“What have the Romans ever done for us?”

Phil Daring is having a Monty Python moment.

By | Thu 1 Jul 2010

The film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” is set in the Middle East some two thousand years ago when much of it was under the rule of the Roman Empire. There is a scene where Brother Reg is trying to incite his gang of incompetent freedom fighters to rebel against the occupying Roman army. After a few minutes of debate, he utters the immortal line: “Alright! – but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Well – we can also add “milestone” to the list. Although others had used them before, the “Golden Milestone” marking the centre of the Roman Empire could be found on the Appian Way in ancient Rome. Others could be found (although not gold…wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in ancient Britain…or two seconds in modern Britain…) that told everyone how far they were from Rome and what direction to go to get there. Clever lot the Romans.

Except for mathematics. The Roman numbering system died out when their empire did and was totally impractical for any form of general calculation. The only places you see it today are on watch faces. It was ok for counting but even then must have caused its moments.

Imagine the Centurion standing in front of his soldiers as they line up for parade. As he shouts out “By the numbers, sound rank!” (“Per numerus, sanus ordo” in Latin…I looked it up…), rather than exclamations of “one”, “two”, “three” and so on you would hear…

“Eye”; “Eye eye”; “Eye Eye Eye”; “Eye Vee” (always produced a snigger even then); “Vee”; “Vee Eye”; “Vee Eye Eye” and so on. They’d have been there all day!

Not the most effective contribution to the world but many English words still have their origin in Latin. In fact, Latin provided me with an early milestone in my life; I achieved 1/10 in my first Latin test and it all went downhill from there. I could just never get my head around the meaning of the words. For example, they had a unit called “Sextan”. All I could think of was that this was something you got after being naughty on the beach.

I have found this to be the case in all my language endeavours. I have tried to learn Latin, French, German, Japanese and Thai but as I am blessed with the linguistic ability of a paving slab, failed each time. I can still ask “where does the airport limousine go from?” in Japanese but I have found that phrase’s usefulness to be somewhat limited unless I am actually at a Japanese airport…and in need of a limousine. I always think that how a word sounds is more interesting than its actual meaning and for a bit of fun, how about these alternative definitions?

• Cellulite – a small mobile phone;
• Cashpoint – daughter’s gesture to wallet;
• Cashpoint Machine – repeated gesturing by daughter to wallet;
• Botox – a raft for bovines;
(Or if you are from South Africa or Zimbabwe, it’s the answer to the question “What’s that on the sea?”)
• Fundamental – provide financial support for the insane;
• Fundamentalist – how to find the insane needing financial support;
• Adobe – an insect made of bread.

Fun, but not really pertinent. Your first job, getting married, your children…now those are milestones, but there are times when they seem like millstones instead.

My current milestone involves my belly. My favourite belt can no longer be worn. There is not enough material left to go round my middle. On the positive side, I can look down and say it’s all mine, bought and paid for and nobody can take it away. Except me. Unfortunately Mrs. D has informed me it’s diet time again.

She’s always on a diet. Every morning she steps on the scales; no coffee or breakfast is consumed and it has to be done before the shower to avoid the added weight of wet hair. It also has to be done after her morning business on the loo to ensure that there are no extra kilos hiding where they shouldn’t be. Invariably a wail is heard from the bathroom followed by an explanation of why it is all my fault.

As the tirade of blame fills my ears, all I can do is go to my “happy place” which incidentally has no milestones in it at all. It does have words though so let’s try a few more for the “Uxbridge English Dictionary” …

• Napkin – a sleeping relative;
• Barbeque – an orderly line of dolls;
• Antiquity – a relative who gives up a lot;
• History – a tall building;
• Milestone – a note from a jazz musician (think about it…).

Personally, I blame the Romans…