Latin phrases

Most useful Latin phrases to know

So much of the English language comes directly or circuitously through Latin. And although it’s no longer actively spoken, per se, lingua Latina non mortua est! 😜

Rumours of Latin’s death have been greatly exaggerated. On the contrary — I consider many of these Latin phrases to be “mini mental models,” or solid mental model companions, at the very least. Knowing them is good brain food, because they’re liable to come in handy in a number of places.

They’re also helpful for anyone learning or wanting to learn a Romance language — because this family of languages is heavily based on Latin. You’ll recognize many of the word stems in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and so on as deriving from their Latin roots — and it’ll give you a clue as to the meaning even of unfamiliar words as you’re getting up to speed in your new tongue.

acta non verbaActions, not words.
ad hocSpontaneous; unplanned. Literally: "for this purpose"
ad hominemRhetorical strategy that ignores the substance of the argument itself and simply attacks the person who holds opposing views personally.
alea iacta estThe Die is Cast
alma materIdentifies the institution of higher learning one has attended.
a prioriBefore the fact
carpe diemSieze the day!
caveat emptorBuyer beware
cogito, ergo sumI think, therefore I am
Cui bono?"Good for whom," or "who benefits?" Similar to "follow the money"
cum laudeWith honors
deus ex machinaGod out of the machine; a plot device in fiction to magically solve an unsolvable problem.
Dulcet et decorum est pro patria MoriSweet and beautiful it is to die for one's country
et alet alia = "and others"
et ceteraAnd other similar things
ex nihilo nihil fitNothing comes from nothing
ex post factoretroactively
fama volatThe rumour has wings
festina lente"Hurry slowly" -- a paradoxical phrase imploring one to proceed quickly, but cautiously.
habeas corpus"I have the body" -- in legal terms, protection against unlawful imprisonment and indefinite detention
Inter arma enim silent legesIn times of war, the law is silent
in vino veritasIn wine there is truth
magna cum laudeWith high honors
mea culpaAdmission of a mistake or fault; "my bad."
modus operandiA particular way of doing something, typically long-established.
modus vivendiAn arrangement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully; more broadly, a way of life
nota beneNote well
per seThe thing in itself; a concept on its own for its own sake, as opposed to in connection with other things.
persona non grataSomeone who is unacceptable and unwelcome
post hocAfter the fact
post hoc, ergo propter hocA logical fallacy of the form "Y happened after X, therefore event Y must have been caused by X"
quid pro quoSomething for something else
semper fidelisAlways faithful
sic semper tyrannis"Thus always to tyrants!" said John Wilkes Booth as he shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head in 1865, 5 days after the end of the Civil War
status quoThe existing state of affairs
sui generisIn a class all by oneself; a unique element of its kind (Mozart, for example).
summa cum laudeWith highest honors
veni, vidi, vidiI came, I saw, I conquered
veritas odium paritTruth brings hatred