The Roman Invasion(s)
Before you started reading this chapter, you may have thought that Latin existed in English only in phrases like carpe diem and habeas corpus. There are many little phrases and abbreviations like that, but Latin's contribution to our language is far more than legal terms and mottos. In fact, Latin crashed on the shores of England in three successive waves.
The Romans were in Britain for a few centuries, but not too many Latin words survived into English from that time. Julius Caesar made a couple of visits there in 55 and 54 B.C.E., but it wasn't until Claudius annexed it as a province in the 40s C.E. that there was a constant Roman presence. Latin was a very foreign language to them. Much of the contact between the two peoples came at Roman military camps (castra) and plantations (villae). Locals came to trade so frequently with these newcomers that towns grew up beside the Roman establishments. These settlements by locals often distinguished themselves by having names ending in — chester or -ville. One of the best things the Romans brought to Britain was a fermented grape juice they called vinum (WEE-noom). Since when the Romans talked the ends of words kept changing, the Brits just called it wine. Latin words coming into English at this time were usually only heard and not written, so they often went through some strange shifts in pronunciation and spelling.
The people of Britain at that time spoke various Celtic languages. During the Roman years, no form of English was spoken in Britain. The Anglo-Saxons began taking over the island as the Romans were pulling out late in the fifth century.
The Norman Invasion
In 1066, William the Conqueror of Normandy invaded England. The result was an aristocracy, who spoke a form of very late Latin/ early French, ruling natives who spoke English. In order for the two to communicate, the peasants had to pick up a whole lot of French words. The English language virtually doubled its vocabulary, but with two class levels. What the commoners called a cow, the aristocracy called a boeuf. Since the upper classes never dealt with steak on the hoof, only cow on the plate, the barnyard animal stayed a “cow” while the meat became “beef.” Latin words that came into English in this wave had already aged a bit and arrived slightly Frenchified. For example, the Modern English word “receipt” came from the Norman French receite, which came from the Latin recepta — something you get back.
From the Renaissance to Today
Starting around the year 1300, new thoughts, new art, and new sciences needed new words. At that time Latin was the universal language in Europe among scholars and writers. It had become the old standby. Whether you were in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, or England, Latin was always Latin. When new words needed to be created, people could turn to Latin (and sometimes Greek) to make new ones up that everyone, regardless of their everyday language, could understand. We still go back to Latin to get bases, suffixes, and prefixes to create words for things that never existed before. Take “television” for example. The tele — part is from Greek, meaning “far,” while the —vision part is from Latin, meaning “seeing.” People are still dipping back into Latin to make new words even as you read this!
English derivatives from Latin are often very handy in learning Latin vocabulary, but don't rely on them exclusively. There are words whose meanings have shifted a little, with the result that they don't look like what they have come to mean. For example, the English word “invention” was made from the Latin inventiō, which is related to the Latin verb inveniō. Inveniō looks like it means “come in,” but it really means “find” or “come upon.”