Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Words

Jody Foster in Contact (also linked here)

In the movie Contact, Jody Foster's character encounters the unspeakable beauty of space.  Watch the clip above from 2:39-3:30.

That is how I feel.  There are no words.  No words.

My Latin III class meets during the final period of the day.  We opened with some vocabulary review for a quiz, moved into a reading and discussion of a political murder in 52 B.C., and ended with just a few minutes to review gerunds and gerundives.

WARNING!  There will be technical, grammatical terminology in what follows!  Beware!

One of my students, Meg, a sophomore, asked if gerunds were really substantive versions of gerundives.  For those who do not know, a gerund is a verbal noun, and a gerundive is the special term we use in Latin for the future passive participle because of its similarity in form to the gerund.  I was stunned.  It certainly seemed so to me, and I began thinking of parallel examples, such as the transformation of the perfect passive participle into a substantive and then into a simple noun per se.  I headed to my bookcase for my 1990 copy of Gildersleeve's and Lodge's 1895 Latin Grammar.  A quick flip of a few pages took me to section 425, note 1:  "The Gerund is the substantive of the Gerundive."

The bell rang, I tried my best to convey how pleased I was with Meg, but the raw excitement and joy made speaking a bit difficult.  A few minutes later, my speech was rendered nearly incomprehensible by her classmate Becky.  As I stood on hall duty, basking in the brilliance of Meg's observation, Becky came up to ask why, if the gerund is a substantive of the gerundive, it did not retain the future quality of gerundive, which is in essence the future passive participle.  My mind began to spin, and as is so often the case when confronted with thoughts of this profundity, I began to stare into the middle distance as I formulated an answer.  We realized together that the gerund does indeed retain a bit of the future flavor, if you will, in the various purpose constructions, for a clause expressing purpose  necessarily describes what has not yet happened.  For example, Caesar laboravit gratia vincendi, "Caesar worked for the sake of conquering," indicates that the conquering has not yet happened.  Still, the gerund clearly has a purely noun function without any trace of the future, as in Natandum amo, "I love swimming."  At this point, it seems, the substantive transformation from the gerundive has become complete and the noun has shaken off its participial heritage entirely.

No words.  There simply are no words, neither to describe my nerdy joy in thinking about such things, nor to express my unbridled pride in, respect for, and admiration of my students.  Who asks questions like these?  Seriously, if you are an adult who is reading this, were you thinking at this level when you were in high school?  Period 10, vos amo!


  1. As the saying goes, "It takes a village..." The dedication of the mentioned students, the support of their families, and the enthusiasm of educators...that gives me unbridled joy!

  2. Thank you for those wonderful words! I will share them with Period 10 today.


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