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List of Latin phrases

This page provides English translations of less common Latin phrases (i.e., not always found in dictionaries), some of which are themselves translations from Greek.

Note that the difference between phrases and proverbs is often subjective. Please use this test to see whether a Latin sentence is a phrase or proverb: If the sentence is an old yet common saying that expresses some practical truth, then it is probably a proverb. If it is in the form of an incomplete sentence[?] or does not contain some practical truth, then it is probably a phrase.


Table of contents

A

A pedibus usque ad caput
"From feet to head."

Ab urbe condita or Anno urbis conditae, abbreviated A.U.C.
"from the founding of the city" (of Rome); 753 B.C., according to Livy's count; used as a reference point by the Romans for establishing dates, as we use A.D. today.

A bene placito
"at your pleasure"

Ad captandum vulgus
"To appeal to the crowd" -- often used of politicians who make false or insincere promises appealing to popular interest.

Ad hoc
"For a particular purpose (improvised, made up in an instant)"

Ad hominem
"To the man", meaning 1) an argument designed to appeal to personal interest rather than objective fact; 2) an argument criticizing one's opponent rather than his ideas.

Ad infinitum
"to infinity", going on to a very great degree

Ad Kalendas Graecas
"To the Greek Kalends", i.e. "to a date that does not (or will not) exist" (Emperor Augustus, in Suetonius, in the sense of "never" - Kalends were part of the Roman calendar, not of the Greek, so it is used of a false or unlikely promise)

Ad libitium (ad lib)
"Freely; at ease", just ramble

Ad majorem Dei gloriam
"to the greater glory of God"

Ad multos annos
"To many years!", i.e. "Many happy returns!"

Ad nauseam
"to the point of nausea"

Alea iacta est
"The die is cast" (Julius Caesar in Suetonius uses it as an imperative "Alea jacta esto": "Let the die be cast")

Alter ego
"Another self" - usually refers to a pseudonym but can refer to another person.

A mari usque ad mare
"From sea to sea" - motto of Canada

Amicus curiae
'Friend of the court" (adviser), a person who can obtain or grant access to the favour of powerful people (like Romana curia[?]).

Ante litteram
"before the letter", a qualifier for an expression when applied to something that existed before the expression itself was introduced or became common. For example, one could say that Alan Turing was a computer scientist ante litteram, since the profession of "computer scientist" was not recognised in Turing's day.

Ars gratia artis
"Art for art's sake" (motto of MGM)

Ars longa, vita brevis
"Art is long, life is short"

Aurea mediocritas
"Golden Mean" (in Horace, Odi, an ethical goal)

Ave atque vale
"Hail and farewell!"


B

Bona fide
"In good faith"


C

Carpe diem
"Seize the day" (Horace to Leuconoe: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, reap the day, believing as little as possible in the morrow)

casus belli
"an event that causes or justifies war"

Caveat emptor
"Let the buyer beware", i.e. the onus of responsibility is on the purchaser of goods.

Cave canem
"Beware of the dog"

Ceteris paribus :
"All other things being equal"

Circa
"About, approximately, around", e.g. of a date: "Jesus Christ was actually born circa 6 B.C."

Cogito ergo sum
"I think, therefore I am" (Descartes)

Compos mentis
"Sound mind" (sometimes used rather humourously)

Conditio sine qua non
"Condition without which not", or "indispensable condition".

Cui bono
"Whom does it benefit?" - a maxim sometimes used in the detection of crime.

Cui prodest
"Whom does it benefit?" (short form for cui prodest scelus, is fecit in Seneca's Medea - the murderer is the one who gains by the murder)

Cum grano salis
"With a grain of salt" (just a bit of wise attention)


D

De facto
"in fact", "in practice"

De jure
"by law"

De minimis non curat praetor (or rex or lex)
"The authority" (or "king", or "law") "does not care about trivial things"

De novo
"Anew"

Deus ex machina
"A contrived or artificial solution" (literally, "a god from a machine"). Refers to the practice in Greek drama of letting Zeus resolve awkward plots when a mechanical device would lower an actor playing Zeus onto the stage near the end of a play, as though he were descending from Olympus.)

Divide et impera
"Divide and govern", attributed to Philip II of Macedonia[?] and meaning that if you encourage rivalries and jealousies among your people, you will rule them more easily

Dominus Illuminatio Mea
"The Lord is my light"; the motto of Oxford University).

Dum spiro, spero
"As long as I breathe, I hope" (also "When I die, I hope" - spiro means also 'I breath the last breath')

Dura lex, sed lex
"The law is harsh, but it is the law"


E

E pluribus unum
"From many, one" - the motto of the USA.

Ecce homo
"Behold the man!" -- in the Gospel of John these words are spoken by Pilate as he presents Christ crowned with thorns to the crowd.

Emeritus
"Honorary; by merit"

Esto perpetua
"Let it be everlasting" -- used by the historian Fra Paolo Sarpi[?] of his native Venice.

Et alii
"And (male) others", often written et al. (Et aliae is used when the "others" are all female.) Exactly what you need to do when they others are male and female, Latin isn't sure

Et cetera
"And the other ones", also abbreviated as 'etc.' (nowadays used for "and the rest")

Ex animo
"From the heart" (sincerely)

Ex ante
"Before the event, beforehand" (economics:based on prior assumptions)

Ex Cathedra
"From the chair" -- a phrase applied to the Pope when he is speaking infallibly and, by extension, to others who speak with supreme authority or arrogance.

Excelsior
"Ever upward"

Exempli gratia
"For the sake of example", also abbreviated as 'e.g.'

Exeunt
See exit.

Ex hypothesi
"from the hypothesis" (i.e. the one under consideration)

Exit
"he / she leaves;" Exeunt omnes: they all leave

Ex libris...
"From the books (library) of..."

Ex nihilo nihil fit
"Nothing comes from nothing" -you need to work for something

Ex post facto
"After the fact" (also post facto)

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus
"Outside the Church [there is] No Salvation" -- a phrase of much disputed significance in Roman Catholic theology.


F

Fidei Defensor
"Defender of the Faith" -- a title given to Henry VIII of England by Pope Leo X before Henry became an heresiarch[?].

Fons et origo
"The wellspring and origin"


G

Genius loci
"the spirit of the place"

Gloria in excelsis Deo
"glory to God in the highest"


H

Habeas corpus
"You must have the body", i.e. you must justify an imprisonment. (From the Writ to bring a prisoner to court - Charles II of England, Habeas corpus Act - 1679)

Hic jacet...
"Here lies...." -- written on gravestones or tombs.

Horribile dictu
"Horrible to tell"


I

Infinitus est numerus stultorum
"Infinite is the number of fools" Ecclesiastes 1:15 (Vulgate)

In flagrante delicto
"In flaming crime," i.e. "red-handed" -nowadays used when you are in found in a compromising situation with a sexual partner

In memoriam
"In memory of"

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas
"In necessary things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in all things charity" -- a theological phrase often misattributed to St Augustine.

In toto
"In total" (altogether)

In vino veritas
"Drink brings out the truth" (literally, "in wine, truth")

Incredibile dictu
"Incredible to say."


I/J

Iunctis/Junctis viribus
"By united efforts"


L

Labor omnia vincit
"Labor conquers all"

Lapsus calami
"A slip of the pen"

Lapsus linguae
"A slip of the tongue"

Lapsus memoriae
"Memory lapse"

lorem ipsum
Not real Latin; a dummy text used as filler by copy editors.


M

Magna cum laude
"With great honor"

Magnum opus
"Masterpiece" (great work); also ironically.

Mea (maxima) culpa
"By my own (very great) fault" -- used in Christian prayers and confession.

Mirabile dictu
"Wonderful to tell"

Multum in parvo
"Much in little" -- e.g. "Latin phrases are often multum in parvo, because they convey much in few words."

Mutatis mutandis
"The necessary changes having been made."


N

Nemo me impune lacessit
"No-one provokes me with impunity" -- a famous Scottish motto.

Nolens (aut) volens
"Willing or not"

Noli me tangere
"Touch me not" -- according to the Gospel of John, this was said by Christ to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection.

Non compos mentis or Non compos sui
"Of unsound mind"

Non sequitur
Statement that doesn't follow logic (Literally, "It does not follow.")

Non serviam
"I will not serve"

Nosce te ipsum
"Know thyself"


O

Oderint dum metuant
"Let them hate, so long as they fear." Attributed by Seneca to the playwright Lucius Accius, and said to be a favourite saying of Caligula's.

Odi et amo
"I hate (her), and I love (her)." From Catullus

Odium theologicum
"Theological hatred" -- a special name for the hatred generated in theological disputes.


P

Pacta sunt servanda
"agreements must be honoured"

Parens patriae
"Parent of the country"

pater familias
"father of the family"

Pax tecum
"Peace be with you (singular)"

Pax vobiscum
"Peace be with you (plural)"

Per annum
"Per year"

Per ardua ad astra
"Through hardship to the stars," motto of the Royal Air Force.

Per caput, per capita
"Per person" (literally, "by head(s)")

Per se
"By or in itself, without referring to anything else, intrinsically", see for instance negligence per se

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
"After this, therefore because of this" (a fallacy).

Pro bono publico
"For the public good" - a lawyer's work is said to be pro bono if he does not charge for it.

Pro rata
"For the rate" (per hour for example)

Pro tempore
"For the time being"

Persona non grata
"Person not wanted"

Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus
A line from Horace: "The mountains are in labour, and a ridiculous mouse shall be born" (i.e. much ado about nothing).


Q

Quære
"(You might) ask. . ." Used to introduce questions, usually rhetorical or tangential questions.

Quid pro quo
"A thing for a thing", i.e. a favor for a favor.

Quidnunc? or Quid nunc?
"What now?" As a noun, a quidnunc is a busybody or a gossip.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?
A line from Juvenal: "Who will watch the watchmen?"

Quieta non movere
"Don't move settled things", or: "Don't rock the boat."

Quod erat demonstrandum, abbreviated as Q.E.D.
"that which was to be demonstrated." This abbreviation is often written at the bottom of a completed proof.

Quo vadis
"Where are you going?" (in the Gospel of John, St. Peter meeting Jesus on the Appian way in Rome asks: "Quo vadis, Domine?", or "Where goest thou, Lord?")


R

Rara avis
"A rare bird", i.e. an extraodinary or unusual thing (from Juvenal's Satires: rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cycno, "a rare bird on the earth, and very like a black swan".)

Regnat populus
"Let the People rule"

Res ipsa loquitur
"the thing speaks for itself;" a phrase from the common law of torts that means negligence can be inferred from the fact that such an accident happened, without proof of exactly how.

Risus abundat in ore stultorum
"Abundant laughs in the mouth of the foolish" - too much hilarity means foolishness

Rosa rubicundior, lilio candidior, omnibus formosior, semper in te glorior
"Redder than the rose, whiter than the lilies, fairer than everything, I will always glory in thee."


S

Salus populi suprema lex esto
"Let the good of the people be the supreme law"

Salva veritate
"With truth preserved"

Sapere aude
"Dare to be wise"

Semper fidelis
"Always faithful"

Semper paratus
"Always prepared"

Sic
"Thus", "just so". Used to state that quoted material appears exactly that way in the source, usually despite errors of spelling, grammar, usage, or fact.

Sic semper tyrannis
"Thus always to tyrants" -- Motto of the American state of Virginia and said to have been shouted by John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Sic transit gloria mundi
"Thus passes the glory of the world"

SPQR or Senatus Populusque Romanus
"The Senate and the People of Rome" -- "SPQR" was carried on battle standards by the Legions.

Status quo
"Existing state of affairs" (from "statu quo ante", prior or current situation)

Sub iudice (or Sub judice)
"under a judge", i.e. a case that cannot be publicly discussed until it is finished.

Sub poena
"under penalty", i.e. on pain of punishment

Sub rosa
"under the rose," secretly (a rose was placed above a door to indicate that what was said in the room beyond was not to be repeated outside)

Summa cum laude
"With the highest honor"

Summum bonum
"The supreme good"

Sutor, ne ultra crepidam
"Cobbler, no further than (your competence on) the sandal" - It is said that Greek painter Apelles was one day painting a warrior but he was uncertain on how to render his sandals (crepida). He asked the advice of a cobbler (sutor), but after a time the cobbler started offering advice on other parts of the painting and was rebuked by Apelles with this phrase (but in Greek).


T

Tabula rasa
"A scraped slate" (Romans used to write on wax tablets, easy to erase).

Terra firma
"Solid ground"

Terra incognita
"Unknown land"


U

Ubi mel ibi apes
"Where honey, there bees", i.e., if you want support, you must offer something in return.

Ubi revera or Ubi re vera
"When, in reality. . . "


V

Vade mecum
"Come with me." A vade-mecum is an item one carries around, especially a handbook.

Veni, vidi, vici
"I came, I saw, I conquered" (Julius Cesar describing his campaign in De Bello Gallico)

Via
"By way of"

Via media
"Middle path", often used of the Church of England, which was said to be a via media between the errors of Roman Catholicism and extreme Protestantism.

Vice versa
"A reverse of order or meaning"

Vivat, crescat, floreat!
"He/She/It may live, grow, and flourish!"

Volenti non fit iniuria.
"A person who consents, does not suffer injustice."


See also:



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