Latin isn’t dead; it’s everywhere, perhaps more than we realise – alibi, agenda, consensus, versus, homo sapiens, veto, alias, via, affidavit, vademecum, an item carried around, especially a handbook, and those indispensables i.e. (id est) ‘that is’, and etc. (et cetera) ‘and the rest’.
Maths lovers and problem solvers like putting Q.E.D. (quod erat demonstrandum) ‘that which is to be demonstrated’ after their proof or to clinch their argument. Some common phrases include non sequitur, ‘something that doesn’t follow’, bona fide ‘in good faith’, alter ego ‘the other self’, persona non grata (sometimes abbreviated as PNG) ‘unwelcome person’, vice versa ‘position reversed’, quid pro quo ‘this for that’ or more colloquially, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Per se means ‘in itself’ or ‘as such’. It’s become fashionable and sadly, I’ve seen it written persay. *cringes*
Cui bono? is a question you should ask if you doubt something. It means ‘for whose benefit?’
Carpe diem is well known; ‘seize the day’ or as my mother would have said, ‘Just get on with it!’
Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ‘Who guards the guardians themselves?’ Juvenal famously asked in his Satires (Satire VI, lines 347–8) and refers to the problem of controlling the actions of people in positions of power, an issue discussed by Plato in The Republic. Still a question very relevant today…
Mutatis mutandis ‘once the necessary changes have been made’ sounds high flown. Found in law, economics, mathematics and philosophy, it acknowledges that a comparison being made requires certain obvious alterations, which are left unstated. Not to be confused with the similar ceteris paribus, ‘all things being equal’ which excludes any changes other than those explicitly mentioned.
In ancient Roman history, res publica was used pertaining to the state or public, while Hannibal ad portas meant that Hannibal was at the gates of Rome, an expression used to frighten naughty children.
Vae victis! ‘Woe to the conquered!’ is attributed by Livy to Brennus, the chief of the Gauls, while he demanded more gold from the citizens of the recently sacked Rome in 390 BC.
Damnatio memoriae ‘damnation of memory’ was an ancient Roman custom where all records and likenesses of somebody were eliminated, honours revoked and everybody pretended the person had never existed. Pretty drastic and sometimes visited on Roman emperors by their successors, if they weren’t made gods, on notable public enemies and famously Mark Anthony after his defeat by Octavian and death.
SPQR (Senatus populusque Romanus) literally means the ‘Roman senate and people’, but popularly called the ‘Senate and people of Rome’. It referred to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and is even now used as an official emblem of the modern-day municipality of Rome. Many European cities have hijacked the SPQ bit and added their own city initial, even Liverpool – SPQL!
And obiter dicta? This can refer to remarks by a judge which are not necessary to reaching a decision, but are made as comments, illustrations or thoughts. Sometimes a way of saying ‘Here are a few casual comments…” by a senior person in a profession or academic institution. A warning: you should listen to those, because they may well be the most important thing that person has to say…
Do you have any favourite Latin-based sayings?
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