So, I have run out of “equus” words. The Latin word “equus” was not the everyday word for horse. Instead, equus was the classical word for horse. The average Roman citizen in the street had a completely different word, caballus.
There is a dirty little secret among Latin teachers and scholars. Latin did not produce the Romance languages. At least, not the Latin of the classical Roman elite. Unfortunately, it is the Latin of the classical Roman elite taught in high schools and universities. This is why you will sometimes meet students who say, “Latin did not really help me with Spanish. I don’t know why my teachers said that it would.”
Another stream of Latin developed beside Classical Latin. This was “vulgar” Latin. Vulgar comes from the Latin “vulgus,” which means, “common.” Vulgar Latin was the Latin of the common people. This is why St. Jerome’s translation of the Bible is called the “Vulgate.” He translated the Bible into the language of the common, everyday citizen of the empire.
Usually, you will find “Classical” Latin taught in schools. This is the Latin of the elite, the academics, the professors, and poets. Learning “Classical” Latin first is like learning English only through Shakespeare. If you are learning English, that is the tough trail. That is like learning to hike by tackling K2.
As soon as students learn the basic Latin grammar, which should take two years tops, they should begin reading the Vulgate. This is the easier path. Best of all, as they learn Vulgar Latin, they learn the base of over 25 European languages. For Vulgar Latin is the base of the European languages, not Classical Latin.
What does this have to do with horses? It is not from the classical word for horse, equus, that modern European languages derive their word for horse. Instead, they derive their word from the Vulgar Latin word, caballus.
In Latin, caballus, was not the pretty show horse in parades, or the mighty war horse in battle. No, the caballus was the work horse, the mare, the nag. This was the common horse, accessible by all.
From the Latin caballus, the modern European languages derive their words for horse. In French, horse is cheval. In Spanish, caballo, Portuguese, cavalo, and in Italian cavallo.
English also pulls plenty of words out of this Latin word. We have cavalcade, cavalier, cavalry, and chivalry.
We will look at these words this week.
Want to learn more about the differences between Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin? Want to know why I emphasize Vulgar Latin over Classical Latin? Check out my ebook, Via. There is an entire chapter dedicated to this subject.