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A Foreign Tongue
by Eric Miller

While his friends bantered in the living languages of the world, Roman Holliday was barely able to keep his head above the waters of the dead sea of Latin.

"You have been scammed, mon ami," the exchange student from Aix-en Provence told him. "Latin is not the only way, or even the best way, to get a solid foundation in language. After all, as a result of the Norman Invasion 750 years ago, half of all English words are derived from French. Moreover, a large number are cognates, meaning they have the same spelling, but one is pronounced with a French accent: like perspiration versus 'purse-purr-assy-own'."

Even lawyer and physician friends of his parents told him that whatever Latin he needed to know could be learned in 30 minutes and printed on one wallet-sized card. They told him that the myth of Latin's importance had been perpetrated as a curse by Witchia Hazelia, Caesar's nanny. It was then that Roman knew that the curse had been put on him, because that was his Latin teacher's name.

When the dreaded witch assigned him to be the master of ceremonies at the annual Latin dinner, he did not let her see him sweat. Being an Eagle Scout, he knew what it meant to "Be Prepared," which he was when he welcomed the students. He stood tall in a toga of supreme grandeur, holding his scroll taut between two golden handles, authentic touches that his aunt, a Broadway Producer, sent from Wardrobe. Roman read and spoke with confidence, eternally grateful that his cousin Franco, aka Brother Jesterius at the seminary, had translated his speech from English to phonetic Latin. Witchia Hazelia sat in awe, marveling at Roman's voice ringing with a vocabulary so rich, so precise, and so idiomatic, that she thought she was receiving a deliverance from a Roman deity.

She could not stop smiling at, and bragging to, the world about his triumph. She greeted him every morning with such joy and pride that his hardened image of her began to soften; however, word travels fast in a small town, as everyone knows someone. The winds of gossip opened the box in which his secret lay, carrying it in gusts, blasts, and swirls which sang the lyrics from his hidden song to the world.

Soon, Witchia Hazelia's smile was gone, her glare was cutting, and the grip of her hand clutching his throat was tight. With her digitus medius fingerus firmly placed between his eyes, she growled: "How dare you!," to which Roman replied: "Magister artis ingeniique largitor venter."

"And what do you mean by that?," the evil witch shrieked.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Roman replied.

"Don't mess with me, kiddo,"  Witchia grumbled with a guttural sound that only a devil could make. "And for your information, Romanus Wise Assius," she added, "the precise meaning of the phrase you so smugly spoke is: 'Necessity is the mother of all invention'."

Roman wished he could fall on his sword, but he had already returned it to his aunt.