A focus on grammar can be the wrong way to teach and learn a language. Do the old methods of learning make it harder to
Far from being a dead language, Latin is very much alive in our day-to-day conversations. Carpe diem, et cetera, cum laude, curriculum vitae and mea culpa are just a few of the Latin phrases still widely used today. It’s unclear whether Latin made a comeback or it has been this cool for hundreds of years. But one thing is sure: Latin phrases are nowadays the cooler siblings of slang words. And Julius Caesar approves this message.
No, really. Didn’t you notice how inserting some Latin words here and there automatically makes someone look smarter? Even the dullest conversation can become an erudite discussion if you use the right Latin sayings. Here’s proof:
— Do you want the chocolate ice cream or the vanilla ice cream?
— The vanilla ice cream. You know me: semper fidelis to the vanilla.
As you probably already guessed, semper fidelis means ’always faithful’ or ‘always loyal’. So yeah, Q.E.D. or quod erat demonstrandum (’what was to be demonstrated’) – which, by the way, is the mic drop of Latin phrases. To show off how you logically proved something, use Q.E.D. confidently at the end of your conclusion. You’ll impress everyone with your exquisite choice of words.
Carpe diem and other common Latin phrases and words
Before diving into the really cool Latin words and phrases, we have to make a quick stop in the ‘most common Latin phrases’ station. You know what they say — you can’t fully enjoy the main course without a proper aperitif. So let’s start with the meaning of carpe diem, ad hoc, status quo, et cetera.
But first, a quick remark. Avoid using Latin sayings and phrases ad nauseam (’to a sickening or excessive degree’) in your discourse. While they may impress your friends (and foes) if used mindfully, the contrary can also be true if you’re too overzealous.
Common Latin phrases you heard at least once
These are nearly as famous as Julius Caesar himself.
1. Veni, vidi, vici.
I came, I saw, I conquered.
Famously attributed to Julius Caesar in a message he supposedly sent to the Roman Senate to describe his swift, conclusive victory against King Pharnaces II of Pontus near Zela in 47 BC.
2. Alea iacta est.
The die has been cast.
Another Latin phrase said by Julius Caesar upon crossing the Rubicon to enter Italy and begin the long civil war against Pompey and the Optimates. The meaning of this phrase refers to the point of no return.
3. Carpe diem.
Seize the day.
Probably the most popular Latin phrase of modern times. Luckily, we have an even better one: carpe vinum. Literally ‘seize the wine’. The only Latin phrase you’ll ever need on a Friday night out. And speaking of night, you should also remember the carpe noctem variation which literally translates to ‘seize the night’. Either way, the general meaning is to make the most of everything.
4. Cogito, ergo sum.
I think, therefore I am.
A dictum (‘a short statement that expresses a general truth’) coined by French philosopher René Descartes in Latin.
What Descartes doesn’t know is that nowadays people prefer the bibo, ergo sum version which literally means “I drink, therefore I am”.
5. In vino veritas.
In wine, there is truth.
Be careful if you carpe vinum on that Friday night out we talked about. This Latin saying suggests that you’ll probably spill all your secrets if you drink too much alcohol.
6. Et tu, Brute?
“And you, Brutus?”
Or “You too, Brutus?”. This Latin quote appears in William Shakespeare‘s play “Julius Caesar” at the very moment of Caesar’s assassination. Upon recognizing his friend, Marcus Junius Brutus, as one of the assassins, Julius Caesar utters these last words.
That scene is very tragic indeed, but nowadays, the phrase can be used jokingly to condemn a friend’s change of heart.
7. Acta, non verba.
Deeds, not words.
Similar to res, non verba, the English equivalent of this phrase is “actions speak louder than words”. In other words, act upon it or always follow your declarations with actions.
8. Carthago delenda est.
Carthage must be destroyed.
Prior to the Third Punic War between Rome and Carthage, Cato the Censor, a Roman politician, used to conclude all his speeches to the Senate with this phrase. While he did this in an attempt to push for the war, nowadays the expression can be used figuratively as a way to express your absolute support for an idea.
Common Latin words
You probably heard these but never knew what they meant. It’s time to change that.
- Ad hominem
To the person
Short for argumentum ad hominem (literally meaning ‘argument against the person’). It refers to a rhetorical strategy where the speaker attacks the other person rather than the substance of the argument itself.
- Quid pro quo
Something for something
Or ‘this for that’. A favor granted in return for something else. Similar to “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.
- Deus ex machina
God from the machine
A plot device used to resolve a seemingly unsolvable problem. It’s often considered a lazy or cheap way to tie loose ends in movies or books. A good example could be Arya killing the Night King in Game of Thrones.
- Ad hoc
Or ‘for this purpose. Something that is not planned, but done only when it’s needed. An ad hoc meeting.
- Mea culpa
Through my fault
An acknowledgment of one’s fault or an admission of guilt.
- Status quo
The existing state (of affairs)
Mainly used with regard to social or political issues. “The officials wanted to maintain the status quo, so they did not vote to admit the new members.
- Per se (and not ‘per say’)
By itself or in itself
Used to describe or talk about something on its own, rather than in connection with other things. “I’m not a fan of the Latin language per se, but rather its influence on modern languages.”
- Alma mater
Used to identify the institution of education that one formerly attended. It suggests that a school provides intellectual nourishment to its students.
- De facto
Describes something existing in fact, although perhaps not legal. It contrasts with de jure, which refers to things that happen according to law.
- Persona non grata
An unwelcome person
Especially used in diplomacy, but also in day-to-day conversations. “Julian is a persona non grata for us since he offended Miriam.
- Bona fide
In good faith
If something was made bona fide, then it is sincere, genuine or authentic.
- Sui generis
Of its/his/her/their own kind
Constituting a class alone. Unique. Think of Mozart for example.
- Sine qua non
Without which, not
Something absolutely essential. A more clear translation could be ‘without (something), (something else) won’t be possible’. “Creativity is a sine qua non for writing novels.”
- Ad infinitum
Unlike the previous Latin words, this one is pretty self-explanatory.
- Et cetera
And other similar things
Every student’s favorite. We all know what this one means, don’t we?
Cool Latin phrases to make you sound like a veritable Julius Caesar
Do you know what’s the coolest thing about these following cool Latin phrases? They’re evergreen. If time travel gets invented in a few years, these phrases are gonna come in handy regardless of the century you choose to travel to. Besides, this selection includes only the most relevant expressions so you don’t have to worry about redundancy.
Get ready to bring your Roman alter ego to life in 3… 2… 1. Go!
1. Castigat ridendo mores.
Laughing corrects morals.
According to this phrase, one supposedly corrects bad habits by laughing at them. Of course, you shouldn’t laugh at strangers, but your close friends will probably like the idea.
2. Cui bono?
Good for whom?
Or who benefits? Similar to the expression sequere pecuniam (“follow the money”), this phrase suggests to look for the culprit in the person who would benefit from an unwelcome event.
3. Me vexat pede.
It annoys me at the foot.
Similar to the English saying “a pebble in one’s shoe”, me vexat pede refers to a trivial situation or person that is being a nuisance. The Romans don’t seem so serious anymore, do they?
4. Mulgere hircum.
To milk a male goat.
Am I wrong or is this your soon to be favorite Latin phrase? Although it hints at attempting the impossible – which is a very serious matter – you can not help but smile at the image.
5. Ex nihilo nihil fit.
Nothing comes from nothing.
Or so Lucretius said. Originally meaning “work is required to succeed”, the modern reinterpretation suggests that “everything has its origins in something”.
6. Nemo saltat sobrius.
Nobody dances sober.
Have you heard about Cicero? The famous Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic Skeptic? Well, he said this. Probably after an interesting night during which carpe vinum was his favorite motto.
7. Nitimur in vetitum.
We strive for the forbidden.
From Ovid’s ‘Amores’. This behavior is no stranger to the modern world. Highly disputed between philophers, nitimur in vetitum was also what drove Eve to take a bite from the forbidden fruit.
8. Caesar non supra grammaticos.
The Emperor is not above the grammarians.
Know any grammar nazis? Because they’ll love this Latin phrase. Its origin goes back to 1414, when the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg made a grammar mistake during his speech to the Council of Constance. After the error was pointed out to him, Sigismund angrily decided to simply change the grammar rule to his liking. At his point, a member of the Council apparently stood and said “Caesar non supra grammaticos”. Pretty cool story, isn’t it?
9. Pecunia non olet.
Money don’t smell.
According to Suetonius, when to Roman emperor Vespasian imposed a urine tax, his son Titus complained of the money’s disgusting nature. Now you’re probably asking yourself what in heaven’s name is a urine tax. Well, the urine collected from Rome’s public urinals was sold as an ingredient for multiple chemical processes. So no, the people of Rome didn’t pay a tax to urinate. Instead, the buyers of the urine did.
You can probably imagine what happened next. Vespasian’s answer to his son was to hold up a gold coin and ask whether it smelled. The rest is… history.
10. Plenus venter non studet libenter.
A full belly does not like studying.
To be honest, my belly does not like studying when it’s empty either. What about yours?
Anyway, it seems that the Romans believed it is difficult to concentrate after a heavy meal.
11. Festina lente.
An oxymoronic phrase attributed to Augustus. Genius if you ask me. Equivalent to “more haste, less speed”, festina lente essentially encourages you to proceed quickly, but cautiously.
12. Barba non facit philosophum.
A beard doesn’t make one a philosopher.
Want to sweep everyone off their feet with your erudite ways? Use this Latin phrase instead of its English equivalent: “clothes don’t make the man”. Or the similar cucullus non facit monachum (“the hood does not make the monk”).
13. De gustibus non est disputandum.
Of tastes there is nothing to be disputed.
Different phrase, same story. You’re welcome.
14. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
I fear Greeks even if they bring gifts.
Similar to equo ne credite (“do not trust the horse”). The phrase belongs to Laocoön when he supposedly warned his fellow Trojans against accepting the wooden horse from the Greeks. Nowadays, this expression can be used figuratively between friends.
15. Dulce est desipere in loco.
It is sweet on occasion to play the fool. / It is pleasant to relax once in a while.
By Horace in ‘Odes’. Criminally underused genius Latin phrase. I trust you shall change this.
16. Audentes fortuna iuvat.
Fortune favors the bold.
Supposedly Pliny the Elder’s last words before leaving the docks at Pompeii to rescue his friend Pomponianus from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79. The phrase also appears in Virgil’s Aeneid.
17. Ita vero.
Funny thing about Romans. Apparently, they had no word for ‘yes’, so they went with ita vero instead.
18. Lupus in fabula.
The wolf in the story.
The Latin equivalent of “speak of the devil”. When you speak of someone and they suddenly appear, almost as if you were summoning them, this proverb is perfect.
19. Memento vivere.
Remember to live.
We all heard about memento mori (“remember that you [have to] die”), but apparently a more optimistic view over life also existed.
20. Risus abundat in ore stultorum.
Laughter is abundant in the mouth of fools.
Similar to per risum multum poteris cognoscere stultum (“by excessive laughter one can recognize the fool”). Do you have that one friend who laughs at their own jokes even before saying them? If yes, then this saying is for them. Only if they are not easily offended, of course.
21. Surdo oppedere.
To belch before the deaf.
You gotta love the Latin language. After learning of this phrase’s existence, I no longer regarded my attempt to learn as many Latin phrases as possible as futile.
If it wasn’t obvious enough, surdo oppedere refers to a useless action.
22. Aut Caesar aut nihil.
Either Caesar or nothing.
Or “all or nothing”. This was the personal motto of the infamous Italian cardinal Cesare Borgia. Nowadays, the expression can be used to denote the absolute aspiration to be the best.
23. Mortuum flagellas.
You are flogging a dead man.
Have you ever criticized someone who did not feel remorse over their actions? This phrase is exactly about that but said in a much more creative and interesting way. Gotta remember this one.
Latin phrases about love
To conclude our exploration of the Latin phrases in a positive tone, let’s see what the Romans had to say about love. It’s true they talked more about wars, but you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life, do you? Why learn Latin phrases about war, when love wins no matter what?
1. Si vis amari ama.
If you want to be loved, love.
Written by Seneca in the sixth of his letters to Lucilius. The phrase has a double interpretation: ‘only loving souls can inspire love’ and ‘you cannot ask for love from those you do not love yourself’.
2. Amor vincit omnia.
Love conquers all.
Famously attributed to the Latin poet Virgil, this popular Latin phrase is also the title of a painting by the Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio.
3. Ubi amor, ibi dolor.
Where (there is) love, there (is) pain.
No matter how beautiful, love can also hurt. This expression refers to the pain love can inflict upon one’s soul especially if we’re talking about unrequited love.
4. Amor et melle et felle est fecundissimus.
Love is rich with both honey and venom.
It seems that love was no different in Ancient Rome. This quote appeared in Titus Maccius Plautus’ play ‘Cistellaria’.
5. Hei mihi! Quod nullis amor est medicabilis herbis.
Oh me! Love can not be cured by herbs.
From Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. We know your pain, Ovid.
Why should you learn Latin phrases and sayings?
In all seriousness, Latin phrases, quotes and sayings are a fun way to boost your vocabulary and learn more about the origin of the words we use every day. While Latin is the common ancestor of the Romance languages, it has also influenced the Germanic languages (of which English is a part). So it might prove most illuminating to take inspiration from the master orators and use Latin words and phrases in your day-to-day conversations.
Besides, Latin can prepare you for many professions or simply discussions with scholarly people. These fields include law, medicine, science, music, theology, philosophy, art, and literature. Many scholars believe that learning Latin also sharpens the mind and cultivates analysis and attention.
Furthermore, the Latin language is rich in life lessons, mottos and words to live by. By learning these sayings, you’ll not only improve your vocabulary but also your life experience.
Last but surely not least, dropping one or two cool Latin words here and there will add at least 50 points to your coolness level.
Speak Latin like a veritable Julius Caesar
The Latin language is no longer is secret code meant only for scholars or the Catholic Church. Starting right now, you can learn Latin with Mondly using bite-sized lessons and practical topics to help you discover how Romans conversed in their day-to-day life.
Soon enough, you’ll be able to speak like a veritable Julius Caesar yourself.