IT'S that time of year again and Latin is being championed in the Letters Pages of The Herald (March 3, 4, 5 & 6).

Six decades ago, in my senior secondary school, Latin was compulsory in the top streams. It was regarded as prestigious but, in fact, it was just another language, and a dead one at that. Universities demanded it for entrance to Arts subjects and we had no choice but to study it.

By the 1980s, it no longer had the imprimatur of university entrance, and computing was regarded as being of greater importance in the modern age. As an education officer in Strathclyde Region, I tried, along with the adviser in classics, to persuade the education committee to offer Latin, at least on an area basis. My rationale was that state school pupils should not be denied an opportunity that private school pupils took for granted. We lost the fight.

As a headteacher in the late 1980s, I tried to keep it alive in my comprehensive school in East Kilbride but there was little uptake. By the time my son was a pupil in another comprehensive in the same town, he had to travel three times a week to another school in the same local authority to join a class.

The game is over. Latin is arguably helpful if you want to be a lawyer or if you like doing cryptic crosswords. The fact that its grammar was superimposed on our (living) language is simply a matter of history.

Why don't we accept that its status is not unique? If you really want to study a language which is truly logical, try Korean.

In the meantime, I will admit that I have never knowingly split an infinitive and have always assumed that "To bodly go..." was ironic.

Professor Brian Boyd, South Lanarkshire.

* AS a retired classicist I strongly endorse Dr Durward's dismay (Letters, March 6) at the loss of Ancient Greek and Latin from state education in Scotland.

Nor is it only medical training which may suffer from this loss. Taxonomic classification in many other disciplines still makes heavy use of a Graeco-Latinate terminology. A former student once told me that in her time engaged on a degree course in marine biology she was the envy of many of her contemporaries, given the ease with which she was able to comprehend the many daunting scientific names of the marine creatures she encountered. She said: "It's easy when you've studied Latin and Greek."

It is of course true that a little classical knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In an Indian restaurant I once overheard a young man trying to impress his girlfriend by ordering "two papada" to accompany their curry.

Richard H Allison, Edinburgh.

* DR William Durward laments the dropping of the teaching of Latin in state schools. He may also lament the lapse of memory that has caused him to refer to the “dative tense”. There is no dative tense There is however a dative case. Latin may be dismissed as a dead language but, in its ability to be a subject of controversy, it will not lie down.

Ian Hutcheson, Glasgow.


IAIN Findlay (Letters, March 5) is right to caution against the careless use of statistics in comparing Covid rates between countries. Unfortunately, he is guilty himself.

Scotland’s overall death rate from Covid is 1,356 per million people. This is 30 per cent less than England’s rate of 1,944 per million, not 20% less as Mr Findlay states. Germany’s rate is 862 per million, which is 36% lower than Scotland’s, not 50% lower as he claims.

He is again right, though, to point out that these rates are not “standardised”. However, when the statisticians have done this the corrections will be relatively small compared to 30%.

Mr Findlay is right again when he says public spending in Scotland is 20% higher than in England; but NHS spending, which is the more relevant figure for his argument, is only 8.5% higher.

In England there have been many more confirmed cases per head of population than here in Scotland (75% more, if he wants another statistic). This may well be because the English testing regime detects more asymptomatic cases which don’t develop into serious illness. If so, it would explain why there are relatively fewer deaths among “cases” than in Scotland. Mr Findlay doesn’t seem to have considered this.

As Mr Findlay says, it’s more complicated than it seems. The short version is still, though, that there have been far fewer Covid deaths per head in Scotland than in England. Evidence, perhaps, that our Scottish public services are doing a much better job than the partly privatised services down south, contracted out to buddies of the UK Cabinet.

Lyn Jones, Edinburgh.

* I COULDN'T agree more with Eric Macdonald (Letters, March 8) about the lack of activity at Covid-19 test centres. We often pass the "by appointment only" centre near to Glasgow's Riverside Museum and have similarly witnessed staff in hi-viz gear there to direct non-existent "customers". Funnily enough there are signs forbidding photography.

What a waste of money. Why not make it a walk-in test centre?

Isobel Frize, Glasgow.


I DO not doubt that a factor in crop failure at Mossgiel in 1784 (Letters, March 8) was the Icelandic volcanic eruptions ("Scotland’s deadly ‘Year of Yellow Snow’ in spotlight’", The Herald, March 5), a year earlier. His tributes to Apodemus Sylvaticus [To a Mouse] and a Mountain Daisy in 1785 and 1786 may be evidence that recovery had taken place.

R Russell Smith, Largs.