A Parable

You know the story  of the Emperor’s new clothes?  The thing that always bugged me about that story was the fact that even if he didn’t want to admit that he wasn’t cool or wise or whatever it was he was supposed to be in order to see the fabric (and I can totally get not wanting to admit that) he never did figure out that sooner or later he was going to come across someone who wasn’t cool or wise or whatever and they weren’t going to be able to see the fabric and he’d look naked to them.  This guy, he really wasn’t too bright.

Until recently my father, who is a fantastic editor, did some editing for a few local newspapers.  (You know those free city papers that come in the mail once a month?  Those.)  He doesn’t anymore at least in part because they have no sense of humor and he’s too much like me (possibly I’m too much like him but most of you knew me first so let’s not get into a chicken/egg discussion here) and he can’t stop himself from making critical sarcastic insightful remarks about the things they send him.

One of the things they sent him was a story (actually a correction of a story that had been in the previous issue that he had not edited but let’s not quibble) about a local high school awarding someone the “Alumnist of the year”.

That’s just so wrong!  Alumnist is not, could never be, a word.   I just seeing it is very irritating to me.

Let me be clear.  I don’t expect you to have any problem with it whatsoever.  I don’t expect the average person to be bothered or even notice.  But about a thousand years ago I was a Classical Civilizations major in college.  (Because I was sure that that was going to be a great major that led to uncountable fascinating and lucrative careers like… um, well, let’s see there’s, ah… Ok NOTHING!)  Unsurprisingly as a part of my studies I had to take Latin.

Alumnist bothers me because I took Latin.  if one wanted to really stretch the truth they could even say that I know Latin.  (I don’t.  I didn’t even really know it at the time but the vast majority of the little bit that I did know is long gone.)  But I do know that there could never be such a thing as an alumnist.

It should be alumnus or possibly alumna.  Period.  Not alumnist or alumner or even alumni (as you see so often on the license plate frames and it bothers me to no end.  But if I really stretch I can tell myself that what they’re trying to say is that they’re members of the alumni (plural, think cactus, cacti) association or possibly that both the people who drive the car are alumni, rather than that the owner (singular) is an alumni (plural) rather than an alumnus (singular).) .

My father, who is more or less retired and does this editing more for the entertainment value than anything else, (and knows some Latin) couldn’t help but make a comment on the stupidity incorrectness of the terminology.  He was asked by his boss if he could refrain from making those type of comments.  He couldn’t.

I’m guessing hoping that the person who came up with this award knows no Latin.  That’s fine.  I neither want nor expect people to know Latin. (I certainly don’t expect them to have been classics majors because only an idiot would do that.  Right Chris?)

All I want is for them to recognize that they don’t know Latin and find someone who does.  Because sooner or later someone who does know a little Latin is going to come around and you my friend, are going to look like a fool.

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. LisAway
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 04:42:40

    Oh, I’m always watching what I say (and write) because of my fear of those Latin speakers.

  2. Annette
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 08:50:25

    I don’t know Latin, but I do know English, and I’ve often laughed at the “alumni” license plates too. You (and your husband!) are not alone.

  3. robyn
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 09:27:58

    Oh yeah. I’m called a nit-picker. My big peeve is loosing. Lose has never had, and never will have two ‘o’s! Spell check doesn’t help, as it doesn’t do context and loose is the correct spelling for something that is too big!

  4. Jaime
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 10:04:34

    Scott took Latin, can you imagine? He wasn’t successful. But I’m sure you can imagine that!

  5. Kristina
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 10:28:26

    I was so confused. I think I had ‘alumnist’ and ‘alchemist’ mixed up. It’s early.

  6. madhousewife
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 11:25:40

    Perhaps he’s coined a new term–alumnist: one who promotes the interests and welfare of alumni.

    No, probably he’s just an idiot.

    Or she. But then she probably would have spelled it alumnast. Which would have been doubly wrong.

  7. Alison @ hairlinefracture
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 14:13:02

    I’ve never understood why people who pay money to put out a product wouldn’t make sure they used the words on it correctly. A newspaper would be one example; signs are another. It represents your business–it’s not hard to use a dictionary, or hire a competent editor (which is what they must have realized when they hired your father.)

    Is the plural of Lexus Lexi? Lexuses always sounds wrong to me. 😉 Not that I need to worry about having multiple luxury cars around.

  8. Melanie J
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 14:15:34

    Hahahahaha! I knew it was “alumnus” as soon as I saw alumnist. I’m proud of myself.

  9. bythelbs
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:33:09

    Maybe an alumnist is someone who is prejudiced or discriminates against the alumni of other schools. We have a lot of U of U alumnists in my neck of the woods.

    I love reading newspapers in which the editor obviously has a good/sarcastic sense of humor.

  10. E
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 17:23:22

    Maybe when I’m there tomorrow we can find some hugh sails!!! My what word snobs we are in our family! At least we come by it honestly.

  11. Cj
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 23:44:37

    Listen, sweepea, we Latin scholars know that our time will come. Listened to a BYU forum address this week by Lynne Truss, who wrote the fabulous Eats Shoots and Leaves (or possibly Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, depending), about the destruction of English. She pointed out that in the 60s, when most of the destruction began in earnest, everyone just knew that the wave of the future was all verbal and visual communication, as TV and radio covered the globe.

    Then, all at once, the Internet turned us back into written communicators. Then it multiplied the written word by a factor of about a million. And presto! those that can write were back on top of the heap.

    Face it. Reading the blogs of people with only a tenuous grasp of the language is hard. You can do it, but it grates. Reading YOUR blog, Ms. Wonderland, is to the contrary very enjoyable. This is almost certainly due to Latin, either your study thereof or your father’s.

    Well, perhaps I overstate. But the coincidence is interesting.

  12. mylostwords.Blogspot.co.Uk
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 10:12:42

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter
    to be actually

    something which I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complicated and extremely broad for

    me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the
    hang of it!

  13. Willis
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 02:30:25

    Hey there! I’ve been reading your web site for a long

    time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Tx! Just wanted to say

    keep up the good work!

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