...that you were pronouncing the word caesar 'incorrectly'.
We, at Versus History, must have taught Roman history - in one form or another - for a significant part of our careers. In the main, Roman history is delivered to the younger among our students and, if they remember little else (hopefully they remember substantially more than that) they remember the title and name ‘Caesar’. Now, I must have said the word ‘Caesar’ thousands of times over the span of my talking life but, I am rather embarrassed to say, it is only in recent years (perhaps the last seven) that I have pronounced it ‘correctly’.
Although the meaning of Gaius Julius’ cognomen (nickname, if you like) - Caesar - is debated (it either meant that he was ‘hairy’, born of a Caesarean section - ‘cut’, had ‘grey’ eyes, or killed an ‘elephant’!), what is universally agreed upon is the way it was pronounced: with a hard ‘c’ sound. As in ‘k’.
For hundreds of years - up until 1066, in fact - English-speaking peoples pronounced the word ‘K-eye-ser’. It was the influence of the French language on English (after the Norman Conquest) which softened the ‘c’ of Caesar to the pronunciation we generally use today. Nevertheless, the original hard ‘k’ sound of the Latinate word spread and mutated via the Danes and the Germans, to the point where the English language once again incorporated ‘Kaiser’ to mean German ruler.
Having said all of this, language does become correct by usage, so maybe I shouldn’t feel too guilty about pronouncing the original ‘K-eye-ser’ as ‘Seezer’.
Dr Elliott L. Watson
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