Grinchus comes to Carolina

If Dr. Seuss had ever hosted a public reading on the streets of ancient Rome, it might have sounded a bit like this: “Praedis omnibus sic raptis, ligna in foco posita ad postremum abstulit.” The assembled Romans might not have fully appreciated hearing “the last thing he took was the log from the fire,” but the phrase brings joy to the Carolina campus community each December. A bilingual reading of Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – in English and Latin – has been a campus tradition since 1999.

“Latin’s been taught differently from other languages and people think of it as boring, and hard, and dead and you can’t do anything with it,” says George Morgan, a textbook buyer at UNC Student Stores who helps organize the bilingual reading every year. “If you can speak it, you actually can do something with it.”

With an audience gathered around him in the Bulls Head Bookshop, Morgan reads the Latin edition of the book in an alternating pattern with Tom Stumpf, a professor emeritus of English, who handles the English edition of the text.

“We read the whole thing and we take breaks,” Stumpf says. “Each of us reads about one-third at a time. English starts, then Latin.” The illustrated scenes of the book are shown on a projection screen to help non-Latin-speaking members of the audience keep pace.

“The Latin is a lot longer than the English but it’s also very mellifluous so people like the sound of it,” Morgan says. That group includes Carolina students like Celia Bettinsoli.

“I’m currently enrolled in Latin class and took it all through high school,” says Bettinsoli, a sophomore. “Growing up, you hear it in English all the time and so you’re used to hearing it spoken over and over again and then to get it in Latin is a different experience.”

Creating those new experiences with an ancient language is one goal of the annual book reading, but the main purpose of this event is sharing holiday cheer during a potentially stressful time on campus.

“It’s ideal because the students are just finishing their semester,” Stumpf says. “They’re kind of haggard and tired with lots to do and it’s a nice break for them and a reminder of when they were younger, a reminder of home.”

This year’s reading of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in English and Latin will take place at 4 p.m. on Tuesday (Dec. 3) at the Bull’s Head Bookshop on campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Story and video by Rob Holliday of UNC News Services.

Published November 27, 2013.