Monday, August 29, 2016

Big Brother and ... Latin?

As a Latin teacher and Big Brother fan, I hereby offer a somewhat self-indulgent presentation of the many ways in which the CBS reality show Big Brother indeed abounds in Latin!

First off, before I describe the rich Latin language references within the show, the title itself, Big Brother, is obviously derived from both Germanic roots and George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I have seen Big Brother itself translated into Latin as Magnus Frater, which is technically possible but contextually incorrect. The evident meaning of "Big" in Big Brother is that it is the eldest brother, therefore Frater Maior Natu (Brother Older by Birth).

The inner workings of the show, however, are deeply steeped in the Latin language and Roman culture.

Head of Household

Each week one of the house guests, by winning a competition, takes on the role of "Head of Household." This matches the authority of the Roman "Head of Household," known as the Pater Familias. The Pater Familias was the oldest male in one's paternal family, even that man was not the direct ancestor of members such as nephews.

And the authority of the Pater Familias went way beyond the duty merely to nominate two other house guests for eviction. Indeed, the Twelve Tables of ancient Roman law gave the Pater Familias the power of life and death (vitae necisque potestas) over the members of the family.

The Power of Veto

We've taken the word "Veto" into Latin as a political term. It comes from the Latin verb "vetō, vetāre, vetuī, vetitus: to forbid, prohibit."

So when you say "Vetō," you are saying "I prohibit." 

There's a nice use of the passive of this verb in Vergil's Aeneid 1.39, where the goddess Juno, who wants to prevent the Trojans from reaching Italy, asks herself:

Quippe vetor fatis
Perhaps I am forbidden by the Fates.

Speaking of goddesses, would it be too much to hope that the ever stunning host of Big Brother, Julie Chen, herself studied some Latin when she attended St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, New York?


After the potential of cancelling out one of the nominated house guests on Veto Night, we move to Eviction. By a private vote (with vote counts, however, publicized), someone is evicted.

The word "Eviction" is directly borrowed from the Latin word evictio, evictionis, which has the same meaning as in English.

The noun is derived from the verb ēvincō, ēvincere, ēvīcī, ēvīctus, which means "to vanquish, overcome." 

It's been great television so far in Season 18! 

One particular house guest was evicted twice but got back in the game. It would be an interesting thing if he were to win and create yet one more connection to Latin. Because his name is...VICTOR!

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