77 Latin Words, Abbreviations, and Expressions That You Should Know

11

Who says Latin is a dead language? It’s true that no country speaks Latin anymore, but thousands of English words have Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes. More than that, Latin words, expressions, and abbreviations are part of everyday English, particularly in the areas of law and business. Below I’ve listed 77 examples of Latin terms every English speaker should become familiar with.

Latin Word/Phrase

Literal Translation

Definition

Sample Sentence

a priori from the former Supposed to be true without proof; occurring or being known beforehand. We know a priori that matter exists; the question is–how did it come into being?
ad hoc to this Improvised on the spot or for a specific, immediate purpose. The committee was formed ad hoc to address increasing crime in the neighborhood.
ad hominem to/at the man A logical fallacy in which the person rather than his argument is attacked. Ad hominem attack ads are all too common during campaign season.
ad infinitum to infinity Going on forever. Because pi is an irrational number, the digits after the decimal continue ad infinitum.
ad nauseam to the point of disgust Alternative to ad infinitum; repeating until it makes one sick. Tom complained ad nauseam about his new job.
alibi elsewhere A legal defense where a defendant seeks to show that he was elsewhere when the crime was committed. The defendant had clear motive, but his alibi was airtight, so the jury declared him not guilty.
alma mater nourishing mother The school or university from which one graduates. Dad returns to his alma mater every few years for his class reunion.
alter ego another I Another self; secret identity. Spiderman’s famous alter ego is wimpy news photographer Peter Parker.
antebellum before the war Usually refers to the period before the American Civil War. Even in northern states racism was common during the antebellum period.
aurora borealis northern lights A natural light display visible in the night time sky in Arctic regions; the same phenomena in the south is known as the aurora australis. Even after twenty years of living in northern Alaska, Carol never ceased to be astonished by the sudden beauty of the aurora borealis.
Ave Maria Hail, Mary Catholic prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. My devout sister prays the Ave Maria every night before bed.
bona fide good faith Coming from sincere intentions; genuine, true. The painting is a bona fide Renoir.
caveat emptor let the buyer beware The purchaser is responsible for evaluating the quality and utility of the goods he purchases. The sign over the entrance of the used car dealership – caveat emptor – did not give me confidence.
coram deo in the presence of god The theological idea that we live ever in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God. We are never really alone, because all of life is lived coram deo.
corpus body Contents; or collection of works by an author or artist; a particular collection of artistic works. The corpus of William Shakespeare includes dramatic tragedies, comedies, and histories.
cum laude with honor A title applied to academic graduates who attain to a level of excellence. Students can also graduate magna cum laude (with great honor) or summa cum laude (with highest honor). Sarah is naturally smart, but it was her dedication to academic study that caused her to graduate summa cum laude.
curriculum vitae course of life A comprehensive resume listing educational and employment history and qualifications for job seekers. It’s a good idea to present your prospective employer with a copy of your curriculum vitae at the start of a job interview.
de facto in fact Actually; in reality. The intention of the new law is good, but de facto, it just doesn’t work.
de jure by law According to law; by right. De jure, adultery is illegal in many states, but the laws are never enforced.
deus ex machina God from the machine An unexpected, artificial, or improbable resolution to a plot situation in a work of fiction. The action movie was entertaining, but the ending was an unconvincing deus ex machina.
emeritus having served one’s time An adjective used to denote a retired professor, president, bishop, or other professional; post-retirement status. Today’s speaker is Dr. Ruth Fisher, professor emeritus at Stanford University.
ex libris from the books A phrase often stamped or printed on books to denote ownership; “from the library of.” I am happy to lend my books, but I stamp them “ex libris Tony Danza” so I can get them back.
ex nihilo out of nothing Usually refers to divine creation and the idea that God made the world out of nothing, with no preexisting tools or materials. All men are by nature creative, but only God creates ex nihilo.
ex post facto from a thing done afterward Usually  used in a legal context, ex post facto refers to a law that is retroactive, that applies to actions taken prior to the existence of the law. The new law will not apply to previous violators because it cannot be applied ex post facto.
habeas corpus have the body A writ ordering a person to appear before a judge, or the right to obtain such a writ as protection against imprisonment without trial. Terrorism suspects often have no right to habeas corpus and can be held indefinitely without trial.
homo sapien wise man Human; the scientific name for the human species. There is some question about whether or not the fossilized skeleton is homo sapien.
in loco parentis in place of a parent In legal terms, assuming the authority and responsibilities of a parent. While at school, your teachers serve in loco parentis.
in medias res in the middle of things A literary technique where the telling of the story begins in the middle rather than at the beginning. Epic poems often begin in medias res and explain the earlier parts of the story via dialogue.
in toto in total Completely; totally, all together. Even though lots of things went wrong, in toto, the event was a success.
in vitro in glass Refers to studies done on organisms isolated from their normal biological surroundings; commonly called test tube studies or experiments.
ipso facto by the fact itself As a direct consequence or effect of the action in question; in and of itself. Steve was swerving and driving too slow; ipso facto, he was pulled over and tested for driving under the influence.
magnum opus great work The largest, best, or greatest achievement of an artist. His ninth symphony is considered Beethoven’s magnum opus.
mea culpa my fault My mistake; my fault; an admission of guilt or responsibility. The football player made a televised  mea culpa after his disgraceful public behavior.
non sequiter it does not follow A logical fallacy where the conclusion does not reasonably follow from the premise; or, in literature, an irrelevant, often humorous response to a comment. Overall, your argument is convincing, but your point about public education was a non-sequiter.
Pax Romana roman peace A period in history, during the dominance of the Roman empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, when relative peace reigned and little expansion of the Empire took place. Christianity spread rapidly during the Pax Romana.
per capita by heads Per person; a ratio by the number of persons. Each year, Americans eat about 135 pounds of sugar per capita.
per diem per day A daily allowance for expenses. On my trip to Philadelphia, the company gave me a $100 per diem.
per se through itself In itself; by itself; without reference to anything else. Eating salt isn’t bad per se, but consuming too much carries various health risks.
persona non grata not-pleasing person An unwelcome, unwanted, or undesirable person. After I broke Aunt Wilma’s antique vase, I was persona non-grata at the Thomas home.
postmortem after death After death. Officials determined the death was accidental after a postmortem examination.
prima facie at first sight Often refers to evidence in a trial that suggests but does not prove guilt. Even though the prima facie evidence was strong, the defendant’s innocence became clear as the trial wore on.
pro bono for good Work undertaken voluntarily without compensation. The lawyer was so moved by the plight of the workers, he defended their case pro bono.
pro rata for the rate Proportionately or proportional. Extra nights at the hotel are charged pro rata of the weekly rental.
quid pro quo what for what This for that; a thing for a thing; a favor exchanged for favor. After I picked him up at the airport, Larry took me to lunch as a quid pro quo.
quorum of whom The number of members whose presence is required. Only ten board members showed up, leaving them two short of a quorum.
re by the thing In the matter of; referring to; regarding. Is this phone call re the recent estate auction?
rigor mortis stiffness of death The rigidity that sets in on corpses about three to four hours after death. The police had a hard time removing the briefcase from the victim’s grasp, rigor mortis having set in.
semper fideles always faithful The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps; sometimes abbreviated semper fi. My uncle, the retired Marine sergeant, has “semper fideles” tattooed on his arm.
sic thus Just so; used to indicate that a preceding quotation is copied exactly, despite any errors of spelling, grammar, or fact. The student wrote “the communists were probly right about some things [sic].”
sola fide faith alone One of the “Five Solas” of the Protestant Reformation that summarize the theology of the reformers. The others are sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), solo Christo (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). An important tenet of Protestantism is the idea of sola fide – that salvation is attained by faith, not works.
status quo the situation in which The current condition or situation; the way things are. The protestors were unhappy about the status quo.
subpoena under penalty A request, usually by a court, that must be complied with on pain of punishment. The officer issued me a subpoena to appear in court in June.
tabula rasa scraped tablet A blank slate; a clean slate; used figuratively to describe the human mind prior to influential experience. The idea of original sin is at odds with the notion that babies are born with a moral tabula rasa.
terra firma solid land Solid ground. After eight days at sea, I couldn’t wait to set foot on terra firma.
verbatim word for word Perfect transcription or quotation. I’m sorry it offends you, but that’s what he said verbatim.
veto I forbid The political power to single-handedly stop or make void a law. The bill passed by a slim margin, but the President is likely to veto it.
vice versa the other way around The other way around. Tom is in love with Lorraine and vice versa.
vox populi voice of the people In broadcasting, an unscripted interview with ordinary members of the public. After the controversial trial, networks broadcast numerous vox populi interviews.

Common Abbreviations

A.D. (Anno Domini) in the Year of the Lord The predominantly used system for dating, indicating years since the birth of Jesus Christ. Years prior to the birth of Christ are normally indicated by BC, an English abbreviation for Before Christ. The Battle of Hastings took place in A.D. 1066.
AM (ante meridiem) before midday Indicates the time from midnight to noon. Normally, I awake at 6 AM.
e.g.(exempli gratia) for the sake of example For example. My favorite movies are Westerns (e.g., High Noon, True Grit, Unforgiven)
et al. (et alii) and others Similar to et cetera, to stand for a list of names, particularly in APA and MLA style papers. Defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy – David Beckham, Landon Donovan et al. – in the 2009 MLS Cup final proved possible.
etc. (et cetera) and the rest And so on; and more. Sylvia purchased pots, pans, utensils, etc. for her new kitchen.
i.e. (id est) that is That is to say; which means; in other words. Jim encountered Victor, (i.e, his new boss) in the elevator that morning.
ibid. (ibidem) in the same place Used in formal citations to refer to the last referenced source.
  1. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 471.

Ibid.

m.o. (modus operandi) method of operating Usually associated with criminals and their methods of committing crimes. The police suspected Harry Harrison because the crime fit his m.o. perfectly.
PM (post meridiem) after midday The time between noon and midnight. I will meet you for coffee at 2 PM.
p.s. (post scriptum) after text After writing; used to indicated addendums to otherwise completed personal letters. Sincerely,George

p.s., Don’t forget to feed the parrot.

Q.E.D. (quod erat demonstrandum) what was to be demonstrated Often written at the bottom of a mathematical or logical proof, indicating that the proof is complete. “No snakes have legs. That creature has legs. Therefore, the creature is not a snake. Q.E.D.”
R.I.P. (requiescat in pace) rest in peace A benediction for the dead often appearing on gravestones. Inscribed on his tombstone were the simple words, “Henry Humble, R.I.P.”
vs. or v. (versus) towards; in the direction Mistakenly used in English to mean “against,” particularly to indicate opposing parties in legal disputes or athletic events. Today’s main event is Wally Wilson vs. Tony “The Tiger” Thomson.

Quotes and Sayings

carpe diem seize the day A phrase from a poem by Horace, now an aphorism meaning, “take advantage of life while you can.” The closer I get to old age, the more I realize how important it is to live life with a carpe diem approach.
Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore, I am The famous philosophical proposition by René Descartes. It implies that doubting one’s own existence proves one’s existence. Cogito ergo sum is the foundation of Cartesian thought.
Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered A sentence attributed to Julius Caesar upon his conquest of Britain. Quoted by Plutarch. When asked about his recent victory at the U.S. Open, Johns replied, “Veni, vidi, vici!”
e pluribus unum out of many, one A phrase on the Seal of the United States. Many U.S. coins pay tribute to the melting pot history of the country with the phrase e pluribus unum.
et tu, Brute? and you also, Brutus? Legendarily the last words of Julius Caesar as he realizes that his friend Marcus Brutus was among his murderers. After I joined in the teasing, my brother looked at me with a mock-tragic grin and said, “Et tu, Brute?”
sic semper tyrannis thus always to tyrants Sometimes attributed to Brutus as he participated in the assassination of Julius Caesar. John Wilkes Booth claimed to have shouted this phrase after shooting Abraham Lincoln. The motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The historic American resistance to dictatorship is expressed in the common phrase, sic semper tyrannis.

*****

Please leave your comments and questions below!

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. LJMendez
    LJMendez04-30-2016

    Excellent website…. glad to see that Latin is still alive to many people…..

    • LatinH8ter778
      LatinH8ter77812-11-2016

      LATIN IS DEAD !!!

      • Bob jones
        Bob jones12-26-2016

        Your input is not welcome here

      • Sheridan Smith
        Sheridan Smith02-14-2017

        Latin is only dead, to uneducated, in achieving people who bury their heads in their own ignorance. Latin is the base reference and naming language in Science, Medicine, Horticulture, law. In addition if you had actually read the article you would have realised the stupidity of your own comments as the article itself refers to the active Latin words and phrases in use today in the English language.

  2. Nina G.
    Nina G.09-23-2013

    This is an excellent post. Latin provides succinct expressions for a huge range of the human heart. Thanks.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-24-2013

      You’re welcome, Nina. Thanks for the nice comment.

  3. Ryan Belcher
    Ryan Belcher07-18-2013

    Interesting.

    Lately I’ve been seeing “bona fides” in the noun form, meaning roughly, that which shows you are genuine. I wonder if that’s a modern evolution.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko07-18-2013

      Good question, Ryan.

      I did a little research and found that “bona fides” is the nominative form of “bona fide.” It’s often (mis)used as a plural because of the -es ending, but it’s singular in the original Latin. It is not new, either.

Leave a Reply

If you like a post, please take a second to click "like," and comment as often as you like.
We promise not to correct your grammar!