Monday, July 26, 2004

Who Needs Latin?

Seventeen years ago I started work as an optical technician for a local optical chain. I only worked there for 3 years but it opened the door for me to get my current job in an ophthalmology practice, which I have had for 14 years. I never intended to have a job like this. My life changed suddenly when my dad died and I took the first job that was offered to me.

I figured it couldn't be too complicated to help people pick out glasses but I didn't realize there would be so much medical knowledge involved. I didn't like medical things but the optometrist's exams were written with medical abbreviations and even the eye glass prescriptions had them. When I asked what OD meant I was told it meant right eye. HUH? Where the heck did ya get that from? The answer was, "It's Latin." I looked at my co-worker with relief, "Oh it's Latin? I understand Latin! What does the "o" and the "d" actually stand for?" She replied, "Oh I don't know what it stands for but it is Latin." I tried to rephrase my question. "If I know what the Latin words are I will be able to remember all the abbreviations. I took 2 years of Latin in High School. All A's! Help me out here." She huffed and puffed and walked away.

I appealed to Dr.E, the wonderful optometrist that I worked for. He looked at me and asked, "You understand Latin? Well, come on over here and I will tell you what it all stands for." We started with the eye abbreviations. OD was ocular dexter(ocular meaning eye and dexter meaning right.) OS was ocular sinister (left eye). I asked, "Sinister like when you say a person is sinister;meaning evil?" He said, "Well in the old days if you wrote with your left hand that meant you were evil. Unless that is just an old tale. Who knows?" Wow, this eye stuff wasn't so boring afterall. Once I learned the Latin words it all made sense to me.

I loved Latin in High School. No one understood why I took it. I just felt it would somehow help me throughout my life. When I was 22 yrs old my Nana asked me about a word she was reading in a book. "Do you know what this word means?," she asked. I took a look where her finger was pointing: somnabulant. I had never heard of that word before. "Well Nana, I am going to look at it from a Latin point of view. Somni means to sleep. Ambula means to walk. I am going to guess this word means sleep-walker." I ran to the dictionary to verify my answer. "I'm right!I did it!" Nana was so proud of me. I gave a silent thank you to Mrs.P, my enthusiastic Latin teacher.She made our class so much fun. I wish I could've taken Latin for all 4 years.

Sometimes I have looked at words written in French or Italian and I understand them because I was told all the romance languages came from Latin. It doesn't advance my career or anything but for someone who loves words, this is an extra bonus in my life.

Did you ever take a Latin course? Was there a class in school that has helped you in your adult life?

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