471: ABC Et Cetera by Alexander and Nicholas Humez

by Gerard

471.11: Humez, Alexander & Nicholas Humez. ABC Et Cetera: The Life & Times of the Roman Alphabet. Boston: David R. Godine, 1985. 246 pp. ISBN 0-87923-587-X.

Dewey Construction:

  • 400: Language
  • 470: Italic Languages and Latin
  • 471: Writing systems, phonology, phonetics of classical Latin
  • 471.11: Writing systems

The Humez Brothers are at it again and this time they attack the Roman alphabet. As with Alpha to Omega, Alexander and Nicholas Humez, in ABC Et Cetera, journey through each letter of the Roman alphabet, detailing a few words that begin with that letter, and willfully wandering into digressions that combine both those words and Roman life and culture (Sorry about the run-on sentence).

If you’re an etymology geek (and I am), then the history of the both the Roman Empire and the Roman language will delight and educate. Here’s a few things I picked up from the text:

  • “Peasant” came from the Italian paisano which comes from the Latin paganus.
  • The Latin spectare, as well as the word parts –spic– and –spex-, all denote a general sense of looking or examining.
  • Lewis Burke Frumke, in his book How to Raise Your I.Q. by Eating Gifted Children, invents several new punctuation marks, including the crescendo mark, the sigh mark, and the delta-sarc (to denote sarcasm). This comes from the discussion on the word question in the Q chapter.

The Humez Brothers claim, and rightly so, that language can tell us about the culture it belongs to. From this book, you can also watch the transformation in the language from Early Latin to Late Latin as words are borrowed from their Etruscan, Germanic, and Gallic neighbors. Each chapter is short, and so this would make for a decent bathroom reader (or you can churn through it a day, like I did).