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From the Editor's Desk

Latin just about killed me when I was in high school

by Dennis Ernst • November 06, 2020

Editor's Desk


Latin is a dead language, as dead as dead can be. First it killed the Romans, now it’s killing me.

That was my motto when I was studying Latin in high school under Mrs. Weeks. For two years I struggled to understand masculine and feminine verbs and why I was taking Latin in the first place. But the dead language took on new life for me when I left high school and migrated toward the medical sciences. It became immediately useful then and ever since to help me understand word origins and, hence, new words and word roots. Word roots like phleb (vein) and –otomy (to cut).

Mottos make more sense when you know Latin. For example, E pluribus unum (one from many) appears on US currency. Here in MIchigan where I now live the state motto is Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice (If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you). In college, my fraternity motto In hoc signo vinces reflected the organization’s patron Constantine, the Roman Emperor who carried the Christian cross into battle (in this sign you will conquer).

So it’s clear to me that Latin will never die as long as English---and many other languages that reach back to the Roman Empire---thrive on its poetic, and at times confounding, word roots. Speaking of confounding, how about all the tiny little details one has to be aware of when drawing blood, coags in particular. Hopefully, after reading this month’s feature story, it will be impossible for anyone to ever underestimate their importance to the well being of patients presenting for protimes and aPTTs again.

They say “the devil is in the details,” but he’s really only in the details if you fail to pay attention to them. That isn't happening as we continue production on the 3rd edition of our popular Preventing Preanalytical Errors video, due out in a month or so. We've been working on it for over two years now---thanks to the Covid lockdown that interrupted filming---but we're back in production and tending to the details so that you can have the most accurate and informative video on the subject ever produced... except for our first two editions, of course!.

If you’re usually in a hurry to get to your next patient, you might have a devil of a time passing the little quiz in this month’s Tip. When it comes to bandaging patients, the devil is in those details, too, in the form of massive bruising, injuries when patients pass out, and nerve injuries sustained after the needle is removed. As with every Tip of the Month, we encourage you to print out the “printer-friendly version” and post it where it will get the most visibility. (Hint: more and more companies are posting important notices on the inside of bathroom stalls. Just a suggestion.)

My Latin teacher Mrs. Weeks passed away a long time ago. Latin didn’t kill her, but I’m sure my apathy toward the language made teaching difficult for her back then, before I knew how well it would serve me through life. I rarely had the right answer when she called on me. I cringed every time she peered at me through her cat-eye glasses, knowing I was about to demonstrate my ignorance of a language that she built her teaching career around. Back then it would have been helpful to know and practice the motto of the Possum Lodge (recited at every meeting in the PBS program “The Red Green Show”): quondo omni flunkus moritati. Translation: when in doubt, play dead.


Dennis Ernst

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dennis ernst editor latin