It's All Latin to Me



And so it happened… that I found myself recording two books for the same publisher, two lovely and very different books, both of which had long ungainly lists of BOTANICAL LATIN. Yes. This to be filed under “Oh the Things You’ll Learn as an Audiobook Narrator!”


The company was not able to help on this one, nor was one of the authors (still waiting to hear from author #2). But I had great fortune to be discussing this with my dear friend Doc as we walked across Central Park South on a beautiful sunny day. “I have an idea for you,” he said. “I have a friend who is fluent in Latin. Shall I put you in touch?” I could hardly believe my luck! His friend, who is actually a Duke of sorts, responded to his query immediately with this response:


“These are all plant species, so that makes the choice of Latin pronunciation of concern. There are several: 1) Classical Latin, which one learns in high school and which no one wants to hear (attributed rather incorrectly to Caesar and Cicero and that lot); 2) Botanical, taxonomic pronunciation, which is different for Americans than for Brits, and which is likely wanted here; and 3) Church Latin, which is how God and the races on the Italian peninsula speak it. 


I'm good for all of them, but for her sake, I'd like to know that it's straight American botanical, or Brit botanical, or someone trying to "speak plant" in an affected tone, or something else.”


So we went back and forth a bit. I, for one, do not know this Latin from that Latin, so I was a bit at a loss. Then it turned out that the Duke had several princely duties to fulfill, and could not get the list to me in time. It was the first time, but hopefully not the last, that I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for a Duke to call me by my “Latin name”.


In frustration I called my brother, an environmental educator and all around brilliant green thumb to ask if he knew a botanist who might know the list. “Yes,” he replied. “Me!” Now how’s that for looking in your own backyard? Literally! Note: the above pic is me listening to my brother pronounce a list of Latin names of plants, shrubs and herbs.


In the midst of all this, I had the privilege of describing this verbal cat and mouse game while doing an Upstart Creatures outreach event with my friend Suzie, the co-artistic director. In the midst of all, she rose like a Deus ex Machina to say, “Well you know I know Latin. I could do it too.”


It’s one heck of a world when everyone around you speaks a dead language. WORLD, I am thinking with gratitude, SUMMA CUM GET ME! (and I say that phrase as LAUDE as possible:)

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