Let's think of this one as a public service announcement, m-kay?
A couple of weeks ago, my very good friend Scope reported on how he had made a splash in his alumni newsletter. The "splash", of course, is referring to his asking the lovely (and crimson-tressed) Cora to be his bride.
While this was stellar news for those of us who have borne witness to their courtship, the actual reporting was...less than stellar. Here is the news as it was delivered (bold-faced mine):
"I found out that sometime yesterday an alum proposed to the love of his life in Annie Merner Chapel."
Somewhere, a professor emeritus just felt a disturbance in the forti.
What this person meant to say was that they just learned that an alumnus proposed to the love of his life.
What that person said was that an aluminum sulphate salt proposed to the love of its life--presumably a potassium. That's a little chemistry humor for you. Don't worry, I won't quit my day job.
Alumnus is a Latin term used for a foster son. In English, we've applied it, rather broadly, to encompass any graduate of a college, university or high school. This makes sense, in that we refer to the school from which we graduated as our alma mater, which means our "kind, nourishing mother". In a sense, we are fostered out to this kind, nourishing mother, and the Latin familial extended metaphor comes full circle.
Of course, if Scope was a woman, he would be an alumna of his college. If there were two Scopes (gasp and swoon!), he would be alumni, and if he was two women, he would be alumnae.
Sober Careful readers will see that I simply changed the ending of the word and was able to convey four different meanings (two genders, single and plural for both). This is called a declension. A declension shows how the noun is used in a sentence. For instance, is it the subject of the sentence, the direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition...and so on.
In English, we don't decline our nouns very much. We change the endings in order to show number (such as boob, boobs) or possession (boob, boob's). Some nouns are irregular in their plural forms (goose, geese; moose, meese), but a good rule of thumb--in English--is that slapping an "s" on the end will form the plural.
About the only place where you can really see a change in our noun forms is in personal pronouns. For instance, in the sentences "I am dashingly handsome", "She gave me a handjob", "It cost my last twenty dollar bill", all of the pronouns are referring to the first person, but we change the words depending on their role in the sentence.
I won't go into the declension endings of all the nouns...because there are five different declensions and six major cases (along with a couple of other minor ones). Instead, let's just see a couple of examples in action, shall we? As always, all translations are in the hovertext of the pictures.
Pronounced: "Too-oose foon-doos pair-feck-toos est!"
Pronounced: "Foon-doom fore-mose-oom ah-moe."
Pronounced: "Noonk ip-soom, ab may-oh foon-doh too-oom mah-noom ah-moe-vair-aye."
In these examples, fundus (ass) changes form from fundus (nominative case, acting as the subject), to fundum (accusative case, acting as the direct object of the verb amo), and finally to fundo (ablative case, serving as the object of the preposition ab). With the noun endings telling you what role the word plays in the sentence, you don't have to be as precise with your word order as you do in English. This is why, most of the time, the verb ends a Latin phrase. Carpe diem! would be a very notable exception.
Have a great weekend, everybody. Go out and look at some nice fundis.