As an eighth-grader, I decided to take Latin as an elective. Openly, it was more of an impulse choice than a carefully-constructed decision. Not surprisingly, my friends questioned my decision and I found myself defending learning Latin.
In fact, the class was much more interesting than I expected it to be. At the bottom of our first quiz, the teacher included a still memorable quote:
Latin is a dead language, as dead as it can be.
First it killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me.
The textbook also had a series of engaging cartoons designed to help you remember random phrases. My favorite was a Roman policeman who had stopped a speeding chariot and asked “ubi ignis est?” – translation: Where’s the fire? That still cracks me up.
Over the years, I’ve realized that knowing some Latin can improve your English vocabulary. While English is considered Germanic language, Latin has had a strong influence. There are plenty of Latin words commonly used in English – consider alias, et cetera, vice versa, verbatim. During a particularly busy time at my last job, a close friend sent me a two-word email: “memento vivere.” Sure, I could have googled the phrase but my Latin schooling suggested it translated to “remember to live” – my friend was encouraging me to take a break from the tyranny of the urgent.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to share ten of my favorite Latin phrases:
a priori — from what comes before; relying on knowledge rather than experience.
ad nauseam — used to describe an argument that has taken place to the point of nausea.
barba non facit philosophum — having a beard doesn’t make you a philosopher; similar to “clothes don’t make the man” and “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
carpe diem — seize the day; usually used to encourage someone to act.
caveat emptor — let the buyer beware; the purchaser assumes the risk that the goods or services fit the needs. Similar to “as is.”
et tu, Brute? — from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar’s last words after being murdered by his friend Brutus; used to convey betrayal.
ipso facto — by the fact itself; something considered true by its very nature.
mea culpa — my fault; usually used as a confession. Similar to “that’s on me.”
non sequitur — it does not follow; used to describe a remark which is absurd because it doesn’t make sense in the current context.
quid pro quo — this for that; an exchange of value. Similar to “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
Of course, I could have included many more. What’s your favorite Latin phrase?
alea jacta est – the die is cast
In vino, veritas. (In wine there is truth.)
If the Persians decided something while drunk, they made a rule to reconsider it when sober. Herodotus later added that if the Persians made a decision while sober, they made a rule to reconsider it when they were drunk.
Likewise, the Germanic peoples always drank while holding councils, as they believed nobody could lie effectively when drunk.
During high school I’ve taken latin classes for two years. As my first language is portuguese, it really helped me improve my vocabulary. But for me an even better improvement was on grammar. By the way, a good latin quote is “In vino veritas”, in wine there is truth.
It’s not exactly a quote but Semper ubi sub ubi — always wear underwear!
Not real Latin but “nil illigitami carborundum”. I was at the kind of school where Latin was compulsory and I always found it useful later even though I was terrible at it then. Funniest Latin reference is in Life of Brian.