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?