Oppressing my children with Latin

I often bore my children with Latin trivia. They might ask me what “purlieu” means, for example, and I’ll ramble on about divining the meaning from the Latin roots; that “lieu” means “place,” as they can guess from the Spanish word lugar, which they know (or should know); and they could also guess it from the word “lieutenant,” if they think about it, since a lieutenant literally takes (the Latin root behind “-tenant,” kids; think of Spanish tener) the place (the “lieu,” again) of someone.

My kids are sick of this already. But I envision them valuing my knowledge someday. My daughter and I will be riding a train somewhere, and there will be rain hitting the windows as we look out on the countryside; she will be a mature young adult, and we’ll be traveling to . . . somewhere impressive, maybe her internship at a renewable energy nonprofit in France, or something like that; and she’ll say that some challenge facing her is obvious; and I’ll agree that it is obvious, and I’ll make a wry little joke that it clearly is indeed standing in her way; from “ob,” in front of you or opposite you, and “vious,” the way, the path. But we’ll both know that she can surmount the challenge. And she will appreciate the way I illustrate the point through the etymology. We’ll gaze out the window together, two smart people making our way in the world.

Yeah, right. She’ll be on a plane reading a magazine, and I’ll be back home with my wife, wondering what we’ll do with ourselves now that the house is so quiet.

But anyway – how about that word “surmount?” Seems to be literally “climbing over” a “mountain,” doesn’t it . . .


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