retained a non English pronunciation or spelling I have classified as foreign.



Germanic Words


When one talks in plain English, one uses Germanic words (words derived from Anglo-Saxon). In Jane Austen’s novels, educated, intelligent upper-class people use more Latinate words, while ignorant, frivolous, or lower-class people use more Germanic words. Austen did not regard heavily Latinate language as admirable. Speakers of high density include the pedant Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and the hypocritical Mr. Elliot of Persuasion. Sailors in her novels speak at a low density, and they are almost all admirable.


Many English words have become naturalized citizens even though they come from far-away languages. Sugar, for instance, comes from Sanskrit. I am counting words of this type as Germanic because they are not noticeably foreign.



French Words

By French I mean words that are derived from Latin or Greek but underwent changes early on, before the printing press standardized spelling:

  • Losing a syllable: frail from fragilis, “able to be broken”

  • Adding a vowel: appear from appareo, “appear”

  • Making other changes: governor from gubernator, “governor”


I have also included in this category words like line and space that come from Latin, but they are short and have been in the language for a long time. Only a philologist would be aware line is Latinate while mine is Germanic.


Since these words come from Latin and are allied with more obviously Latinate words, I give them half a point, as mid-way between Latin and Anglo-Saxon.



Latin Words

Sometimes the wordsmiths have made adjustments, particularly clipping off endings that don’t look English. Here are some typical changes that don’t stop a word from being classified as Latinate.


  • Words ending in –a:

    • dropped the –a: person from persona, “mask”

    • or replaced –a with silent –e: fortune from fortuna, “fortune”

  • Words ending in –us:

    • dropped the –us: cat from cattus, “cat”

    • or replaced –us with silent –e: prime from primus, “first”

  • Words ending in –is lost their –is ending: civil from civilis, “of citizens”

  • Words ending in –tas became –ty: probity from probitas, “honesty”

  • Words ending in –tia became –ce or –cy: avarice from avaritia, “greed”

  • I becomes J before a vowel: January from ianua, “door”

  • ae- became –e or –cy: equal from aequalis, “equal”

  • -io became –ion: cognition from cognitio, “knowledge”



Greek Words

The return of Greek literature to Europe is said to have precipitated the Renaissance. Latin was never lost. Greek was less well known, more intellectual, and therefore snazzier. For that reason I gave Greek words an extra half point.





Want to change your image?

Too Germanic? Click on a green word, and be transported to thesaurus.com, to pick up a Latinate substitute.


Or too Latinate? Click on a blue word, a purple word, or a red word to be carried to thesaurus.com, to pick up a Germanic substitute.


NB: Be sure you know the meaning of the word you will use as a substitute. It is worse to be caught misusing a word than not knowing it.


The Creators

Mary DeForest teaches Latin in Denver. She persuaded Eric Johnson (from the University of South Dakota) to make an early version of the Latinometer™ for a paper they wrote on Jane Austen’s language. They found that the Latinate density of Austen’s characters correlated with their social status, education, gender, and emotional self-control and published their findings, “The Density of Latinate Words in the Speeches of Jane Austen’s Characters,” Literary and Linguistic Computing. Vol. 16, no. 4 (2001), 389–401.


Avi Swartz is a Colorado Mathlete who designed the program for an app.


Stan Goston is a programming student who implemented the Latinometer for the web.



Please email your questions and comments to us at [email protected].