Throw the cow over the fence some hay.
What does that mean? Of course, we all “know” what that means. It means you pick up some hay, throw it over the fence, toward the cow, who is on the other side of the fence. But we know it not because of what the words actually say. We know it because that’s the only way to make sense out of the sentence. Although one could also interpret that to mean pickup the cow and throw her, because that’s what the words themselves mean. Latin doesn’t have that ambiguity. We know what it means now, but someone reading that sentence 3,000 years in the future who only knows that a cow is some kind of animal and hay is some kind of plant, might think that farmers (whatever they were) trew their animals back in 2009.
Eats shoots and leaves.
This is the title of someone’s book about the English language. I recall two drawings.
In one, a panda bear is sitting there and the panda is eating shoots and eating leaves.
In the other drawing, the panda has a maching gun, and is leaving a restaurant.
Eats shoots and leaves
Or is it
Eats, shoots, and leaves
In English it could be either one (commas are a late invention).
Many people think that wedding vows “should” say " 'till death do we part" because the sentence needs a subject “we” But “we” isn’t the subject; the subject is “death.” The object is "us."
We don’t part at death…
…death parts us.
We are the recipients of the act, not the active “do-ers” of it.
People don’t realize this because the sentence “till death do we part” sounds more natural to our ears. The proper sentence just doesn’t sound right, or it sounds archaic to some.
That’s the best way I can describe to explain how Latin is a precise language; by concrete examples.
I can give examples of how English is less precise, but without actually giving a long lesson in Latin grammar and vocabulary (which I couldn’t do even if I wanted to) it’s hard to actually articulate how Latin is more precise. In Latin, those ambiguities aren’t there.
In English, we usually put the subject of the sentence first, and the object of the sentence at the end. But by no means is this always done. Our words don’t change depending on how they’re used–in Latin they do. That’s why so many people use “whom” incorrectly. They think that because it’s at the end of the sentence, it’s the proper word. Likewise “This is him” rather than the correct “this is he.” Oddly enough it’s the proper form that sounds strange to us because we’re not accustomed to ending a sentence with “he.” Latin, on the other hand, because it is a “declining” language the words change depending upon how they’re used–not just the pronouns as in English but likewise the nouns, so regardless of their location in the sentence, the reader always understands which is the subject, and which is the object.
The priest elevates the host
Means that the priest used his hands to lift up the host.
Yet, we could also say:
The host elevates the priest
(think: “the host [pause] elevates the priest”)
Again, it means that the priest lifts the host, but it could also mean that the host lifts the priest from the floor. We only know the correct interpretation because we understand beforehand what’s being said. Latin doesn’t have that problem. We don’t always have the luxury of understanding the intent before we hear the sentence. In Latin, we don’t need to understand the intent, the words themselves express the intent because the words are more precise.
In English, we often have to look at the sentence, and understand what the speaker intends in order to understand the sentence itself (cow, hay). That means that we need some pre-existing knowlege of the intent before we can understand what’s being said. That’s why Latin is the better language for documents that must be interpreted precisely to convey the exact intent of the original writer. It’s easy to misinterpret English.