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.
actio libera in causaActio libera in causa (frequently abbreviated as a.l.i.c., Latin for "action free in its cause") is a law principle in a typical Western law system (both common law and civil law). The doctrine means that even if the person was not free to choose the course of action while performing an offence, he can still be held responsible for it if he voluntarily created a condition ("cause") for the offending action.
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.
ad infinitimTo infinity; endlessly; without limit.
ad nauseumTo the point of nausea or sickness.
age quod agis"Do what you are doing"
alea iacta estThe Die is Cast
alibiElsewhere; an excuse that shows someone was not at a crime scene.
alma materIdentifies the institution of higher learning one has attended.
a prioriBefore the fact
bona fideIn good faith; genuine.
carpe diemSieze the day!
caveat emptorBuyer beware
circaAround; approximately
cogito, ergo sumI think, therefore I am
Cui bono?"Good for whom," or "who benefits?" Similar to "follow the money"
cum laudeWith honors
de factoIn fact; reality.
deus ex machinaGod out of the machine; a plot device in fiction to magically solve an unsolvable problem.
de jureBy law; by right.
Dulcet et decorum est pro patria MoriSweet and beautiful it is to die for one's country
esse quam videriTo be rather than to merely seem
et alet alia = "and others"
et ceteraAnd other similar things; the rest, and so forth.
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
id estThat is; in other words.
in media resInto the middle of things.
Inter arma enim silent legesIn times of war, the law is silent
in totoIn total; entirely.
in vino veritasIn wine there is truth
ipso factoBy the fact itself.
lex majoris partisWill of the majority
magna cum laudeWith high honors
magnum opusOne's chief body of work.
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
nolle prosequi"Will no longer prosecute," used when a prosecutor decides to discontinue pursuing a case
non sequiturIt doesn't follow; an illogical statement.
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"
post mortemAfter death.
prima inter pares"First among equals;" an unofficial leader with authority and influence within the group
pro bonoDone for the good; work done without charge to help others.
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
tabula rasaA blank slate; ability to start fresh
terra firmaSolid ground.
terra incognitaUnknown territory; an unfamiliar environment
ultra viresOutside the law
veni, vidi, vidiI came, I saw, I conquered
verbatimWord for word
veritas odium paritTruth brings hatred
vetoI forbid; the power to unilaterally stop.

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