Latin with Bilicho

If you’re interested in Latin, you’re in the right place. Bilicho will explain what declensions are, how to conjugate a verb, and why nox dormienda means “a long night for sleeping.”

Study Latin with Bilicho.

Fortes fortuna iuvat.

Bilicho Docet Linguam Latinam

I. Nox Dormienda

So you made the wise decision to learn a little Latin. Good. You won’t regret it.

I’m not a native speaker, and what that means is I’ve had to learn it—so I understand how it works a little better than some who are. Mind you, I’m no orator or proper magister (that’s teacher to you), but I know my way around the language, and you won’t get lost if you follow me. No matter what Arcturus says.

All right, then. We’re not going to start with the children’s stuff, all that amo amas amat. Let’s begin with a quick look at one of the language’s finest points: brevity. And don’t listen to what Arcturus says about that, either. From the way he goes on, you’d think I never get to the point. I like a good story, I like to tell a good story, and he’s lucky I can, since it’s saved his head from being cracked by a club more than once … where was I? Oh, yes. The Passive Periphrastic. It’s also known as the gerundive of obligation, but I like the PP better—more poetical somehow.

Anyway, here’s how it works. Let’s take two words—nox and dormienda. All right.

Now, nox is a noun. It means “night.” What else can we tell about it? Well, because Latin nouns change forms depending on other information like number (singular or plural), how the word is used (subject or object of sentence, etc.), and the gender of the word—

What? A language with no gender? How can you—well, never mind. To each his own. Anyway, Latin nouns all have gender, either masculine, feminine or neuter. Like I said, to each his own.

Nox is a feminine word. It’s also singular, and it’s in the nominative case, which means it’s the subject of a sentence. Don’t worry about the terms, just understand that we get all this information from the way it looks. Not always the situation when you’re choosing a woman in a taberna.

Anyway, that’s nox. What about dormienda? Well, that’s a kind of verbal word. You take a verb, like dormire—means to sleep. You do some things to it, and you turn it into a gerundive. Gerundives are passive in voice—you can’t say “The man bit some bread”—probably week-old bread, at that—with a gerundive. You can say “The bread was bitten by a man.” See the difference?

So with dormienda, we’re talking about something that can be slept, and I don’t mean “with”—no prepositions for this meaning.

We team the gerundive up with nox, and that gives us what is being slept—a night. (By the way, there’s an “a” at the end of dormienda because nox is a feminine word. That’s for you quick learners.) When you throw in a “to be” verb (is, am, are, were, etc.), you get the passive periphrastic construction. A night being slept.

Now, the passive periphrastic does something special for us: it tells us that this is an action that has to be done. Obligation, necessity. I know all about that—don’t forget, I was a slave for most of my life.

But wait, Bilicho, you say. Where’s the “to be” verb? Where’s the third word? And that’s where Latin gets tricky, and why you can trust it about as much as you can taberna lighting. “To be” is understood to be there, and sometimes is, but gets left out pretty often because everyone who knows Latin knows it’s understood to be there. To bad for you if no one tells you—that’s why I’m telling you now.

Crabby old Cato hobbled around the Senate screaming “Carthago delenda est!” (Carthage must be destroyed) over and over until they razed the city just to shut him up. Est is the “to be” verb. Nox dormienda comes from one of those sickening love poems Arcturus read when he was younger, and because it’s poetry—and poets like to break rules, Catullus more than any of them—the est gets left out.

So what do we have? Nox dormienda. A night that must be slept. A long night for sleeping. Death, all made up and poetical.

See what I mean? Brevity. That’s what you can learn from Latin. I know I have.