Latin Words and Phrases Every Man Should Know

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 25, 2013 · 224 comments

in Manly Knowledge, Travel & Leisure


What do great men like Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill have in common?

They all were proficient in Latin.

From the Middle Ages until about the middle of the 20th century, Latin was a central part of a man’s schooling in the West. Along with logic and rhetoric, grammar (as Latin was then known) was included as part of the Trivium – the foundation of a medieval liberal arts education. From Latin, all scholarship flowed and it was truly the gateway to the life of the mind, as the bulk of scientific, religious, legal, and philosophical literature was written in the language until about the 16th century. To immerse oneself in classical and humanistic studies, Latin was a must.

Grammar schools in Europe and especially England during this time were Latin schools, and the first secondary school established in America by the Puritans was a Latin school as well. But beginning in the 14th century, writers started to use the vernacular in their works, which slowly chipped away at Latin’s central importance in education. This trend for English-language learning accelerated in the 19th century; schools shifted from turning out future clergymen to graduating businessmen who would take their place in an industrializing economy. An emphasis on the liberal arts slowly gave way to what was considered a more practical education in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

While Latin had been dying a slow death for hundreds of years, it still had a strong presence in schools until the middle of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, college students demanded that the curriculum be more open, inclusive, and less Euro-centric. Among their suggested changes was eliminating Latin as a required course for all students. To quell student protests, universities began to slowly phase out the Latin requirement, and because colleges stopped requiring Latin, many high schools in America stopped offering Latin classes, too.  Around the same time, the Catholic Church revised its liturgy and permitted priests to lead Mass in vernacular languages instead of Latin, thus eliminating one of the public’s last ties to the ancient language.

While it’s no longer a requirement for a man to know Latin to get ahead in life, it’s still a great subject to study. I had to take classes in Latin as part of my “Letters” major at the University of Oklahoma, and I really enjoyed it. Even if you’re well out of school yourself, there are a myriad of reasons why you should still consider obtaining at least a rudimentary knowledge of the language:

Knowing Latin can improve your English vocabulary. While English is a Germanic language, Latin has strongly influenced it. Most of our prefixes and some of the roots of common English words derive from Latin. By some estimates, 30% of English words derive from the ancient language. By knowing the meaning of these Latin words, if you chance to come across a word you’ve never seen before, you can make an educated guess at what it means. In fact, studies have found that high school students who studied Latin scored a mean of 647 on the SAT verbal exam, compared with the national average of 505.

Knowing Latin can improve your foreign language vocabulary. Much of the commonly spoken Romanic languages like Spanish, French, and Italian derived from Vulgar Latin. You’ll be surprised by the number of Romanic words that are pretty much the same as their Latin counterparts.

Many legal terms are in Latin. Nolo contendere. Mens rea. Caveat emptor. Do you know what those mean? They’re actually common legal terms. While strides have been made to translate legal writing into plain English, you’ll still see old Latin phrases thrown into legal contracts every now and then. To be an educated citizen and consumer, you need to know what these terms mean. If you plan on going to law school, I highly recommend boning up on Latin. You’ll run into it all the time, particularly when reading older case law.

Knowing Latin can give you more insight to history and literature. Latin was the lingua franca of the West for over a thousand years. Consequently, much of our history, science, and great literature was first recorded in Latin. Reading these classics in the original language can give you insights you otherwise may have missed by consuming it in English.

Moreover, modern writers (and by modern I mean beginning in the 17th century) often pepper their work with Latin words and phrases without offering a translation because they (reasonably) expect the reader to be familiar with it. This is true of great books from even just a few decades ago (seems much less common these days – which isn’t a hopeful commentary on the direction of the public’s literacy I would think). Not having a rudimentary knowledge of Latin will cause you to miss out on fully understanding what the writer meant to convey.

Below we’ve put together a list of Latin words and phrases to help pique your interest in learning this classical language. This list isn’t exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve included some of the most common Latin words and phrases that you still see today, which are helpful to know in boosting your all-around cultural literacy. We’ve also included some particularly virile sayings, aphorisms, and mottos that can inspire greatness or remind us of important truths. Perhaps you’ll find a Latin phrase that you can adopt as your personal motto. Semper Virilis!

Latin Words and Phrases Every Man Should Know

a posteriori from the latter -- knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence
a priori from what comes before -- knowledge or justification is independent of experience
faber est suae quisque fortunaeevery man is the artisan of his own fortune --
quote by Appius Claudius Caecus
acta non verba
deeds, not words
ad hoc
to this -- improvised or made up
ad hominem
to the man -- below-the-belt personal attack rather than a reasoned argument
ad honorem
for honor
ad infinitum
to infinity
ad nauseam
used to describe an argument that has been taking place to the point of nausea
ad victoriam
to victory -- more commonly translated into "for victory," this was a battle cry of the Romans

alea iacta est
the die has been cast
at another time -- an assumed name or pseudonym
alma mater
nourishing mother -- used to denote one's college/university
amor patriae
love of one's country
amor vincit omnia
love conquers all

annuit cœptis
He (God) nods at things being begun -- or "he approves our undertakings," motto on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States and on the back of the United States one-dollar bill

ante bellum
before the war -- commonly used in the Southern United States as antebellum to refer to the period preceding the American Civil War

ante meridiem
before noon -- A.M., used in timekeeping
aqua vitae
water of life -- used to refer to various native distilled beverages, such as whisky (uisge beatha) in Scotland and Ireland, gin in Holland, and brandy (eau de vie) in France
arte et marte
by skill and valour

astra inclinant, sed non obligant
the stars incline us, they do not bind us -- refers to the strength of free will over astrological determinism

audemus jura nostra defendere
we dare to defend our rights -- state motto of Alabama
audere est facere
to dare is to do

I hear
aurea mediocritas
golden mean -- refers to the ethical goal of reaching a virtuous middle ground between two sinful extremes

auribus teneo lupum
I hold a wolf by the ears -- a common ancient proverb; indicates that one is in a dangerous situation where both holding on and letting go could be deadly; a modern version is, "to have a tiger by the tail"

aut cum scuto aut in scuto
either with shield or on shield -- do or die, "no retreat"; said by Spartan mothers to their sons as they departed for battle
aut neca aut necare
either kill or be killed
aut viam inveniam aut faciam
I will either find a way or make one -- said by Hannibal, the great ancient military commander
barba non facit philosophum
a beard doesn't make one a philosopher
bellum omnium contra omnes
war of all against all
bis dat qui cito dat
he gives twice, who gives promptly -- a gift given without hesitation is as good as two gifts

bona fide
good faith
bono malum superate
overcome evil with good
carpe diem
seize the day
caveat emptor
let the buyer beware -- the purchaser is responsible for checking whether the goods suit his need
around, or approximately
citius altius fortius
faster, higher, stronger -- modern Olympics motto
cogito ergo sum
"I think therefore I am" -- famous quote by Rene Descartes
contemptus mundi/saeculi
scorn for the world/times -- despising the secular world, the monk or philosopher's rejection of a mundane life and worldly values

corpus christi
body of Christ
corruptissima re publica plurimae leges
when the republic is at its most corrupt the laws are most numerous -- said by Tacitus
creatio ex nihilo
creation out of nothing -- a concept about creation, often used in a theological or philosophical context
cura te ipsum
take care of your own self -- an exhortation to physicians, or experts in general, to deal with their own problems before addressing those of others

curriculum vitae
the course of one's life -- in business, a lengthened resume
de facto
from the fact -- distinguishing what's supposed to be from what is reality
deo volente
God willing
deus ex machina
God out of a machine -- a term meaning a conflict is resolved in improbable or implausible ways
dictum factum
what is said is done

disce quasi semper victurus vive quasi cras moriturus
learn as if you're always going to live; live as if tomorrow you're going to die
discendo discimus
while teaching we learn
docendo disco, scribendo cogito
I learn by teaching, think by writing
ductus exemplo
leadership by example
ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt
the fates lead the willing and drag the unwilling -- attributed to Lucius Annaeus Seneca

dulce bellum inexpertis
war is sweet to the inexperienced
dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
it is sweet and fitting to die for your country
dulcius ex asperis
sweeter after difficulties

e pluribus unum
out of many, one -- on the U.S. seal, and was once the country's de facto motto
veteran -- retired from office
et alii
and others -- abbreviated et al.
et cetera
and the others
et tu, Brute?
last words of Caesar after being murdered by friend Brutus in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," used today to convey utter betrayal
ex animo
from the heart -- thus, "sincerely"

ex libris
from the library of -- to mark books from a library
ex nihilo
out of nothing
ex post facto
from a thing done afterward -- said of a law with retroactive effect

fac fortia et patere
do brave deeds and endure
fac simile
make alike -- origin of the word "fax"
flectere si nequeo superos, acheronta movebo
if I cannot move heaven I will raise hell -- Virgil's Aeneid

fortes fortuna adiuvat
fortune favors the bold

fortis in arduis
strong in difficulties
gloria in excelsis Deo
glory to God in the highest
habeas corpus
you should have the body -- a legal term from the 14th century or earlier; commonly used as the general term for a prisoner's legal right to challenge the legality of their detention

habemus papam
we have a pope -- used after a Catholic Church papal election to announce publicly a successful ballot to elect a new pope

historia vitae magistra
history, the teacher of life -- from Cicero; also "history is the mistress of life"

hoc est bellum
this is war
homo unius libri (timeo)
(I fear) a man of one book -- attributed to Thomas Aquinas

honor virtutis praemium
esteem is the reward of virtue
hostis humani generis
enemy of the human race -- Cicero defined pirates in Roman law as being enemies of humanity in general

humilitas occidit superbiam
humility conquers pride
igne natura renovatur integra
through fire, nature is reborn whole

ignis aurum probat
fire tests gold -- a phrase referring to the refining of character through difficult circumstances

in absentia
in the absence
in aqua sanitas
in water there is health
in flagrante delicto
in flaming crime -- caught red-handed, or in the act
in memoriam
into the memory -- more commonly "in memory of"
in omnia paratus
ready for anything

in situ

in position -- something that exists in an original or natural state

in toto
in all or entirely
in umbra, igitur, pugnabimus
then we will fight in the shade -- made famous by Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae and by the movie 300
in utero
in the womb
in vitro
in glass -- biological process that occurs in the lab
incepto ne desistam
may I not shrink from my purpose
intelligenti pauca
few words suffice for he who understands
invictus maneo
I remain unvanquished
ipso facto
by the fact itself -- something is true by its very nature
labor omnia vincit
hard work conquers all

laborare pugnare parati sumus
to work, (or) to fight; we are ready
labore et honore
by labor and honor
leges sine moribus vanae
laws without morals [are] vain
lex parsimoniae
law of succinctness -- also known as Occam's Razor, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one

lex talionis
the law of retaliation
magna cum laude
with great praise

magna est vis consuetudinis
great is the power of habit
magnum opus
great work -- said of someone's masterpiece

mala fide
in bad faith -- said of an act done with knowledge of its illegality, or with intention to defraud or mislead someone; opposite of bona fide

malum in se
wrong in itself -- a legal term meaning that something is inherently wrong

malum prohibitum
wrong due to being prohibited -- a legal term meaning that something is only wrong because it is against the law
mea culpa
my fault
better things -- carrying the connotation of "always better"

memento mori
remember that [you will] die -- was whispered by a servant into the ear of a victorious Roman general to check his pride as he paraded through cheering crowds after a victory; a genre of art meant to remind the viewer of the reality of his death
memento vivere
remember to live
memores acti prudentes futuri
mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be
modus operandi
method of operating -- abbreviated M.O.
montani semper liberi
mountaineers [are] always free -- state motto of West Virginia
morior invictus
death before defeat
morituri te salutant
those who are about to die salute you -- popularized as a standard salute from gladiators to the emperor, but only recorded once in Roman history
morte magis metuenda senectus
old age should rather be feared than death
mulgere hircum
to milk a male goat -- to attempt the impossible
multa paucis
say much in few words

nanos gigantum humeris insidentes
dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants -- commonly known by the letters of Isaac Newton: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants"
nec aspera terrent
they don't terrify the rough ones -- frightened by no difficulties, less literally "difficulties be damned"
nec temere nec timide
neither reckless nor timid
nil volentibus arduum
nothing [is] arduous for the willing
nolo contendere
I do not wish to contend -- that is, "no contest"; a plea that can be entered on behalf of a defendant in a court that states that the accused doesn't admit guilt, but will accept punishment for a crime
non ducor, duco
I am not led; I lead
non loqui sed facere
not talk but action
non progredi est regredi
to not go forward is to go backward
non scholae, sed vitae discimus
we learn not for school, but for life -- from Seneca
non sequitur
it does not follow -- in general, a comment which is absurd due to not making sense in its context (rather than due to being inherently nonsensical or internally inconsistent), often used in humor
non sum qualis eram
I am not such as I was -- or "I am not the kind of person I once was"

nosce te ipsum
know thyself -- from Cicero

novus ordo seclorum
new order of the ages -- from Virgil; motto on the Great Seal of the United States
nulla tenaci invia est via
for the tenacious, no road is impassable
obliti privatorum, publica curate
forget private affairs, take care of public ones -- Roman political saying which reminds that common good should be given priority over private matters for any person having a responsibility in the State

panem et circenses
bread and circuses -- originally described all that was needed for emperors to placate the Roman mob; today used to describe any entertainment used to distract public attention from more important matters

para bellum
prepare for war -- if you want peace, prepare for war—if a country is ready for war, its enemies are less likely to attack
parvis imbutus tentabis grandia tutus
when you are steeped in little things, you shall safely attempt great things -- sometimes translated as, "once you have accomplished small things, you may attempt great ones safely"

pater familias
father of the family -- the eldest male in a family
pecunia, si uti scis, ancilla est; si nescis, domina
if you know how to use money, money is your slave; if you don't, money is your master
per angusta ad augusta
through difficulties to greatness
per annum
by the year
per capita
by the person
per diem
by the day
per se
through itself
persona non grata
person not pleasing -- an unwelcome, unwanted or undesirable person
pollice verso
with a turned thumb -- used by Roman crowds to pass judgment on a defeated gladiator
post meridiem
after noon -- P.M., used in timekeeping
post mortem
after death
thing having been written afterward -- in writing, abbreviated P.S.
praemonitus praemunitus
forewarned is forearmed
praesis ut prosis ne ut imperes
lead in order to serve, not in order to rule
primus inter pares
first among equals -- a title of the Roman Emperors

pro bono
for the good -- in business, refers to services rendered at no charge
pro rata
for the rate
quam bene vivas referre (or refert), non quam diu
it is how well you live that matters, not how long -- from Seneca
as if or as though
qui totum vult totum perdit
he who wants everything loses everything -- attributed to Seneca
quid agis
what's going on? -- what's up, what's happening, etc.
quid pro quo
this for that -- an exchange of value
quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur
whatever has been said in Latin seems deep -- or "anything said in Latin sounds profound"; a recent ironic Latin phrase to poke fun at people who seem to use Latin phrases and quotations only to make themselves sound more important or "educated"
quis custodiet ipsos custodes?who will guard the guards themselves? -- commonly associated with Plato
of whom -- the number of members whose presence is required under the rules to make any given meeting constitutional

requiescat in pace let him rest in peace -- abbreviated R.I.P.
rigor mortis
stiffness of death
scientia ac labore
knowledge through hard work
scientia ipsa potentia est
knowledge itself is power
semper anticus
always forward
semper fidelis
always faithful -- U.S. Marines motto
semper fortis
always brave
semper paratus
always prepared
semper virilisalways virile
si vales, valeo
when you are strong, I am strong
si vis pacem, para bellum
if you want peace, prepare for war
sic parvis magna
greatness from small beginnings -- motto of Sir Frances Drake
sic semper tyrannis
thus always to tyrants -- attributed to Brutus at the time of Julius Caesar's assassination, and to John Wilkes Booth at the time of Abraham Lincoln's assassination; whether it was actually said at either of these events is disputed
sic vita est
thus is life -- the ancient version of "it is what it is"
sola fide
by faith alone
sola nobilitat virtus
virtue alone ennobles
solvitur ambulando
it is solved by walking
spes bona
good hope
statim (stat)
immediately -- medical shorthand
status quo
the situation in which or current condition
under penalty
sum quod eris
I am what you will be -- a gravestone inscription to remind the reader of the inevitability of death
summa cum laude
with highest praise
summum bonum
the supreme good
suum cuique
to each his own
tabula rasa
scraped tablet -- "blank slate"; John Locke used the term to describe the human mind at birth, before it had acquired any knowledge
tempora heroica
Heroic Age
tempus edax rerum
time, devourer of all things
tempus fugit
time flees -- commonly mistranslated "time flies"
terra firma
firm ground
terra incognita
unknown land -- used on old maps to show unexplored areas
vae victis
woe to the conquered
vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas
vanity of vanities; everything [is] vanity -- from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1)
veni vidi vici
I came, I saw, I conquered -- famously said by Julius Caesar
repeat exactly
veritas et aequitas
truth and equity
veto I forbid
vice versato change or turn around
vincit qui patitur
he conquers who endures
vincit qui se vincit
he conquers who conquers himself
vir prudens non contra ventum mingit
[a] wise man does not urinate [up] against the wind
virile agitur
the manly thing is being done
viriliter agite
act in a manly way
viriliter agite estote fortes
quit ye like men, be strong
virtus tentamine gaudet
strength rejoices in the challenge
virtute et armis
by virtue and arms -- or "by manhood and weapons"; state motto of Mississippi

vive memor leti
live remembering death
vivere est vincere
to live is to conquer -- Captain John Smith's personal motto

vivere militare est
to live is to fight
vox populi
voice of the people

What are your favorite Latin phrases? Any other important Latin words and phrases that you think a modern man should know? Share with us in the comments!

{ 224 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sean July 25, 2013 at 10:42 pm

This is a fantastic resource. Thanks.

My favorite Latin phrase is “ad astra,” which means “to the stars.”

2 Joseph McCall July 25, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Thank you :)

I’m loving this list- I’m going to need to sprinkle my language with these at some point…

3 Scott W July 25, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Ceteris paribus–all other things being equal

4 Aaron Brame July 25, 2013 at 11:12 pm

This is great. When I was a ninth grader, I was allowed to choose what language to study in high school. My choices were Spanish, French, and Latin. I chose Spanish foolishly only the (unfounded) notion that it was the easiest.

I wish my parents had encouraged me to study Latin for all the reasons you stated above. Since then, I’ve tried to catch up and learn the basics of Latin, but I have always lacked a firm foundation.

I have a son now, and there’s no question that he’ll be studying Latin as soon as he can.

Thanks for a great post.

5 Bill July 25, 2013 at 11:14 pm

In vino veritas, in cervesio felicitas – In wine there is truth, in beer there is happiness

6 Canadian Joe July 25, 2013 at 11:26 pm

De gustibus non est disputandum. In matters of taste, there is no dispute. Basically opinions are opinions- nothing changes that.

7 Mark July 25, 2013 at 11:30 pm

My favourite would be “res ipsa loquitur” – lit. the thing itself speaks, or it speaks for itself.

8 Deacon July 25, 2013 at 11:33 pm

QED– Quod erat demonstratum

9 Stephen Webb July 26, 2013 at 12:04 am

On your point of foreign language vocabulary, Ben Franklin actually talked about learning Latin in his autobiography. In his view, you should learn French or Italian or Spanish first, so that if you should fall short of Latin at least you’d have learned something practical. I took Latin in high school, and frankly I agree. Latin is all over the English language, but grammatically it’s probably closer to German than any of the existing Romance languages, and I think I can read more Spanish by sounding it out and asking what it sounds like in English than with the three years of Latin. Latin has helped more reading Italian street signs, though. In conclusion, learn a language spoken by a few tens (or hundreds) of million people today.

10 Robert Short July 26, 2013 at 12:26 am

sic semper tyrannis is the motto of Virginia, which is why Booth would have said it, it isn’t attributed to him anymore than my saying “We the people” means that it is attributed to me.

11 LPB July 26, 2013 at 12:45 am

Two of my favorites:

1) Hacere est Facere- “To Dare is to Do”.

2) Eventus Stultorum Magister-”Experience is the Educator of Fools”

12 Publius July 26, 2013 at 12:53 am

Besides my name (Publius), which means “friend of the people,” I think every word in the Traditional Latin Mass of the Catholic Church is extremely valuable. The TLM is really for a niche group, but I enjoy it.

13 Cresca July 26, 2013 at 12:57 am

Numquam retro – Never backwards (Motto of the Austrian Jagdkommando)

Hic Rhodos hic salta – Here is Rhodos, here jump. Meaning: Prove your claims here and now.

14 LPB July 26, 2013 at 12:59 am

Whoops, guess I missed “audere est facere”.

15 Tom de Bruin July 26, 2013 at 1:14 am

My favorite has to be what my grandfather always said when I asked why I was not allowed to do this older people were:
Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi

Only much later, in grade school, did I realise that he was implying that I was a cow!

16 Ian Y July 26, 2013 at 1:15 am

Great post, would be useful to have a column with it written phonetically, as I’m sure it’s not pro boner… I’m sure I’m mea culpa (presuming my fault, I’m too blame, at fault are all interchangeable).

Keep up the good work. I’m slowly reading through all the rhetoric posts also.

17 Griffen July 26, 2013 at 1:30 am

Soli Deo Gloria – glory belongs to God alone

18 Allen July 26, 2013 at 2:00 am

In hoc signo vinces

In this sign you will conquer

19 Dr Boatman July 26, 2013 at 2:23 am

My favourites from working in the law courts:

Post hoc ergo propter hoc – the logical fallacy that because something came later, it was caused by the thing that came before.

In rem – a term used to make a lawyer sound smart, but may be roughly translated “in the thingy”.

20 Peter July 26, 2013 at 4:34 am

I have a few:

Nemo me impune lacessit : No one provokes me with impunity

Ceterum censeo birrum esse bibendum : I am of the opinon that we should drink beer

Saepe mendosus, nunquam dubius : Often wrong but seldom in doubt

And then two that go together:
Memento mori : Remember that you must die

Memento vivere : remember that you have to live)

21 Adam July 26, 2013 at 4:40 am

sic semper tyrannis is also the Virginia state seal.

22 Niek July 26, 2013 at 5:08 am

Great selection!

This is my favorite:

“Ne te quaesiveris extra”

Meaning don’t search outside yourself. It’s at the start of Emersons essay Self-reliance.

By the way, if you want to study languages you should go to The Netherlands. At my high school I had classes in:

- Dutch;
- English;
- German;
- French;
- Latin.


23 Mark G July 26, 2013 at 5:11 am

I always thought Churchill hated Latin and was a mediocre student at it?

24 Mark G July 26, 2013 at 5:12 am
25 Victor Kashirin July 26, 2013 at 5:49 am

duo cum faciunt idem, non est idem – when two do the same, it isn’t the same

26 Ti July 26, 2013 at 6:16 am

In vino veritas. Definite favorite latin phrase….because of Doc Holiday in Tombstone. Ha!! Learned Latin from a Western

27 David July 26, 2013 at 6:52 am

Uva uvam vivendo varia fit!

“Well the first man comes along that can read Latin is welcome to rob us, far as I’m concerned. I’d like a chance t’ shoot at a educated man once in my life.” — Gus McCrae

28 Seth July 26, 2013 at 6:57 am

One I think you’ll be familiar with: “Virtus junxit mors non separabit” – What virtue has joined death shall not separate.

Another thing the three gentlemen had in common, they were all Brothers.

29 Magnus Maximus July 26, 2013 at 7:00 am

haec non aeterna – these things are not eternal

It reminds me that whatever is bothering me probably isn’t going to last very long, and I should spend my time on things that will last forever.

30 Brett McKay July 26, 2013 at 7:01 am


Churchill indeed disliked Latin (and any subject in school he didn’t feel naturally interested in), and did not excel at it in the classroom. And yet as his biographer William Manchester puts it, his knowledge of Latin (and Greek) was still “profound.” He simply learned it not by the rote grammar books in school but on his own by reading and translating Virgil and Caesar. As Manchester puts it, “his feigned ignorance of all foreign languages was a source of popularity with the masses and served as antidote to his elitism.”

31 Snooki July 26, 2013 at 7:10 am

The following will help you understand why Hellenic (or Greek), is more important to learn than Latin:

32 Rob Roy July 26, 2013 at 7:25 am

I have one to add:

cum hoc ergo propter hoc – with this, therefore because of this (Correlation does not imply causation)

This is very common when people don’t verify the correlation of two events and think that one event causes the other.

33 Richard July 26, 2013 at 7:53 am

Looking over the list, I was a little surprised to see how many phrases I understood from common usage without even stopping to realize that I was using Latin!

A couple of my favorites:

“Mox nox in rem”: Literally, “Night will soon be here”. In practice, “Let’s get on with it!” Useful when a discussion has wandered way off topic, or people are too caught up with talking rather than doing.

“Dixi”: “I have spoken.” That’s it, that’s my decision, end of discussion.

“Audi alteram parti”: Hear the other side. In an argument or debate, listen to what the other side has to say.

“Cui bono?”: Who benefits? Is there a news item that’s getting your dander up? Something coming out of the Capitol making you suspicious? Ask yourself “cui bono?”, and get a little closer to the bottom of things.

“Gaudeamus Igitur”: That old college song? The title translates as “Let us rejoice”. Or, more colloquially, “Let’s PARTY!”

“Quid facit est puella dulcis similis tui in tale loco?”: What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Okay, this is only a rough translation. But there’s no reason we can’t have a little fun with Latin.

As an aside, don’t get too hung up on whether or not you are pronouncing these words correctly. If a Latin maven criticizes you about it, ask them if they are speaking about Classical or Medieval Latin (which did indeed have different pronunciations), and if they know anything about regional accents. Even “American” has several distinct dialects.

34 Mark G July 26, 2013 at 8:05 am

@Brett – I bow to your superior knowledge :-)

As penance I offer up a latin term “Mens Rea” – Guilty Mind.

35 Greg July 26, 2013 at 8:18 am

Great post, I have a list of great Latin quotes and phrases by my desk to gain inspiration during my day. You missed three big ones in your list but most people forget that they are Latin.

QED was already mentioned
i.e. = id est = that is
e.g. = exempli gratia = “for the sake of an example”

This is also more than a simple definition but the Latin definition of “virtus” which is part of the root word of “virtue” is quite interesting and probably could deserve a post in and of itself.

Keep up the great work, I look forward to reading your articles every morning.

36 Byron Williams July 26, 2013 at 8:20 am

Malo periculosum libertatem quam quietam servitium – I prefer freedom with danger to peace with servitude.

And two everyone should know:
ipso est (i.e.) – that is
exampli gratia (e.g.) – for example

37 Carlos July 26, 2013 at 8:40 am

festina lente – “hurry, slowly” represented by the very manly symbol of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor (which was the printer’s mark of aldus manutius, the inventor of italic type, among other things). …or in roman times, symbolized by a crab and butterfly.

38 Langloys July 26, 2013 at 8:42 am

Churchill was in fact fairly proficient at Latin, but his pronunciation was abominable. In one of his works he recalls being asked to speak in Latin, and seeing his old Headmaster in the audience, cringing.

39 Michael Mccobin July 26, 2013 at 8:48 am

And Hunter S. Thompson’s frequently used “Res Ipsa Loquitur” – the thing speaks for itself.

40 Sahaj July 26, 2013 at 8:59 am


41 Asher July 26, 2013 at 9:00 am

It irked me that I couldn’t just paste this into a spreadsheet, so I wrote a script that parsed the text and turned it into a google doc. Here’s the link if anyone else it.

42 Bruce Williamson July 26, 2013 at 9:02 am

Having had four years of Latin in HS, I think the percentage of English derived from Latin is a bit low (IMHO if we include Greek the figure is closer to 80%). It has improved my vocabulary and it allows me to determine the meaning of words new to me by knowing the roots. It also helps me with reading all of the Romance languages. Sad that so few schools teach it.

43 Kevin July 26, 2013 at 9:04 am

Great list, really enjoyed seeing ones I knew and learning new ones!

Here’s one of my favorites that I didn’t see:
res firma mitescere nescit
Roughly translated to “A firm resolve does not know how to weaken” or, if you’re a fan of american films about cycling “Once you got it up, keep it up”

44 Simone July 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

Great list! I took Latin from 6th through 12th grade, and it definitely benefited my English grammar as well as my study of several other Romance languages!

One of my favorite Latin sayings has always been “Alea iacta est.”

45 Brett M. July 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, Sed nomini tuo da gloriam. ~(Not unto us Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name, give glory.) from Psalm 113 and the motto of the Knights Templar.

Spes Mea in Deo Est. ~ (My hope is in God.) motto of Scottish Rite Freemasons.

46 Vicente July 26, 2013 at 9:24 am

Great article Brett!

My favorite quote is “Non ducor duco”, that is also the motto of the city of São Paulo (Brazil), and portuguese also has a Strong root of Latin, making it easier to understand some of the terms.

The state of São Paulo (yes, the State and the City – capital – has the same name) motto is great too: “Pro brasilia fiant eximia”, something in the lines of “For Brazil, do great things”

Sorry the poor english, and congratulations on the blog!

47 Charlie Grant July 26, 2013 at 9:27 am

vir sapit que pouca loquitur – He is wise who is silent

48 RonFurg July 26, 2013 at 9:29 am

Can you or one of your subscribers recommend a good book of Latin idioms or proverbs? Thanks for your excellent postings. They are a delight.

49 BEzzell July 26, 2013 at 9:37 am

“post hoc ergo propter hoc” a great phrase, but also because of that great scene in the West Wing.

50 David July 26, 2013 at 9:43 am

Cede Nullis – Yield to no one

51 Byron Williams July 26, 2013 at 9:47 am

Brain fart. Greg is correct. It’s id est, not ipso est. In my defense, I hadn’t had my coffee yet.

52 Kris July 26, 2013 at 9:54 am

Can anyone suggest any good resources for learning some Latin on the side (I.e. without taking a college course)? This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but did not know where to look.

53 Austin J. July 26, 2013 at 9:54 am

Great article, will definitely refer back to this often, however, there is one glaring omission from the list, “Quando omni flunkus, moritati”. – Red Green

(When all else fails, play dead)

54 Brendan July 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

I’ve always liked “homo homini lupus” – man is a wolf to man

55 Harold Koenig July 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

res ipsa loquitur.

(The) thing speaks for itself.

56 Joe Orchard July 26, 2013 at 10:13 am

I’d add, “Ora et labora”, a phrase widely used by St. Benedict, father of Western monasticism, stressing the importance of combining work and contemplative prayer.

57 Derek G. July 26, 2013 at 10:33 am

I can’t believe I have to say this but:

Sine Qua Non is quite literally the Sine Qua Non.

58 Alberto July 26, 2013 at 10:36 am

According to Thoreau, we should all know a little Latin (and Greek) so we can drink our portion of wisdom directly from the great classics. I’ve studied only a very little, but still I find it adds a lot to the study of all Latin languages (and also in the study of German grammar).

My favourite would be: “In pace requiescat”. (See Doc Holliday vs Johnny Ringo

59 Roger July 26, 2013 at 10:40 am

A friend likes to confuse people with “Ecce potestas casei.”

“Behold, the power of cheese.”

60 Serafin Nunez July 26, 2013 at 10:41 am

This is one that I definitely missed the boat on. I had an opportunity to take Latin beginning in middle school (offered only to gifted students), but my parents signed me up for Spanish.

61 Tim July 26, 2013 at 10:43 am

Tu Ne Cede Malis, Sed Contra Audentior Ito. — Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it.

62 Brandon July 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

Anyone who was boarding school educated(In England or any commonwealth country) would nostalgically remember the almost school like motto – Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria mori. Meaning, how sweet and proper it is to die for one’s country.

63 Jason Miller July 26, 2013 at 10:48 am

Varium et mutabile semper femina — “woman is an ever-changing and fickle thing” — from the Aeneid, regarding Dido (if memory serves)

64 Paul Gann July 26, 2013 at 10:54 am

Deo Vindice – God will Avenge

Motto of the Confederate States of America.

Brett – your series on Honor changed my life and played a part in inspiring me to become a Freemason. I’m on my 2nd degree now. Amor Fraternus.

65 Justin W July 26, 2013 at 10:55 am

De Oppresso Liber – To liberate the oppressed

It is the motto of US Special Forces

66 Dan N. July 26, 2013 at 11:00 am

To tag on to Sean’s, I prefer the lengthened “per aspera ad astra,” which translates to “from adversity to the stars.”
“Per aspera” can also be translated as “from difficulty” or “from the mud.”

This list has a lot of my favorites so all I can think to add is “semper vigilans,” meaning “Always vigilant.” It’s the motto of the Civil Air Patrol.

67 Nzie July 26, 2013 at 11:02 am

When I studied Latin in high school, I remember “fortune favors the daring” as being “audentes Fortuna iuvat” from the Aeneid.

Lots of great ones. Adding:

Dum spiro, spero – while I breathe I hope

Orbis non sufficit – the world is not enough (Ian Fleming borrowed this from a family of English recusants – their ancestral home was near his boarding school, and they probably did lose a lot of worldly things for sticking to their faith)

A bit surprised “ad astra per asperam” wasn’t included – “to the stars through difficulties.” At some point in my schooling we were given certain phrases to use — I don’t think it was in high school Latin but maybe?

~Nzie (sorry for sneaking in, Gents, but you have such a classy joint and such great discussions!)

68 Stevo July 26, 2013 at 11:20 am

I had a History Professor who always quoted this line: Hominem homini lupum facit. It is still true today.

69 Jan-Michael July 26, 2013 at 11:23 am

Not indicated on the list but, Semper Paratus is the U.S. Coast Guard motto. Apologies if this has already been commented on.

70 Vincen July 26, 2013 at 11:26 am

“Audemus jura nostra defendere”! “We dare defend our rights!” The Alabama state motto.

71 AJ July 26, 2013 at 11:33 am

I couldn’t help but comment on your degree. A major in Letters seem like one of those degrees that would have shown good critical thinking skills to a prospective employer, but would be only a pile of student loan debt these days. These days it does not seem like a practical degree. But I am sure it would have been rewarding during school.

That being said, I wish they required Latin in high school or offered it. This post does make me want to learn Latin.

72 David Haslam July 26, 2013 at 11:37 am

Sapere aude – meaning “dare to be wise”, or more precisely “dare to know”.

Also the motto for The Manchester Grammar School.

73 Larry Johnson July 26, 2013 at 11:58 am

Don’t forget about all the vocabulary we get from Latin via French.

74 Daniel July 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm

One that I thought would be included, since it’s so often misunderstood, is Anno Domini (In the Year of our Lord) which most people think means after death (which would leave us with 33 years of unrecorded history). The 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation are also good to know, though you did include one (Sola Fide). Sola Gratia (by Grace Alone), Solus Christus (in Christ Alone), Sola Scriptura (based on Scripture alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (to the Glory of God Alone).

75 Jim July 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm

What about?

Ave Maria gratia plena Dominus tecum.

or at the very least…

76 Gregorian July 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Festina lente – make haste slowly

77 Nate July 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Per ardua ad astra – Through adversity to the stars (official motto of the RAF).

78 Emily B. July 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

“Semper ubi sub ubi!” = “Always wear underwear!” – a bit of a Latin class pun, to be sure, but still impressive sounding. :)

79 Kurt Ronning July 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

A bit of humor from someone who lived the 60s AND can remember them. My favorite latin phrase is Vincebus Eruptum! Especially “There Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues!”

80 ty gladden July 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I studied Latin for 4 years in high school. Loved it!

My teacher wrote in my yearbook “semper ubi sub ubi.” Alwys wear under wear. Haha.

81 Danilo July 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I was born and raised in Italy and Latin sayings there still are a matter of everyday life. Some that I had drilled into my head since elementary school were:

“Melius abundare quam deficere” – it’s better to have too much than too little.

“Verba volant, scripta manent” – words fly away, writings stay (often repeated by our Latin teacher).

“Mors tua vita mea” – your death is my life. Allegedly used in a fight to the death :)

“Cave canem” – beware of the dog. This has been used on tiles outside homes for at least 2000 years, and is still used in Italy today.

“Mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body. Repeated “ad nauseam” (indeed) by many doctors and health professionals in Italy :)

“In medio stat virtus” – the sweet spot is in the middle. Similar to “aurea mediocritas”.

82 Jackson July 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I was lucky enough to study Latin all through college. I loved it and it definitely improved my other language skills. My favorite Latin phrase is from Ovid, “Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim.” Basically it means, “Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.”

83 Caleb July 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Very helpful stuff. Thank you for posting.

I found some excellent advice on learning Latin in one of C.S. Lewis’s letters to children. He suggested taking a familiar text (such as the Bible) in Latin and translating it into English as a good way to learn. I’ve been doing this with a Latin Bible using an English Standard Version as my reference when I get stuck. It’s working for me, and it’s a good way to skip all the techinal stuff most of don’t even know about our own language we speak everyday.

84 James July 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Esse quam videri – “To be rather than to seem” Motto of the State of North Carolina.

Stephen Colbert (from South Carolina) has a parody of the motto on his set on The Colbert Report: Videri quam esse – “To seem rather than to be.”

85 Steven July 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm

My personal motto is “Ex Malo Bonum”, which essentially means “From Bad Comes Good”. I’ve lived by it for years and was thrilled when I saw it in a movie and related to the phrasing immediately.

86 Sam July 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm

nice blog thank you i love Latin but are the sounds pronounced like English?

87 Thomas Insall July 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

My favorite example of latin is one that was mentioned, but erroneously so in the article. While the Vatican did indeed allow the vernacular, the form of the Catholic mass before the revisions is still around today, known as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. To this day, it is still allowed to be said only in Latin.

Introibo ad altare Dei-I will go unto the altar of God.

88 Aaron July 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

One of my favorites:

Qui tacet consentire videtur – One who is silent is understood to consent.

89 Maria July 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Repititio mater studiorum – Repetition is the mother of learning.

Important to keep in mind when learning Latin!

And the always fun : Semper ubi, sub ubi -

Always where under where.

90 Jonathon July 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm

If you want to learn the phrase, I find Quizlet is one of the best websites to help teach you. I went ahead and made a deck which you can use to study them.

91 Grant Alford July 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm

More as an amusing story, and pardon the spelling because I only “heard” it.

While we were siting in the classroom waiting for the bell to ring to begin the Latin class, and the teacher was standing outside the door, some fellow shouted out: “Three Chinese cheers: ‘Phooey, Phooey, Phooey”. at which point the teacher came in with a puzzled look on her face and asked: “Chinese?” That is Latin for ‘I have been’”.
It may have been about the only thing I really learned from one year (grade 10) that I studied it, in about 1962 in Ontario. Canada
The other aspect that I did enjoy was the derivatives, so that pecuniary came from “pecunare” (?) meaning cow or cattle on which the economy or wealth was based. (I think). A long time to “remember” from. (my English dictionary says only that it comes from the Latin meaning “money”. But I like my explanation better and I do remember the teacher telling us that.

92 Sheila July 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Loved this article. I took 2 years of Latin in HS and loved it. At the time I swore that those 2 years helped me with college entrance exams. Glad to see this article talks about knowing Latin improves one’s English vocabulary. I also studied Spanish and Italian, and boy did that Latin help! I recommend taking it, as it will be of immeasurable benefit, even if one does not speak it!

93 Danno July 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Here is my favorite

Finis Coronat Opus = The End Crowns the Work

94 Romulus July 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm

quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Plato — who’s read in Greek, not Latin — has nothing to do with it. This is a quote from Juvenal’s famous sixth satire on women.

95 Pancho July 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm

@Kris (9:54 a.m.)

Here are a few free resources for learning Latin on the web:

“Experience Latin with Fr. Reginal Foster” – An free online course based on the classes given by Fr. Reginal Foster who was one of the Pope’s latinists and taught Latin in Rome for many years. It is set up by one of his former students.

Evan der Milner’s series of Youtube videos for learning Latin (and a few other languages too).

A website dedicated to learning Latin and Ancient Greek. It’s full of textbooks, grammars, readers and dictionaries in the public domain ready to download as well as a forum for discussion and to ask for advice.

For books there’s the famous “Wheelock’s Latin” but to get started you might want to first try “Getting Started with Latin” by William E. Linney which is aimed
at homeschoolers and self-taught learners.

You could also try “Learn Latin” by Peter V. Jones. It began as series of newspaper columns in British newspaper and teaches
enough for a basic reading knowledge of Latin. It can then be followed by the “Reading Latin” set of books also by Jones with Keith C. Sidwell and published by Cambridge University Press. It includes a reader, a grammar with vocabulary and exercises, and an independent study guide.

Another series of books worth looking at is the “Lingua Latina” series by Hans H. Orberg. It’s a course written entirely in Latin and comes in different levels
with different materials (texts, study guides, answer keys, etc) and gets a lot of praise online. The books are available on Amazon, EBay and other places. You can get an overview of the course at its website: .

96 Martin July 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm

My fav: Ave Atque vale!

Hail! And farewell!

97 Kevin July 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm

“Cathedra mea. Regula mea.”
“My chair. My rules.”
- Jim Parsons (as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory)

98 Brady July 26, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Great list, mine is Facilis descensus Averni (or Averno), the decent to Averni is easy, from Virgils Aeneid. Or the road to hell is smooth, meaning a good life is full of difficulties and hardship. I have passed it onto my son who has it tattooed on his back with his Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

99 Castle July 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Mors Ante Dedecus : death before dishonor

100 Bradley July 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I cannot tell you how big a pet peeve it is when I hear someone pronounce et cetera, “eck” cetera. No such thing, friends.

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