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Classical Home School Lesson: Did Romans Laugh?

Titvs Classics delivers the Latin word of the week along with questions to engage with your kids on how the word is used, what it means, and how it influences our English Language today. Sign up for our Newsletter today!

Ridiculus– laughable

This week’s word of the week is Ridiculus. It comes from the root word, Ridere meaning “to laugh” it means Laughable, funny, absurd.

It’s All Ridiculousness Here!

One of my favorite scenes in Harry Potter is when the students of Hogwarts are facing their fears and turning what they are afraid of into something funny and tame with the spell “Riddikulus”. JK Rowling turned to Latin for many of her spells in her popular Harry Potter series and this is no exception. (Maybe this is a practice we should practice today?)

In the 14th century, the English word ridyculouse meant “worthy of ridicule or contemptuous laughter”. Stemming from our Latin word of the week – Ridiculus. Over time the spelling shifted to our modern day Ridiculous. The meaning shifted over time by the 18th century it was used to mean “comical, amusingly absurd.” By the 1960’s the word had been adopted by jazz slang to mean “excellent” (That was Ridiculously good).

In modern day US use, Ridiculous can also be used in a synonymous manner with “outrageous”.

What did the Roman’s find Ridiculous?

An ancient book from the 4th century AD gives us a pretty good idea. The Philogelos (Laughter Lover) is a Roman book of Jokes. And while, we may not know why some of the jokes in the book are funny, we do learn that through these Roman jokes there are certain principals of comedy that stand the test of time.

These principles are: ambiguity, the unexpected, wordplay, understatement, irony, ridicule, silliness and pratfalls

One such joke found in the Philogelos is “An idiot is returning home from a foreign trip, and is absolutely amazed to find himself climbing a steep hill. “When I first came this way,” he says to himself, “it was a nice downhill stroll. How can it have transformed into such a steep climb on my way back?”

Most jokes from the Philogelos aren’t for children. But they do share certain similarities with some of our more adult jokers today…

Check out our coloring books for more Latin fun!

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