18 September, 2008


A classical education is much to be missed. There was a time when all students lucky enough to go to secondary school received a classical education. Not, perhaps, classical in the sense of the Academy of Plato. Classical in the sense that twentieth century teachers understood it. Now, with students leaving secondary school barely able to read or write a grammatical sentence, it is unlikely that there are many persons under fifty years of age today who even know what a classical education was all about.

So, when a friend rang me with a statement that she had overheard, I was not surprised by what she related. The conversation had been between two of the ladies who hang out at the entrance to the post office in The Valley. One of them had said, “Don is just a pontifier. All he does is talk. If he really wants to help, why does he not do something about it. He could form a trade union and help the poor workers of Anguilla to get organised.” My friend asked me, “What do you make of that?”

There was only one answer that anyone of my generation could give, “The correct word is ‘pontificate’.

There is, as every West Indian school boy of the 1950s knows, no such word as ‘pontifier’”. The word ‘pontiff’ comes from the Latin word ‘pontifex’. That word ‘pontifex’ is itself a portmanteau word. It is made up from the two Latin words, ‘puntis’ or propitiatory offering, and ‘facere’ meaning ‘to make’. Literally the word ‘pontifex’ means ‘maker of offerings to the gods’. In Roman antiquity, the title was given to the principal college of the priests of Rome. Its head was the ‘Pontiff Maximus’.

By 1580, the word ‘pontiff’ enters the English language as a title conferred on the Bishop of Rome. He carries this title to this day. More to the point of this little post, by the year 1820 we see the verb ‘pontificate’ being used in its modern sense. It means to act the pontiff, to assume the airs of a pontiff, to issue dogmatic decrees.

'Res ipsa loquitur', as the lawyers of today would say.


  1. As your post indicates, language evolves over time. The "Tower of Babble" is not necessary to make different languages, just separate some people for a long time and their language will drift. Clearly "pontifier" means a person who pontificates. The word already shows up in some dictionaries. It is a legit French word and sometimes words move between languages. With some more time, it might be in all the English dictionaries.

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pontifier http://fr.thefreedictionary.com/pontifier

    Perhaps your whole post was in jest, just acting the part of a pontifier?

  2. to comment 1:cute ! but my college professor always says:"wikipedia cannot be used as reference!"

  3. Here's a word just for you Don ;)


    This means someone who offers up information that annoys the Gods.

    Keep up the good work on your blog.

  4. Investigate how much money the Social Security has lost over the past 6 months on its investments through Smith Barney on the US stocks.
    Investigate the decision making process with respect to the investment of Social Security Funds, including who were responsible for the decisions, and through what institution those investments were made. Investigate whether there was/is any commonality of persannelwith these institutions, including the decision makers on Social Security Fund investments. Go back at least 5 years, and let the Public know the status of their monies entrusted to the Social Securitry Board.

  5. >but my college professor always says:"wikipedia cannot be used as reference!"

    Then he is a pontifier too.

    Wikipedia should be the first source you go to, just not the only one.

  6. The Academie francaise decides what words are officially in or out of the French language. Thankfully, English is free and open. We can use whatever words we want, official or not. English adapts faster and has far more words.


  7. I, too, have looked at the Smith Barney investments and the relationship between Social Security and NBA. But unlike the NICA mess, I don't see the smoking gun, or any conflict of interest that more than just technical.

    I'm not defending them. I know these people and I don't believe some of them have the people of Anguilla at heart.

    I'd like to suggest that the above poster writes further about what he or she knows. This is a serious manner. The people of Anguilla deserve to know the truth. Let's not involve Don in a guessing game. This is the place to say what we know.


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