WHEN Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February he used Latin, giving a scoop to Giovanna Chirri, the only journalist present who understood his words. That was a timely reminder of Latin’s unlikely survival—and revival—as a living language. Radio Bremen, a German station, has broadcast a weekly news roundup called Nuntii Latini Septimanales since 2001. Finland’s YLE Radio 1 has run a similar show since 1989, with listeners in over 80 countries.
Twitter’s 140-character epigraphs and aphorisms are ideal for Latin: five words can often say more than ten English ones, notes David Butterfield, a Latinist at the University of Cambridge. Tweets also leave no room for troublesome long subordinate clauses. The Pontifex Latin account has gained 132,000 followers since Benedict XVI started it in January. It is run by the Vatican’s Office of Latin Letters—perhaps the only modern workplace where the language of Virgil is still the lingua franca.