Byock’s book has also solved a mystery for me. I’ve spent 30 years reading Old Norse. I can sit down and read a saga and enjoy it. I can even translate it. But I’ve been trying to learn Modern Icelandic for the same length of time, and every time I return to Iceland (and I’m currently on trip number 17), I feel like I’m starting over. […] Why? Byock has the answer. He’s structured his book around it: “The total vocabulary of the sagas is surprisingly small,” he writes. “Excluding names, there are only 12,400 different words in the corpus of the family sagas out of a total word count of almost 750,000. The 70 most frequently used words account for nearly 450,000 or 60% of the total word count. As one might expect this 70 contains the most frequently repeated prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, verbs, and adjectives. The greatest benefit is found in learning the 246 most frequent words…”
[…] just a glance at the list of 50 most common nouns explains why I’m able to read the sagas but not converse with my friends. The most common noun, maðr or “man,” is still useful. But next come “king,” “ship,” and “speech (or lawsuit).” “Wealth” is number 7. “Sword” is 29, “slaying” is 35, “weapon” is 41, “spear” is 45, “shield” is 50 … you get the point.
We must remember the proximate aim of the Jesuits—trying to impart culture, making an eloquent man to be a fit and able receptacle of God’s grace. The best and most appropriate means of attaining eloquence in speech, in writing—culture—was, to the Jesuit mind, comprehension of Latin —and how great was their success! They wholeheartedly and unreservedly believed this, even up to recent times. The Jesuits did not deny the title of “Latin schools.” It was the core of the curriculum. Nine-tenths of everything was taught in Latin. There were some schools in which you couldn’t speak in the vernacular, even outside of the classroom. The language of the school was Latin. They believed Latin to be the principle vehicle and instrument in forming the mind, and the key to opening the door to holy Mother Church and classical culture. They believed that you couldn’t possibly become a cultured man, get the true classical studies and penetrate to the true mind of the Church unless you really knew Latin and were capable of speaking and writing it fluently. This was not an impossible goal; it was done. As they frequently stated, “Greek was for the gifted student, Latin for everyone!”
The Ratio Studiorum says the purpose of Latin was to teach culture. It wished Latin taught because without it, no one can attain that fine appreciation and delight in beautiful things nor be comfortable and at home with them which is the mark of the cultured mind. The Ratio wished the pupil to become a master of its expression and its appreciation: to find his reading in Latin books, to express his thoughts in Latin, to talk, to plan, to argue, to dream, to pray, to live in Latin. Mind training, proper formation, was a by-product of Latin teaching.
In a series of 11 experiments involving more than 2,200 people of all ages, the researchers found they could reliably identify narcissistic people by asking them this exact question (including the note):
« To what extent do you agree with this statement: “I am a narcissist.” (Note: The word “narcissist” means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.) »
Results showed that people’s answer to this question lined up very closely with several other validated measures of narcissism, including the widely used Narcissistic Personality Inventory. The difference is that this new survey – which the researchers call the Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS) – has one question, while the NPI has 40 questions to answer.
– Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth
One example of his is an anecdote where, upon hearing a thrilling story about Attila the Hun, Tolkien remarks that what really thrilled him was the word “Atilla” itself:
The point is that Attila, though a Hun, an enemy of the Goths under Theodorid, and a byword for bloody ferocity, nevertheless does not appear to bear a barbarian name. ‘Attila’ is the diminutive form of the Gothic word for ‘father’, atta: it means ‘little father’ or even ‘dad’, and it suggests very strongly the presence of many Goths in Attila’s conquering armies who found loot and success much more attractive than any questions of saving the West, Rome or civilisation! As with duhitar, ‘little milker’ [Sanskrit cognate to English “daughter”], or kamy [Old Slavic “stone”] as a cognate for ‘hammer’, the word tells the story. Tolkien went on in his letter to say that in his mind that was exactly how The Lord of the Rings grew and worked. He had not constructed a design. Instead he had tried ‘to create a situation in which a common greeting would be elen síla lúmenn’ omentielmo’. Literary critics might not believe him, but philologists (if any were left) ought to know better.
[…] Atta, Attila: what’s in a name? One answer is, a total revaluation of history.