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Latin Words and Phrases Every Man Should Know

Posted By Brett & Kate McKay On July 25, 2013 @ 10:38 pm In Manly Knowledge,Travel & Leisure | 256 Comments

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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 [1] 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
alias
at another time -- an assumed name or pseudonym
alibi
elsewhere
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

audio
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
circa
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
emeritus
veteran -- retired from office
ergo
therefore
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
invicta
unconquered
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
meliora
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 [2] 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
postscriptum
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
quasi
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
quorum
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 [3]
spes bona
good hope
statim (stat)
immediately -- medical shorthand
status quo
the situation in which or current condition
subpoena
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
verbatim
repeat exactly
veritas et aequitas
truth and equity
versus
against
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!


Article printed from The Art of Manliness: http://www.artofmanliness.com

URL to article: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/07/25/latin-words-and-phrases-every-man-should-know/

URLs in this post:

[1] “Letters” major: http://cas.ou.edu/letters

[2] genre of art: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/10/29/memento-mori-art/

[3] it is solved by walking: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/04/22/solvitur-ambulando-it-is-solved-by-walking/

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