Friday, November 20, 2009

magis psittacus caput capitis

I had an uncle who spoke Latin. (God only knows why - I mean, unless you play Bingo on Wednesdays with the Pope, who can you talk to?)

In all fairness, I think both my mother's younger brothers learned Latin but Gene, we'd be doing this or that or driving here or there and he'd bust into 20 minute diatribes. . .
". . .Amicitia Romanorum paganus commodo mihi vestri intentio. Ut est optimus vultus mulier ego fuisti umquam vultus procul, inviso illud magnus pectus!"

The only Latin I ever learned was the stuff you had to know to be an alterboy. (a long time ago, on a planet far far away)

Years and years later, long after I'd given up faithful following of Catholic-ness, it was Friday Poker night at my brother Mike's place. Of the 6 guys at the table, it turned out that 4 of us had been alterboys and at some point in the early morning hours we all started regurgitating the Latin Mass in unison. I thought for sure I'd forgotten it all but out of my mouth it came and, ever since, I've credited Jack Daniels as the mnemonic device.

The other two guys, a Baptist and a Jewish dude, waited for the rest of us to finally shut-up and got equal time with a rousing chorus of Amazing Grace and reciting Yehuda ha-Levi verses from the Book of the Khazar. (It was a strange night)

These days, the only way the arcane language of the Caesars comes around in my world is through my casual interest in birding. Mine isn't a long life list but if a steaming meteor of once and future roadkill falls from the sky and finds its way to my shoulder, I want to know who's responsible.

About 250 years ago a Swedish guy named Carl von Linné classified life forms of all sorts, including birds, with Latin names. (the knucklehead even Latinized his own name)

According to "Carolus Linnaeus" . . .
Pelicans on the White St. Pier are "Pelecanus fuscus", the Laughing Gulls on Smathers Beach are "Larus atricilla" and the white Egret I saw walking on Frances St. yesterday is "Casmerodius albus". Those Turkey Vultures over Mt. Trashmore are "Cathartes aura", Florida Cormorants are "Phalacrocorax floridanus" and Parrots?

Well, parrots are "Psittaciformes".

So, taking the artistic license I'm famous for, it follows that parrot heads (like these four beauties) are "psittacus caput capitis" but since I recently wrote a post titled "parrotheads" and didn't want to repeat myself, I've taken the long way around the block to title these guys "magis psittacus caput capitis". (more parrotheads)

My uncle would have known that.

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