Latin Common Expressions

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 fortunae every man is the arquitect of his own fortune –quote by Appius Claudius Caecus
acta non verba deeds, not words
ad calendas graecas never — there is no greek calendas (Roman months)
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, place…) [Accusative of alius] — 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
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 alia(neuter plural) et aliae(femenine plural)
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
imprimatur let it be printed — applied loosely to any mark of approval or endorsement
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 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
nihil obstat no objection to an initiative or an appointment — attestation by a church censor that a book contains nothing damaging to faith or morals
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? — Juvenal
quod erat demonstrandum what was to be demonstrated — abbreviated Q.E.D.
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. — also requiescat in pacem with accusative instead of ablative or requiescant in plural
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 virilis always 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
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 versa to 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