Category Archives: Vocabulary

Just in case you were wondering.

I am willing to bet some of you woke up this morning wondering, “What is a hapax legomenon?”

Fortunately, you subscribe to my blog.  And, fortunately, a word loving friend of mine sent this article to me this morning.

And, so, fortunately for you… you no longer have to worry.  You can now find out what a hapax legomenon is.

Which meaning?

I received this question:

My son came across a problem on Visual Latin 1 Lesson 15. On the answer sheet it says that the word “feminam” means wife and “feminas” means wives but on the vocabulary list, it is not listed. It is listed as woman.

Also, we ran into issues with “bestiarum” which means beast but on the answer sheet it says animals towards the end of the second paragraph.

Here is my reply:

I apologize for the delay. August is the busiest month of the year for me.  Finally catching up this morning…

English has over a million words in its vocabulary.  And, it is climbing at the rate of about 150 words a day, or so I have heard.  We have a word for everything.  In fact, we sometimes have multiple words for everything.

Latin, on the other hand, has a vocabulary of about 75,000 words.  Compared to English, Latin is puny, tiny, small, or itty bitty.  (See what I did there?)

Anyway, Latin words have to work extra hard.  Sometimes one word will have many meanings.  So, yes.  Bestia means beast.  It can also mean animal, creature; wild beast/animal, beast of prey in arena.  

Femina means woman.  It can also mean woman, and sometimes wife.  

I hope this clears it all up!

Better than flash cards?

I received this question:

My question: my 10-year-old son and I are super enjoying VL1. You are a brilliant teacher. Now that we are on lesson 10 he has a lot of vocab words to memorize. He writes out the flash cards and reviews them almost daily. Are there any better strategies to learning the vocab?

For example, one of the things I’ve learned is that straight memorization of math facts doesn’t always work long term. Having a good number sense and being able to relate to the numbers conceptually works better in the long term. Is there anything similar in Latin? Is there a better way to learn the vocab than just old fashioned flash cards?

Here is my reply:

I agree with you completely.  While there is nothing at all wrong with memorizing, it is not always effective.  I feel this is especially true with language vocabulary.

There is a reason I based the readings on the Bible (the most influential and most read book on the planet). The Bible is a great language learning tool.  The vocabulary is rather basic and is highly repetitive. 

It turns out, one of the very best ways to learn vocabulary is via frequent reading.  In order to master Latin, I have read the books over and over and over again.  The stories help me remember the vocabulary.  For example, I have read Lingua Latina perhaps twenty times.  Maybe more.  I’ve lost count.  Whenever I see a hill as I drive, I think of the hill (collis) in that book.  There is a tree (arbor) on that hill.  Nearby is a shepherd (pastor) with his sheep (oves).  The sheep are eating grass (herba) and one of them wanders off toward the stream (rivus) near the forest (silva). 

As you can see, it is the story that carries the vocabulary.  This happens when I read the New Testament as well.  Because I have listened to the story in Latin so many times, I can’t help but think, “Ubi est qui natus est rex Iudaeorum?” (Where is he born king of the Jews?) every time I hear the story of the birth of Christ.  Because of this story, Ubi (where) is never a problematic word for me.  The story carries the vocabulary for me. 

We get it backward.  We tell kids, learn the grammar.  Learn the vocabulary.  Learn the exceptions.  When you have all of that down, we will start reading in Latin. 

We should turn this on its head.  Start reading in Latin now.  We will learn the vocabulary, grammar, and exceptions as we go. 

Flash cards are not bad.  I use them.  I am on Memrise every day.  I use the site to learn Greek and Italian vocabulary.  But, alone, it is just not enough.  To truly learn Greek and Italian, I read in those languages every day.  It doesn’t matter that I struggle to do so.  I do it anyway.  As I read, the vocabulary comes.  The stories are the channels that solidify the grammar and vocabulary for me.

Since you are in Visual Latin, I would recommend reading and re-reading the stories.  Doing so will embed the vocabulary in the brain.

I hope this answered your question.  Let me know if you need more help!

The Rudiments of Anglo-Saxon

Years ago, I think it was in Surprised by Joy, I read about the English education of C.S. Lewis.   Unfortunately, Evernote didn’t exist at the time.  As a result, I can’t source what I am about to assert.

Anyway, at some point, and somewhere, I read about the English education of C.S. Lewis.

Here is the short version.  In order to master our language downriver, C.S. Lewis studied the headwaters of our language.

As a total aside, the headwaters of the mighty Mississipi river are located in Itasca, Minnesota.  Itasca sounds like a Native American word, doesn’t it?

It isn’t.  Instead, it is the combination of the Latin word for truth, or true (veritas) and head (caput).  Look what happens when you run them together…. verITASCAput.  Do you see it?  Itasca.  The “true head” of the Mississippi.

What were we talking about?

Oh, yeah.   C.S. Lewis.

As it turns out, years ago, students who wanted to really master English would study the headwaters of our language.

As you know, English is a disaster.  It’s a train wreck.  Don’t believe me?  Pronounce the word one.  Mmmhm.  Where is the “w”?  Pronounce the word two.  There’s the “w”!  But, now it has chosen to give us the silent treatment.    I blame the French.

English is a combination of Latin, Anglo-Saxon, French, and Greek.   Those are just the big guys.  We have robbed many other languages as well.  Canoe, for example, came from the same people who should have given us the word Itasca.  Canoe is a Native American word.

I have long wanted to learn the source languages of English.  Part of a long term plan of mine.  Every decade I intend to master a new language.  In the end, I intend to write a humorous history of the English language.  In the year 2065.  If man is still alive.

Let’s see if I can get to the point.

Last week, I decided it was time to start Anglo-Saxon.

Gathering dust on my shelf for a long time was a copy of the Rudiments of Anglo-Saxon by Douglas Wilson.

I couldn’t wait any longer.   I read the book last week.

Here is where I brag on Latin.

Latin, once again, blazed the trail for me.

If you don’t know this, English used to be an inflected language.  I’m looking at you Anglo-Saxon.  Because Latin had already taught me almost everything I needed to know about the nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative cases, Anglo-Saxon couldn’t scare me.  It tried to.  But, it didn’t.  Sorry, Anglo-Saxon.  (When they were younger, my kids tried to scare me by growling at me.  They were too cute to scare me.  Same concept here.)

It took me about three days to learn the grammar of Anglo-Saxon.   Again.  The praise goes to Latin.  Latin blazed the trail.

It took about a day to get used the alphabet of Anglo-Saxon.  It is mostly the same as ours, which makes sense, of course.

Pronunciation has proven problematic.  I am imitating this every day:

Simple.  Listen and imitate.

All that is left now is vocabulary.  Or, as Mr. Wilson calls it, the word-hoard.  I am pretty sure the Anglo-Saxons would approve.  Currently, I have a pretty small word-hoard.

I like the way the author wrote the book.   The first half covers grammar and much of the Anglo-Saxon word-hoard.

The second half of the book provides readings from the New Testament and from the Saga of Beowulf.

Mr. Wilson admits from the beginning that this is an introduction to Anglo-Saxon.  Fair enough.  He shows you where to go if you want to learn more.  But, remember… this is an introduction.

I really only have one complaint about the book.  The vocabulary in the back is not comprehensive enough to include all of the vocabulary that shows up in the New Testament readings.   But, then again, people have the same complaint about Visual Latin.  So, technically, I can’t complain.  Like Joe Walsh, I can’t complain but sometimes I still do.

Okay.   Now I have managed to squeeze two classic rock references into a review of an Anglo-Saxon grammar.  Feeling pretty good.

By the way, there was a quote in the introduction that I intend to throw at academic purists, pursed-lipped schoolmarms, and YouTube pronunciation trolls.

Here it is:

“In studying any new language – or, as with Anglo-Saxon, an old language that feels strangely familiar – pronouncing things out loud is where we tend to be most self-conscious.  This is largely the grammarians’ fault.  Grammarians tend to be fussers, and fussers tend to scare ordinary people away from language studies.  If you pronounce Beowulf’s tribe the way it looks and say Geet, and the rest of the class laughs, and you discover later to your mortification that you ought to have said Ye-aht, the temptation will be to chuck it all in and take up engineering.  But we should keep in mind that languages turn into various dialects and other languages precisely because ordinary people won’t pronounce things the way they are supposed to.  With regard to Anglo-Saxon, Stephen Pollington rightly points out the “welter of regional and chronological details” that “are really only worth bothering with for the serious student.”  

So perhaps we should lighten up a bit.”

I couldn’t agree more.  The same logic applies to Latin.  But, then again, Latin pronunciation purists don’t seem to apply the rules of logic.

By the way, I watched a great movie with my kids last night.  The Queen of Katwe.  If you are a normal human being, check it out.  It is worth your time.

If you are a pronunciation Nazi, you probably shouldn’t watch it.  They pronounce English with African accents.   Probably because they are from Africa.  I know you Latin pronunciation purists can’t handle that kind of stuff.

I really enjoyed The Rudiments of Anglo-Saxon.  If you have ever wanted to read our mother tongue in the words of our ancestors, this is a great place to start.

I give this book five stars.

Vocabulary for Visual Latin 2?

I received this question:

My daughter is enjoying her Latin study with your fun and engaging lessons. We bought the Visual Latin 2 printed course materials. We have not been able to find a place where there is a copy of all the latin vocab from volume 2 (lessons 31-60). Is there a master list for the visual Latin 2 or better yet a visual latin 1 & 2 combined vocabulary list? Thank you for your materials. They are appreciated!

Here is my reply:


Unfortunately, no.  There is a master list for Visual Latin 1, but there is not a master list for Visual Latin 2.  Don’t know how I managed to do that.  That is something I am planning to solve this summer.  

Meanwhile, I recommend these online tools when looking up Latin words:

Whitaker’s Words:

The Latin Dictionary:

Another Latin Dictionary (this one is really good for conjugating verbs):

Verbix (a bit complicated and difficult to use, but not bad as a last resort):

Visual Latin vocabulary organized into lists of flashcards:

I hope this helps!



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As I blog my way through my study of Italian, I am considering bring the “Word of the Day” back.

For several years, I posted consistently.  Then, in the craziness that was for me 2016, I dropped the ball.  But, I miss it.

I am going to attempt to resurrect the habit.  We shall see.

I will attempt to blog my way through the “language museum” located at the end of the Loom of Language.

Here goes:

Air: the invisible gasses that make up the atmosphere.  Air comes from Old French, air.  which came from Latin aer (atmosphere, sky; cloud).  The Latin word is related to the Greek αέρ (modern αέρας).

The word Air looks familiar in many modern Latin-derived languages.

  • French – l’air
  • Italian – l’aria
  • Spanish – el aire
  • Portuguese – o ar

Beyond Word Up….

I received this question:

I have a few of questions about Beyond Word Up:

Is it in the same format as Word Up?

How many lessons are there?

Since it’s not a live class, do you have to sign up for a year or just a couple months?

Here is my reply:

No. Unfortunately, it is not the same format as Word Up.  I wish it were.  Word Up was a lot of fun to create.  

The classes on my site are screen casts.  They’re not all that exciting.  Basically, the students simply see the word I am talking about on the screen in front of them.  Each class adds about 20 new words.  In this respect, the material is the same as Word Up, but the delivery is quite different.

There are 24 lessons.  This means that students would learn the history of and the etymology of about 500 words.

And, yes. I have set my site up in such a way that you can subscribe and cancel at anytime.