No Pox On Latin — Yet – Mike Steiner



bill introduced in the General Assembly this year would have declared English Colorado’s official language. Although the bill died, a petition drive is now underway to put the issue on the ballot in 1988 as a proposed constitutional amendment.
This change will be more significant than the designation of the stegosaurus as our state’s official fossil. It will destroy our most precious heritage, the use of Latin. This controversy is helpful in reminding
us how much lawyers depend on Latin. Think about it. We speak Latin practically ad nauseam.
Judges consider cases de novo, ex parte, in limine and in camera and decide them sau sponte and per curiam, including the issues of quantum meruit, respondeat superior and res ipsa loquitur.
In briefs we say supra, infra, idem, ibidem, exempli gratia, id est and et sequitur. We say that an argument is a non sequitur and that even if a quote is taken verbatim, it is dictum. We file addenda
and errata and when a touch foul is called we say “De minimis non curat lex.”
Of course, some people would be delighted if we couldn’t speak Latin, which they think is another way to hide the law, and say “I’m a lawyer and you’re not.” They point out that even when we do try to make the law more accessible, by teaching them how to do their own divorces, we call it a pro se clinic and we add that the lawyers are participating on a pro bono basis.
They say that’s just more mumbo jumbo.

It is ironic that they don’t know that “mumbo jumbo” is a corruption of a Latin expression that means “It’s Greek to me.”
We use many expressions without even considering that they are Latin per se. Vice versa, quid pro quo, et cetera. If English becomes our official language, these words will be illegal. Hopefully, just a misdemeanor, but still illegal.
Taking away our Latin would also have an impact on some rather basic areas of daily life. For example, we would need new words for most of the days of the week, the months and the planets. If the Denver aquarium ever gets built we’ll have to just call it the Denver Fish Tank. Forget a.m., p.m., and A.D.
On the other hand, there are some benefits to Latin being a dead language. There are no words for teflon, radar or Pee Wee Herman.
Sports events would also be hit pretty hard. Stadium, arena and coliseum are all Latin words. The Broncos would play in Mile High Field, the Nuggets would be at McNichols Hall and the rodeo would be held at the smelly Old Building Off 1-70.
The petition drive is being vigorously opposed by the Ad Hoc Committee to Preserve the Status Quo. That group is trying to get the message out that this is a real threat, not something to be taken cum grano salis. D