Practice your Latin

Rare and Ancient Latin words

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Latin is an old lan­guage, a very old lan­guage. Today we might think of it as one lan­guage, frozen in time. How­ev­er, even the Romans had “old words”, words no longer in pop­u­lar use. Some authors took plea­sure in using these, while oth­ers frowned upon this.

Julius Cae­sar is per­haps the most well-known pro­po­nent of avoid­ing rare words and using the most com­mon words instead.

“tamquam scop­u­lum sic fugias inau­di­tum atque insolens verbum.”

Caes. De ana­log. 2.1

Indeed, this quest for a sim­ple and direct style has been laud­ed by Latin teach­ers for cen­turies. Cae­sar is, there­fore, not unsur­pris­ing­ly, one of the first Roman authors that many stu­dents read—even though the absence of rare words hard­ly makes Cae­sar an easy read for most Latin students.

Cae­sar was not alone in his view of rare words.

The great Roman mag­is­ter dicen­di Quin­til­ian was of the mind that old words, and con­se­quent­ly rarely used in his time, do add a sense of dig­ni­ty and fresh­ness to lan­guage, but should be used judi­cious­ly and very sparingly.

How­ev­er, some lat­er Roman authors, such as Aulus Gel­lius and Apuleius, showed great inter­est in so-called archa­ic words, words from the old­est peri­od of extant Latin lit­er­a­ture, draw­ing from authors such as Ennius.

In today’s video, we’ll talk a lit­tle bit about three rare Latin words, old even for the Romans, and dis­cuss the Romans’ view on such words—all in Latin, of course.

Daniel Pettersson

Daniel Pettersson

Teacher and author Daniel Pettersson, M.A., is co-founder of Latinitium and is currently teaching Latin at Stockholm University, where he is also working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Humanist Colloquia. Daniel believes in the importance of Latin literature in the modern world and that you can teach yourself Latin with the right motivation, method, and material.
Written by Daniel Pettersson

Written by Daniel Pettersson

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