Is Latin Dead? No Way! – 50 words/phrases, etc.  Latin Words and Phrases

Some surveys suggest that 15%-30% of the origin of our English words stem from Latin words. You might have heard some. Maybe, used some. Here are 50 of what I would deem some of the more common words/phrases in the English language with Latin origin. Learning a few of these will help you understand more of the English language.

  1. A contrario means from the opposite - For example, a boss might say, “A contrario, this is what I expected” when you do the opposite. Or if someone disagrees with your point of view in an argument, they can say, “A contrario, this is what I think should happen.”
  2. Ad eundem means to the same - For example, is someone is given an ad eundem degree, it is a courtesy degree awarded by one university or college to an alumnus of another. It is not an honorary degree, but recognition of the formal learning that earned the degree at another college.
  3. Ad hoc means to this or for this - For example, an ad hoc committee is formed for a specific, immediate purpose.
  4. Ad honorem means to the honor and not seeking any material reward - For example, if you do something ad honorem, you do it for free without payment. Maybe you advise a company or help obtain some grant money, then your services are ad honorem if you offer them without pay.
  5. Ad nauseam means to the degree of seasickness - You could say someone gives speeches ad nauseam or the meeting went on and on, ad nauseam.  Both of these situations would imply that you were getting sick of the speeches or the meeting and that you actually wished you were elsewhere.
  6. Addendum means thing to be added; plural addenda - For example, an addendum to a book is something that is added like a supplement to the book.  If you look at reference books, they often have an addendum at the book or in another volume. The addendum might include more up-to-date information.
  7. Affidavit means a sworn statement in writing - If the judge took your affidavit then that means that you agreed and admitted that your words were the truth. You signed your name attesting to the fact that the account was true.
  8. Agenda means things to be done - For example, there is an agenda for a well-organized meeting; you have an agenda for the day at work; there is a hidden agenda behind the boss’ actions.
  9. Alias means otherwise called ; an assumed or additional name - If someone uses another name, then he/she has an alias. For example, the bank robber Mr. John Smith went by the alias Mr. Harvey Jones.
  10. Alibi means  to make an excuse for - You probably have heard this word on any number of detective shows or if you follow any court hearings in the news. If someone has an alibi, then it means there is evidence suggesting that person was somewhere at a certain place in time. An alibi is very important so it does not put you at the scene of the crime.
  11. Alma mater means nourishing mother - This term is used for the school that you have attended.  If someone asks you what your alma mater is, then you know they are interested in learning where you went to school. It is often referred to higher education institutions, but it can also be applied to elementary and secondary schools.
  12. Alter ego means another I, another self, a second persona or alias - If you say that you listened to your alter ego, then this expression refers to a different character that is within your personality. The term is often used as a fictional character’s secret identity. Maybe you have seen an alter ego in a comic strip or movie character.
  13. Alumnus or alumna means pupil, a graduate or former student of a school, college or university - If you are the alumnus of a certain university, then you attended or graduated from that university.
  14. Aqua means water - There are many English words that begin with aqua:  aquaculture, aquamarine, aquanaut, aquaplane, aquarium, aquatic, aquavit, aqueduct, etc.  Knowing that aqua means water helps you to understand that these words pertain to “water”.
  15. Aurora Borealis means northern lights - The Aurora Borealis appear in the Northern Hemisphere.  Maybe you have seen them.
  16. Ante bellum means before the war - If something is status quo ante bellum, it means that it is as it was before the war.  This is a common expression used in the South in the US to refer to that time period in history.
  17. Bona fide means in good faith, well intentions, fairly; in modern context it means genuinely, sincerely - So if the deal between the two companies was bona fide, then it means the deal was done in good faith.
  18. Carpe diem means to seize the day - Someone might greet you with this expression which means enjoy the present and do all you want to do without concern or stress for the future.  It means to live your life!
  19. Circa means around, approximately, about; usually used of a date - You might have seen this written on a plaque on a building. This is a good estimate when the building was made. For example, The Johnson family, circa 1780 means the Johnson family has lived in this home or has built this home since around 1780.
  20. Cum laude means with praise - If someone graduates cum laude, it means they graduate with honors. (See magna cum laude and summa cum laude for academic honors of a greater degree).
  21. Curriculum vitae means course of life - If you are asked to send a curriculum vitae along with a job application, then you need to prepare a detailed resume of your life including your educational background, work experience and qualifications similar to a resume.
  22. De facto means by deed, referring to the way things really are rather than what is officially presented as the fact (de jure) - Maybe there is a dress code at work that is outlined in the company handbook, but it is accepted that people follow these rules loosely. So if a new employee asks why you are not wearing a tie, you can say the dress code is de facto.
  23. De jure means by law; official; in principle; in contrast with de facto - If you say that the lawyer was reading the will and summarizing the intent of the deceased, you could say that he was administering the will de jure.
  24. E pluribus unum means out of many, one - This expression is used on many US coins and it is inscribed on the Capitol in Washington, D.C.  In these cases, it means there are many people, but through unity they are one body/one nation. It is the motto suggested by a committee appointed by Congress to design a seal for the US. The motto includes 6 symbols for the countries in which the majority of American colonists came from to include England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland and Germany.
  25. Et cetera means and the rest; abbreviated etc. - When this is written in a sentence, it means there are other things. For example, if you are sent an email telling you that for the meeting you need to bring your notes, a computer, the company handbook, etc.  This implies there are other essential things you need to bring to the meeting like a pen, paper, power cord, phone and even more items.
  26. Et tu, Brute? means And you, Brutus? - Also "Even you, Brutus?" or "You too, Brutus?" is used to indicate a betrayal by someone close.  In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Caesar says these dying words.
  27. Ex officio means from the office or by right of office - This means that someone holds one position by virtue of another. A real life example of this is that the President of France is an ex office Co-Prince of Andorra.
  28. Excelsior means higher or ever upward - There are many cities and colleges that use this word to mean something of value or something to aspire towards. The state of New York has Excelsior as its motto. Some people use the word as an interjection.  If someone says, Excelsior! Then it means move onward, let’s do better, etc.
  29. Fac simile  means make a similar thing - Today we use the word to mean exactly the same thing or a fax which means the same thing. For example, you might have to send a report to someone and they might say you can send the report signed a certain way or a facsimile of it. They might say you can send it my mail, online or fax it.
  30. Habeas corpus means you should have the body - This term refers to a number of legal writs (i.e. legal orders in writing) to bring a person before a court or judge.  It is commonly used as a term for a prisoner’s legal rights to challenge the legality of the decision.
  31. Magna Carta is the Great Charter - The Magna Carta is the set of documents from 1215 between Pope Innocent III, King John of England, and English barons.  It was used as a basis of the US Constitution and for other countries’ constitutions around the globe
  32. Magna cum laude means with great praise - This is an honor given upon graduation. Magna cum laude is above cum laude and below summa cum laude.
  33. Onus probandi  means burden of proof - If you are in court and you are the prosecutor then you need to prove that something or someone did something. The onus probandi is on you.  It is your burden of proof to state the facts of what happened to try to convince the jurors that the intended is indeed guilty.
  34. Pax aeterna means eternal peace - You might notice this phrase written on gravestones as it is a common epitaph to wish someone to rest in peace.
  35. Per se means through itself, by itself or in itself, alone, fundamentally, independently, solely, virtually - If you use the phrase it would mean that it refers to the exact thing you are saying.  For example, if a principal says that he/she is not opposed to testing per se, that would mean that testing is okay. If a region is not opposed to the new mining company per se, then they approve of the mining company.
  36. Post mortem  means after death - If something happens post mortem, then it happens after someone or something dies.
  37. Post scriptum (P.S.) means after what has been written - You might have seen the letters P.S. at the end of a letter.  This is the postscript. It is used to mark additions to a letter after you sign the letter. Maybe you forgot to say something or maybe you saved something very important to emphasize later.
  38. Pro bono public means for the public good - This expression is often used with public service.  For example, if a lawyer represents you pro bono, then you do not need to pay.  The work is not charged.  A lawyer might do this for any number of reasons. You might not have the money, your cause might be a good cause, or it might just be something very important to fight.
  39. Quorum means of whom - This term refers to the number of members whose presence is required under the rules to make any given meeting constitutional. A quorum is stipulated by an organization and there can be no voting on issues unless a certain number of people are present.
  40. Sic means thus of, just so - You might see these letters written in a bracket like this [sic] in a newspaper or other print. They represent that the preceding quoted material appears exactly that way in the source despite errors of grammar, spelling, etc. Maybe a younger child is quoted or someone who is not literate or speaks very casually, then certain letters or language is used incorrectly. Using the letters sic in brackets alerts you that the writer knows there is an error, but leaves it that way to reflect a direct quote.
  41. Summa cum  laude  means with the highest praise - Someone who is given the distinction summa cum laude graduates with the highest honors, above magna cum laude and cum laude.
  42. Tempus fugit  means time flees - This expression is commonly mistranslated as “time flies”.   Regardless, it means that time is going quickly. When a trip or vacation is nearly over, you might say these words.
  43. Terra nova means new land - When new land was discovered or gained, it was said to be terra nova.  Today you might hear the word terra used in any number of ways related to land. The same goes for nova meaning new.  There is terrace, terra cotta, terra firma, terrain, terra incognita, terrapin, and terrarium.  There is novel, novelette, novelize, novella and novelty.
  44. Verbatim means word for word - If you repeat the directions of your boss exactly as he stated them, then you say the directions verbatim.
  45. Veto means I forbid - When a president or chairman vetoes something, he/she stops it from happening. You might also hear the expression that so and so had veto power.  That means he/she had the power to stop the vote and to rule over what the others voted for
  46. Via means  by the road, by way of, or by means of - For example, I will contact you via email.
  47. Vice means in place of - When someone acts in place of someone else the word vice is appropriately used like in the examples:  Vice-Principal, Vice-Chancellor or Vice-President.
  1. Vice versa means with the position turned, thus “the other way around”, “conversely” - This expression is used to show that the first thing can be second and the second can be first; it is either or. For example, you need to do the company report and the marketing plan.  If someone says, to do the report and then the marketing plan or vice versa, it means to do the report and then the plan or the plan and then the report.
  2. Versa vice means for other uses, the other way around, conversely, etc. - This expression is the opposite of the above. So if we use the same example and your boss informs you that you need to do the company report and the marketing plan and versa vice, it means you can do the marketing plan and then the report.  It does not matter the order you do them.
  3. Vide means to see or to refer to - “Vide” is found in other English words like videlicet, video, videocassette, videodisc, video game, videophone, videotape, and videotext.   Perhaps you will be reminded of the Latin word vide the next time you use one of these words.

There you have it…50 words stemming from Latin.  In the next post, I plan to share some words that originated from Greek. Here’s hoping you use a word or two in your daily conversation. Write to me and let me know how that worked out. Until then, Carpe Diem

CarpeDiem in the sand

Posts you may also like