~ Posted by Robert Butler, February 11th 2013

It looked like it might be a quiet day for Giovanna Chirri, the Vatican correspondent for the Italian news agency ANSA. The main story was going to be the beatification of three Italian saints. But during that service she heard Pope Benedict XVI announce his retirementin Latin. 

The reason he gave was ingravescente aetate, which the Vatican press releasehanded out latertranslated as "due to an advanced age". Type the phrase into Google Translate and it gives "the increasing burden of age", which does a better job at conveying the sense of weight implicit in the first of the two words.

But Ms Chirri didn't have to turn to either the Vatican press office or Google Translate. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

While other journalists scrambled to understand the Pope’s words, Ms. Chirri, who understands Latin and has covered the Vatican for 15 years, immediately phoned her editors to call in the flash, thus scooping the rest of the Vatican press corps on the shocking news.

On her Twitter account, Ms Chirri tweeted: "When #Pope announced he was resigning, I felt weak at the knees." She added, modestly: "The #Pope's Latin is very easy to understand."

In our series on which is the best language to learnsix authors argued the case for a language. Five were languages that are spoken today, the sixth was Latin. Intelligent Life's editor, Tim de Lisle, wrote: "I studied Latin for 15 years, and this may well be the first time it has been of direct use." But he went on to say that Latin has been "of indirect use every day of my career." For one journalist, now, it has been of very direct use.

Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life