What is the origin and why are latin/greek phrases so common in academic practices? Why haven’t we developed English words to replace these phrases?

301 viewsOther

Hi! I just had a random linguistic question. I was thinking of terms like “alma mater” and graduation designations like “cum laude” etc. and even in academic writing we commonly have phrases like “ad hominem” or “ad nauseum”. Why have these terms persisted in English societies, and where did integration of them with academia come from?

In: Other

17 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

My understanding is that a complete education back in the day included studying “The Classics”, which included learning Ancient Greek and Latin. So anyone with that type of education would understand terms in those languages just as a matter of course. Education has changed substantially since those days, but the terms persist as terms those who are educated would know. They’re not studying the classics in those languages so much anymore, it’s just that those terms have stuck around through persistent usage.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The modern university system was developed by the Catholic Church in Europe to educate clergy. At that time, Latin was the official language of the church and also the lingua franca of learned people in Europe. These universities focused heavily on classical texts both Roman and Greek. So Latin (and some Greek) permeated all aspects of the university system and some of those words have stuck around out of tradition. It’s only been in the last century that the expectation has disappeared that a university educated person would have an education in Greek and Latin.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Sometimes, the existing phrase is *le mot juste*

You could Anglicize it all, of course. Most of English is. You used the term “origin” in your question – that comes from the Latin “oriri”. It just so happens that “alma mater” or “cum laude” are Latin phrases copied wholesale, while the individual terms never caught on. Happens all the time. When you RSVP to a letter. When you tear an ACL. When I feel Schadenfreude over that torn ACL.

Anonymous 0 Comments

In medieval Europe, most languages were underdeveloped when compared to Latin. They often lacked standardization and varied heavily locally. Adding to that, the Catholic Church was headquartered in Rome. Therefore, scholar and religious texts were always in Latin to avoid misunderstandings. Some of these words, especially related to law, biology, psychology and academia itself prevailed until today because of a common association between Latin and a higher degree of sophistication as well as just the simple lack of need for a better word.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One point that I appreciate about “using latin words instead of english ones” is an example of somewhere that we *don’t*. And that is botany.

“Fruit” is an english word that can be used in biology and botany situations. The thing is, “Fruit” is also an english word that means a certain type of food. Now that “WeLl AkTuAlLy” people know about the biological and botanical definition, we have endless debates about tomatoes and cucumbers (when the correct answer is that multiple definitions means there can be multiple answers). Meanwhile, if we had stuck with a non-english word for the scientific side of things, the debates and what definition is being talked about would be more clear.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Latin was in a sense the universal language of Europe in the Medieval era. It was the common language spoken by the church and the nobility, the Bible of that era was only written in Latin, and a lot of international correspondence was written in Latin.

Speaking Latin therefore was a sign of being in the upper class.

When the first universities and higher learning institutions were formed the basis for scientific knowledge was the classics. Books originally written in Greek and Roman times that had been maintained by the Church in the intervening years.

So if you wanted to learn about science, math, engineering, etc you had to learn Latin and Ancient Greek to read the books.

So Latin and Greek became the de-facto scientific languages. Whenever something was discovered they would give it a Latin or Greek name.

That’s why most dinosaurs have Latin names, and why College institutions like Fraternities use Greek Letters for their names.

It just became fashionable to use Latin and Greek in higher learning, and soon Latin became associated with Intelligence.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One of the defining features of the English language is its willingness to wholesale adopt foreign words and phrases quickly. Most of English Latin is of French origin, English and French has mixed culturally for so long that earlier versions of English that has less French in it is unintelligible to modern English speakers.

Talking, specifically, about Latin in the academic sense – Latin and German are / were lingua francas in academia for centuries. It is why we have words like zeitgeist and bildungsroman for sociology and art and why so many psychological terms are of German origin. Like, we use the word gestalt to describe some psychological phenomena.

English already doesn’t mind ingesting foreign words, instead of attempting to create an English version of every word the language has no problem just using foreign words and penciling them into the English dictionary.

Anonymous 0 Comments

In a single phrase: cultural consequences of the Roman Empire.

The whole story would of course fill many books – and indeed there are plenty of books about it! – but here’s a general summary of key factors.

1. Christianity: Greek and Latin were key languages in the origins of the Christian church. Latin became standardized as the language of western Christianity for many centuries. This led to it being a “prestige” language.

2. Schools and churches: Related to the above, “academia” for a very long time was synonymous with “church”. All scholars were religious scholars. The centers of learning and study were religious institutions. When they eventually split off into slowly-more-secular institutions, they kept many of the trappings and traditions, including the use of Latin.

3. Renaissance: Archaeology and history were popular in the Renaissance period, and specifically the Greeks and Romans became semi-mythical “ideal societies” or at least “enlightened societies” in the eyes of popular culture of the time. Things associated with those cultures became (once again) fashionable and associated with sophistication. The very concept of the term Renaissance – a “rebirth” and “rediscovery” – alludes to that. This reinforced and “renewed” the use of Latin in high society, including in education.

Anonymous 0 Comments

English as the international language of science (lingua Franca lol) is a relatively modern development. Latin was it for the most part since most European educated philosophers were fluent. Then French became it for a long time with some German in there. So depending when the particular science peaked you might get more or less technical words in latin/french/german.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The reason we don’t invent new words from whole cloth to replace existing ones is that people are used to the existing ones. Imagine someone told you that from now on a telephone is a farspeaker. Would you start saying farspeaker or just roll your eyes and keep saying telephone or just phone?