Review by: Ansberry Clare, Wall Street Journal - March 16, 2001
Article appearing in Friday, 16th of March, 2001 in the "WALL STREET JOURNAL"
Taken from their website at http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi?id=SB984702078802611570.djm
Latin Scholars Translate 'Grinch' In Effort to Popularize Language
By CLARE ANSBERRY
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
More than half of our words have Latin roots. "Who-hash" is not one of them, and that was a problem for Terence and Jennifer Tunberg.
The Tunbergs, both Latin scholars, had taken on the task of translating Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" into Latin. At one point, the Grinch swipes the last can of Who-hash from the home of Cindy-Lou-Who. Who-hash didn't exist until Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, coined the term. It hasn't made its way into English dictionaries, let alone Latin or even Neo-Latin dictionaries. The "neo" refers to Latin after the Middle Ages.
After much discussion and thought, the Tunbergs decided to use a Latin idiom ab ovis usque ad mala, meaning "from the eggs all the way to the apples" to show that the Grinch took the entire feast. Americans might say "from soup to nuts." That one was a small hurdle.
A much bigger one was the word Grinch itself. Mr. and Mrs. Tunberg wanted to ax the un-classic sounding Grinch and change his name throughout to Invidiosulus, or little wretched one, which they thought described the character well.
But Herbert Cheyette, the agent for Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP in New York, insisted that Grinch be spared. It was one thing to make the Whos into Laetuli (little joyful ones), Who-ville into Laetopolis and Cindy-Lou-Who into Laetitia Laetula. The Grinch was another matter. "It is certainly as much a part of the American lexicon as nerd,"says Mr. Cheyette, referring to another Dr. Seussism from his 1950 book "If I Ran the Zoo."
The stalemate lasted six months, after which the Tunbergs relented, tacking on a Latin suffix to make it Grinchus, pronounced Grink-us. "We gave in. We were wrong," says Mr. Tunberg. "I think we were being overly puristic."
The project was finished, and in 1999 the book was published by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers Inc., a small company specializing in classical languages based in Wauconda, Ill. It sold more than 20,000 copies, and got 200 reviews, far more than the firm's other popular books, including "Rest Lightly: An Anthology of Latin and Greek Tomb Inscriptions."
Bolchazy-Carducci had approached the Tunbergs, who teach Latin and Greek at the University of Kentucky, to do a translation in 1997. "We are trying to make Latin more popular," says Marie Bolchazy, vice president of the company, whose motto is "A better future through the lessons of the past." The publisher is picky about its translators. Jennifer Tunberg has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Oxford in England, and Terence Tunberg has a Ph.D. in classical philology from the University of Toronto. "We have our reputation to guard here. We can't publish a book that is not good Latin," says Ms. Bolchazy.
At first, the Tunbergs were skeptical and concerned about their own reputations as scholars. "Our colleagues might think we were spending a lot of time doing childish things," he says. After some study, though, they saw that the Grinch could make a lively narrative and follow in a tradition of "Winnie Ille Pu," the Latin version of the A.A. Milne classic, with characters including Christophorus Robinus, along with Porcellus, Canga, Ru and
The translation involved a cause dear to their hearts: the promotion of Latin. Every summer, the couple play host to a one-week seminar at which attendees must sign an oath to speak nothing but Latin. Mr. Tunberg belongs to the Academy for Promoting the Use of Latin, which is in Rome.
The language could use some promoting. Latin has not been widely spoken since the end of the Holy Roman Empire, although Roman Catholics said the Latin mass until the 1960s when the pope switched to the vernacular. Vestiges of Latin remain in law, medicine and ad hoc committees everywhere. But many high schools and universities eliminated it as a required language or even as an elective because Spanish and French, living languages, seemed more useful.
Studying Latin for some was a dreary business, with all those conjugations (amo, amas, amat) and declensions; all those moods, tenses, and genders. The reward after all the grammar and memorization was having to translate Caesar's Gallic Wars and crawling through the Aeneid, all 12 books of epic poetry. Sample line: "They ripped the flesh from the ribs and exposed the guts." No wonder many Latin textbooks bore the handwritten scrawl:
"Latin is a dead language,
It's plain enough to see,
First it killed the Romans.
Now it's killing me."
Mr. Tunberg studied Latin as a boy in an English boarding school. He summed up his Latin schooling in three words. "I hated it."
With test scores declining in the U.S. in the 1980s, the dead language was talked up as a way of improving the numbers on the verbal part of the SATs. The perfectly plausible argument was that a thorough grounding in Latin, the root of 65% of English words, enhances English comprehension. Today, the American Classical League, a resource organization most of whose members are Latin teachers, notes proudly that Latin students' mean verbal SAT scores are 160 points higher than the national average, based on information published by the College Board. Enrollment in high-school Latin classes has increased more than 40% since 1976, according to the journal Classical Outlook, which led to a shortage of Latin teachers and a plea for retired Latin teachers to return to the classroom.
The classical league, itself, is doing all it can to jazz up classroom materials. There are games ("This is your Life, Julius Caesar") and "The Greece and Rome Sticker Book," which has self-adhesive gladiators. High-school students can listen to Jukka Ammondt, a Finnish academic and Elvis fan, sing "Quate, Crepa, Rota," (Shake, Rattle and Roll), or "Ai, Nunc Laudi Sis Claudia!" (Lawdy Miss Clawdy) on his CD "Rocking in Latin."
Still, there was and remains a dearth of engaging, popular books for Latin students. That's where Dr. Seuss comes in.
After the Latin Grinch was so well received, Bolchazy-Carducci asked the Tunbergs for a Seuss encore. The decided to do "The Cat in the Hat," with all its rhymes and short lines.
The Tunbergs' challenge was to capture the flow and flavor in rhyming Latin translation. They studied Medieval Latin drinking songs, and found a meter to pattern their work after: short, eight-syllable lines with rhymes in the last two syllables of each line. Ergo, the perfect term for Thing One and Thing Two is Effrenata geminata Maius, Minus. Translation: Wild unchained pair, larger and smaller.
The resulting "Cattus Petasatus," or Cat With a Traveling Cap, is far more ambitious than the Latinized Grinch, which is merely in alliterative prose that sounds like Dr. Seuss.
Deborah Polson, who teaches Latin at Wellington High School in Florida, welcomes the Seuss books. She is always on the lookout for ways to make Latin more interesting.
She herself has composed songs to help students through the dull but important grammar lessons, putting a string of prepositions to the tune of "My Little Sunshine." Her older students like books written by Henry Beard, a founder of National Lampoon who also wrote "Miss Piggy's Guide to Life." Mr. Beard has published "Latin for All Occasions" and its sequel "Latin for Even More Occasions," which offer Latin translations for "You have a big piece of spinach on your front teeth" (In dentibus anticis frustum magnum spinaciae habes), Porky Pig's trademark send off (Abeo, abeo abeo, actum est, comites!) and the names of Grumpy, (Severus) and the other six Dwarfs. Sleepy is called Somniculosus.
Although she hasn't been able to use the Grinch because she teaches in a public school where Christmas-related subjects aren't permitted, she just bought Cattus Petasatus. "It's a nice transition between grammar and the heavy-duty stuff," she says. "They all recognize 'The Cat in the Hat.' They want 'Green Eggs and Ham' next."
Write to Clare Ansberry at email@example.com