Calvert Watkins

Today, about five weeks after the fact, I learned of the death of Dr. Calvert Watkins.

I was very privileged to have taken several classes and seminars with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s at Harvard — and my Linguistics 101 class and Sanskrit class were taught by his wife, Dr. Stephanie Jamison. But I first “knew” him, of course, as the editor of the enthralling Indo-European roots appendix to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, which I discovered in 8th or 9th grade.

I always felt I was a bit of a disappointment to him; nonetheless, I can’t say how much I appreciate his prodigious knowledge, his quick wit, his gentle guidance.

Of his many stories, I think my favorite was of a seminar he’d gone to in Eastern Europe in the ’60s or ’70s — in Budapest maybe, or Prague — and it was led, I think, by Jakob Jakobsen. Jakobsen asked the participants which of several languages they preferred the seminar be conducted in. No one cared!

I haven’t seen him in 15 years; nonetheless, I’ll miss him.