One morning last week, I was watching the Today show while eating my bowl of All Bran, and like every morning for the past three years, Savannah has to tell us about all the trouble President Trump is in.
This particular morning, the term all the reporters were using was “quid pro quo.” I bet I heard that Latin phrase a dozen of times that morning and for the next few days. My problem with “quid pro quo” wasn’t the continuous use of the term but the uncertainty of what the heck it meant.
You see, I’m a Texan who speaks English fairly well and understands poquito Spanish, but most of those Latin terms are Greek to me. It seems like lawyers enjoy using Latin when they speak, probably to make them feel smarter than their clients. What those lawyers and TV reporters don’t know is there are a mess of folks like me who don’t know what they’re talking about.
Oh, I reckon there are a few Latin terms I savvy, like E pluribus unum, status quo and ante up, but not all Americans are as cerebrally endowed as me. I mean, as I. Back in junior high English, we had to memorize a mess of Latin terms. I don’t remember many of them except for tempus fugit (Time flies) and carpe diem (Seize the day). I recall a few other Latin words but their meaning is a tad sketchy. Like corpus delicti (a sandwich shop on Padre Island) and pro bono (a fan of Sonny and Cher). Other Latin phrases I learned in 9th grade English along with basic geometry have gotten lost in the clutter.
Some classmates took Latin in high school as their foreign language elective. I took Spanish since I figured I was more apt to visit Mexico than ancient Rome. They call Latin a “dead language.” I suppose if you want to become a mortician, you should learn Latin, but why do you suppose it’s so prevalent in legal jargon?
Doctors use a bunch of Latin words too. Just about every bone and organ in the human body has some Latin nomenclature. Doctors call your shin bone a tibia and your gullet an esophagus. From your metatarsus to your cerebellum, pert-near everything has a Latin name, except for your Achilles heel. How a Greek got his name in the anatomy book is beyond me.
As I was parked out on my deck at two in the morning waiting for the hogs to return to my delicious sod buffet, my sleep-deprived mind was fluttering around like a blowfly in a cow pasture. I tried to think of other Latin words that I use frequently. “Bona fide” is fairly common, but I don’t use it much. “Antebellum” is used by real estate folks, but I probably say “Auntie Em” more often, especially when a twister is nearby.
I see “A la carte” on a lot of menus. I’m not real sure how that translates to Texan, but I think it means you will still be hungry after dinner. That’s why I select something with “platter” in its description. And did you know “alibi” is actually a Latin word? I’ve been speaking Latin most of my married life, usually after hearing “Where have you been all night?”
So, let’s get back to “Quid pro quo.” For y’all who don’t speak Latin, “quid pro quo” means getting something by giving something else. Here in Texas, we call that swappin’. I seriously doubt a couple of cowpokes who are fixin’ to do some horse trading would say, “Awright, Tex, let’s get down to some quid pro quo for that thar brood mare you got.” No, sir, y’all won’t hear much of that Latin getting tossed around a feed store.
Hearing Donald Trump sputtering Latin into a microphone seems a little odd. His vocabulary is a little less sophisticated than what a legal expert might say about possible shenanigans over in Ukraine. Yeah, in my opinion, Trump shouldn’t use the term “quid pro quo.” A more appropriate Latin phrase for our president might be “non compos mentis.”