Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur
| Part of the series on|
Logic and rhetoric
Anything said in Latin sounds profound. No, really, that's what "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur" translates into English as. In other words, if it's incomprehensible and unexplained, don't take it at face value.
Nonetheless, abusing Latin for pseudo-profundity remains very popular with doctors, snobs, etc.
The use of the Bible texts provides the classic case of Latinate mystification in history. From the early Middle Ages onward, the Western Church deliberately used Jerome's translation of the Bible into classical Latin, a language which became less and less comprehensible to the uneducated masses as classical Latin gave way to medieval vulgar Latin and later evolved into the separate Romance languages. Using hifalutin mumbo-jumbo magick enabled the Western European clergy to conveniently "interpret" the Bible to mean whatever they wanted and increased the power of the priest-caste relative to the importance of the Word.
Until the adoption of the printing press in the 15th century, almost all books in Europe were produced in Latin (or in ancient Greek) because all educated people learned classical Latin and it thus functioned as a "universal" language for the "in" crowd.
In the UK, Latin was formerly an essential part of a gentleman's education, but today it is seldom taught in state schools and Latin classes are restricted to the most expensive fee-paying schools. Hence it is particularly popular with a certain type of posh, privately-educated British Conservative politician such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
In other languages
In English, which nowadays is ~30% Latin in vocabulary already, Latin abuse is somewhat justifiable, as it lacks the feature of word compounding. Although this is the result of abusing Latin like this for centuries.
But the situation of Latin abuse is worse in other languages that are neither based on Latin nor English, and have no need for foreign words either. In such languages, notably German, the usage of Latin (and in the past also English) can be almost exclusively attributed to this kind of abuse.
- Chinese character tattoos. (And English word tattoos in China.)
- Sesquipedalianism — Ditto, but focusing on the length of the words.
- Inkhorn term – For anything said in any foreign languages
- This lunacy about Latin makes me want to weep with rage, Boris Johnson, The Daily Telegraph, 15 Mar 2010
- Jacob Rees-Mogg isn’t old-fashioned, he’s a thoroughly modern bigot, Suzanne Moore, The Guardian, 6 September 2017