From the London Free Press:

The task, as Neil Tenney explains to his students, is straightforward. Match the English expression in the left-hand column to the Latin phrase on the right.

Let's take No. 3, for instance.

"Are you dissing me?"

After scanning the list of phrases, one student volunteers an answer.

"Insultasne tu mihi?"


Tenney moves on to No. 4.

"I'm going to hurl."

After a few murmurs of delight from the Grade 12 students, somebody offers the Latin translation.

"Vomiturus sum."


It's just another Tuesday morning class of Latin studies at London's South secondary school.

If you think the content is unusual (vomiturus?), you'd be wrong: Like most teachers, Tenney tries to make the topic fun and interesting to a generation weaned on video games, i-Pods and a galaxy of other entertainment options.

But if you think the class itself is unusual -- well, you'd be right.

Because Tenney is the last remaining Latin teacher in London's secondary system -- including both the Thames Valley District school board and the London District Catholic school board.

(According to spokesperson John Boles, the Catholic board last offered Latin courses in 1998.)

With Tenney retiring at the end of June after 30 years of teaching, does that mean Latin is on its London deathbed?

Well, not quite. Tenney will be replaced by another teacher at South when the school year begins anew in September.

But there's no doubt the study of Latin is slowly going the way of the dodo. And by that I mean extinct. (Which is derived from the Latin exstinguo, exstingui, exstinctum, meaning to extinguish or put out.)

There was a time, of course, when almost any student worth their academic salt could give you the meaning of "carpe diem" without the benefit of the 1989 film The Dead Poet's Society.

There was a time when many students might've told you the entire quotation is from Horace and reads like this: "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero." ("Seize the day, trust as little as possible in tomorrow.")

When it comes to pinpointing the cause of the decline in Latin studies, some historians cite Ontario's Hall-Dennis Report which, when it was released in 1968, recommended most secondary school courses -- including Latin -- be removed from the compulsory list.

Add to that a high school stint shortened from five years to four years, a dwindling list of optional opportunities and the declining popularity of liberal arts courses (and an accompanying emphasis on courses connected directly to finding a job) and you've got a recipe for decline (which is from the Latin, "detrecto").

But today, about 55 South students are the only local high schoolers still plugging away at declensions, conjugations and Virgil.

"It's really a constant, ongoing battle," says Tenney. "And I would just hate to see it go by the wayside."

It's not just Tenney's necktie (it depicts Rome's venerable Coliseum) that betrays his passion for a language spoken by Romans from about 1000 BC to 500 AD.

On the door of his classroom hangs a sign that states: "Lingua Latina Vivat." ("May the Latin Language Live," or more simply, "Long Live Latin.")

If prodded, Tenney will explain that between 60 and 70 per cent of all English words come from Latin and 80 per cent of words in the so-called Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese) are derived from Latin and that its study has been linked to greater post-secondary academic success.

But according to Tenney, one of the main reasons to study Latin is to improve one's communication skills -- something Tenney says "many people don't seem to have anymore."

"I think basic language skills are life skills," he says. "The way you speak, the way you write, even the way you think . . . makes an impression on people. And Latin plays a huge role in that."

But it's more than just language. During this 80-minute class, Tenney and his students repeatedly refer to the poetry of Horace.

Those references highlight some of the poet's philosophical views, including his belief that material possessions "cannot calm the soul." Instead, Horace wrote that we should pursue the simple pleasures.

That doesn't sound like a dead language to me. That sounds more like, "Ad vitam paramus." ("We are preparing for life.")