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By Joana Bourlon

What are the words for pizza, vodka and vip in Latin ?

Here are some suggestions to match with each word : amplíssimus vir; placenta compressa; válida pótio Slávica. For now, try to guess (you’ll find the answers at the end of this article). 

One of my Christmass gifts this year was a book on language named “Parler comme jamais”. In it, two French linguists – Laélia Véron and Maria Candea – discuss a plethora of language related subjects by taking into account multiple points of views and confronting what we know and what we think we know of language. 

One segment of this book is on the subject of dead languages and one of the questions it tries to answer is “How dead is Latin ?”. Most of the information you’ll find in this article is taken from Chapter 6 of the book “Parler comme jamais” (which, if you are a French speaker I cannot recommend enough; if not – hopefully one day it will be translated into other languages). 

By asking you what are the words for pizza, vodka and vip, am I implying that such words exist in Latin ? The word for pizza is documented as early as the end of the 10th century, vodka is considered to be invented in the 15th century (although there is ongoing debate and some say it originated in the 8th or 9th century), and we only started saying VIP i.e. very important person, in the 20th century. Yet, Latin has been considered a dead language since as early as the 7th century. 

So, is Latin dead or alive ?

As researcher Pierre-Alain Caltot points out in an interview for the podcast “Parler comme jamais” (parts of which are also published in the eponymous book) : “it’s complicated”. Latin is both dead and alive. It’s dead in the sense that there are no native speakers, i.e. there are no longer people born and raised in a Latin-speaking environment. But, at the same time, Latin is still used on a daily basis : it’s the official language of the Vatican State, and it’s also used as a liturgical language by the Catholic Church. That means Latin is used even today in an oral and written form.

Plus, there are remnants of Latin words in its direct descendants and beyond, e.g. i.e. “exempli gratia”, etc. The abbreviation e.g. translates to “for example”, i.e. is short for “in other words” ( “id est”), and etc. – et cetera, literally translates to “and others” or “and the rest”. There are many Latin words we use or hear regularly : agenda, per se, impromptu…  And, on top of it all, Latin left some grammatical ghosts in its daughter languages – for more on that, check out Dany Bates article on the Latin neuter in issue #39.

Answers for pizza, vodka and vip in Latin:

Pizza : placenta compressa (literally “compressed cake”)

Vodka : válida pótio Slávica (“a strong Slavic drink”)

VIP : amplíssimus vir (“the greatest/largest man”)

Source : Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis published on the site of the Vatican

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