1. Deus ex machina
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where the main characters were magically saved from a seemingly dire situation by an unexpected force, like a giant boulder crushing the enemy forces? If so, you've encountered an example of "deus ex machina", a literary device invented by the father of Greek tragedy, writer Aeschylus and later translated to latin.
2. Carpe diem
The phrase literally encourages you to not put away things for tomorrow and seize the day, as the present is the only thing we can control. Needless to say, the famous phrase has been featured time and time in film and literature, and some linguists think it inspired the famous contemporary slang acronym "YOLO" (you only live once). For more fun modern slang, read our previous article titled 17 Slang Terms Invented Online Everyone Uses Nowadays.
3. Quid pro quo
Today, this term is used to describe different facets of society, including legal terminology, a type of allegation, or any mutually beneficial arrangement, often with a negative connotation. However, the original Latin phrase implied something different. It only meant that something had been substituted, whether accidentally or fraudulently.
4. Et cetera
Yes, it's true, even the ubiquitous "etc." we see at the end of so many sentences is actually not an English word, but a Latin borrowing. Well, kind of, as the Romans themselves have actually taken it as it is from the Greek phrase "καὶ τὰ ἕτερα" (kai ta hetera), which literally means 'and the other things'.
5. Persona non grata
While mostly used in a diplomatic sense today, the term stems from New Latin and simply meant an unacceptable person in 1877, according to the earliest recording of the term. So, technically speaking, if you don't like someone and want to say that they're unwelcome but in a fancy way, you could actually say that they're a persona non grata in your home.
6. Alter ego
The term "alter ego" can mean a variety of things today. For example, many musicians, such as David Bowie, have an alter ego, in his case, Ziggy Stardust, to explore a new and distinct side of their creativity and style. The term also has a significance in psychology, referring to an alternative, often dark, side of someone's personality. However, originally, the term meant "a second self, a trusted friend" according to Cicero, who coined the term in the 1st century.
7. Vice versa
Yet another common phrase you'd never think of as Latin is vice versa. While we all know very well what it actually means, we all essentially pronounce it completely wrong these days. Following Classical Latin pronunciation, the letter "c" should sound like "k", whereas the letter "v" represents the English "w". Hence, the phrase should actually be pronounced as "WEE-keh WEHR-sah".
8. Per se
Some of you may have had a hunch that "per se" isn't an original English phrase, as some books, especially older ones, actually italicize this phrase as per se, which can indicate that it's a loanword from Latin. Other similar Latin phrases that are commonly italicized are in vivo, in vitro, and a priori.
What do Agatha Christie, Tiger Woods, and Titian have in common? Well, they've all become famous, for one, but all three of these names are also actually aliases, or pseudonyms, and not their real names. Funny enough, the Latin word by word translation of the word "alias" is "at another time, elsewhere", whereas the word pseudonym, which is from Greek, is more intuitive, as it literally means "false name".
Verbatim has nothing to do with verbs, which is kind of counterintuitive, but it all makes sense once you know that in Latin, a verb, or verbum is actually a "word", and not the part of speech that denotes action, as we're used to. Here you go, we've learned a bit of grammar on the way, too.
11. Ad hoc
An ad-hoc committee is created specifically to find a solution to a given issue, be it regional or global. But when used as an adjective, it means temporary or improvised. This phrase may sound complicated, but its origins are not, as it simply means "to this" or "for this" in Latin.
12. Per capita
Would it be rude if someone counted people as heads, much like they do to animals today when we say "200 heads of sheep"? Well, in Ancient Rome, that's precisely what they did, as "per capita" is literally translated as "per head", and not as "per person" as we've used to thinking of it today.
13. AM/ PM
Yes, it turns out that we're all pretty much fluent speakers of Latin, congratulations! After all, every time you tell the time, you're using either AM or PM, both of which are Latin phrases - "ante meridiem" for before midday and "post meridiem" stands for after midday.
14. Tabula rasa
While not everyone can recognize this term, those who know a thing or two about education and child development will be familiar with the theory of the tabula rasa, which claims that every child is born as a blank slate and all their behaviors and even character are essentially learned. Apart from that, the term is sometimes used as a fancy way to call someone a dummy, although this use is mostly obsolete today.
15. Lingua franca
Without a doubt, English is the lingua franca of the 20th and so far also the 21st century, but back in the Middle Ages, there was a language called Sabir, also known as Mediterranean Lingua Franca, that was a mash of different languages like Latin, Catalan, French, Turkish, Greek, and Arabic, and was used mainly for trade. It is precisely this language that was the first lingua franca and also birthed the term "lingua franca" itself.
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