Brush Up Your Latin
Latin is considered a dead language, meaning it is no longer spoken as a native language by anyone. For being dead, it seems very much alive in the English language, and we see it all the time, everywhere. Mortgage is from two Latin roots, and translates as ‘death pledge.’ Of course ‘mort’ means death, and is the root of mortal and mortuary. There’s pro and anti; these we know. Or take the word propaganda. That’s not an Anglicized word from Latin, it is Latin — Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, the Congregation for propagation of the faith. Another one is camera, ‘room,’ the root of ‘chamber.” Have you heard of a camera obscura? It was a pinhole in the wall of a dark box or room, fitted with a lens, by which the outside is projected onto a surface (upside down). I want to give you just a quick rundown of Latin terms you see every day. Oh, I know you can quickly Google any of them. Just think of this as a quick refresher course.
ad hoc — ‘for this’ or ‘for this situation,’ something formed or used for a specific and immediate purpose, as in hiring more staff on an ad hoc basis, or an ad hoc committee.
ad hominem — ‘against the man,’ attacking the opponent rather than their position or policy. Think Donald Trump.
ad lib — from ‘ad libitum,’ at one’s pleasure. Improvisation is all ad lib.
ad litem — ‘for the suit,’ used to refer to a court appointed attorney to act in behalf of another party, such as a child or incapacitated adult.
ad infinitum — ‘without end or limit.’
ad nauseam — ‘to a sickening degree,’ as in the recent election campaign.
A.D. — ‘anno domini,’ year of Our Lord, now replaced by the more PC term, C.E., common era. (I refuse to use it)
A.M. or P.M. — ‘ante meridiem’ or ‘post meridiem,’ before or after the sun hits its meridian or highest point. Didn’t I tell you we use Latin every day?
bona fide — ‘in food faith,’ sincere, genuine, without intent to deceive.
caveat — “Danger, Will Robinson!” It’s a warning; beware, as in caveat emptor, ‘let the buyer beware.’ And beware is of course the shortened form of be aware.
cum laude — ‘with distinction,’ least of the three graduation honors; magna cum laude is ‘with great distinction’, and summa cum laude is ‘with highest distinction.’
e.g. — ‘exempli gratia,’ ‘for example.’
et al. — abbreviation for et alia, ‘and others.’
et cetera — etc., ‘and so forth.’ But you knew that one.
Ex Libris — literally, ‘from the books,’; more generally ‘from the library of.’
e pluribus unum — It’s on all our coins. It means ‘out of many, one.’ I like that.
habeas corpus — ‘You shall have the body (in court)’. It means you can’t be imprisoned or held indefinitely without appearing in court to plead your case. A judge or jury will decide your fate, rather than the authority holding you. Its antecedent goes back to the Magna Carta of 1215, and has been part of our Constitution until Dec. 31, 2011, when President Obama rescinded it by signing the annual National Defense Authority Act. The NDAA funds the military, but this version contains sec. 1021, stating that anyone suspected of terrorist activities (including American citizens!) can be picked up and held indefinitely by the military. It also overturned the 1867 Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the military from law enforcement action. Do you feel safer now?!?
i.e. — ‘id est,’ or ‘that is.’
ibid — short for ibidem, ‘in the place cited.’ You see this in footnotes a lot, and refers to the source cited in the previous footnote. Op. cit., the abbr for opera citato, refers to items referred to earlier in the footnotes.
forum — what is outside, fr. foris, outside. Originally denoted an enclosure, a good example being the Roman Forum. Nowadays we have online forums.
in flagrante delicto — ‘in blazing offence,’ colloquially, caught in the act.
in utero — ‘in the womb.’ Also an awesome album by Nirvana.
in vitro — literally, ‘in glass’ (from vitrum, glass). Fertilization of an egg outside of the human body, as in a (glass) test tube.
mea culpa — ‘through my fault,’ today the equivalent of “My bad.”
modus operandi — ‘way of operating,’ as in someone’s method of doing things. Abbr. MO.
non sequitur — ‘it does not follow.’ An inference that does not follow from the premise, e.g. “All Muslims may not be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”
nota bene — ‘note well,’ often abbr. to NB, or N.B. Example: Delta flight 181 departs for Toledo at 8:30 a.m. NB: No other flight to Toledo that day. Today we just use ‘note.’”
per diem — ‘for each day.’ Per is ‘for each’ or ‘for every.” I was a travelling salesman one summer (no jokes, please — I never met a single farmer’s daughter), and we got a per diem living allowance.
per se — ‘in itself,’ intrinsically, as such.
placebo — ‘I shall please,’ a treatment the patient thinks is medicine, but isn’t. A feel good measure, as in a provisional ballot. It makes the voter feel they’vevoted, but these are rarely counted and usually tossed into the circular file. Similar to nostrum.
postmortem — ‘after death,’ usually in conjunction with an autopsy.
postnatal — ‘after the birth,’ usually applied to a newborn infant.
postpartum — also ‘after the birth,’ but pertaining to the mother, i.e. postpartum depression.
postscriptum — you know this one, too; P.S., ‘after the writing,’ from when we did that.
pro bono — ‘for the public good.’ Usually legal work without charge.
Q.E.D. — ‘quod erat demonstrandum,’ ‘that which was to be demonstrated.” Mostly used by mathematicians after the last line of a proof. No, it doesn’t mean ‘quite easily done.’
quid pro quo — ‘something for something,’ as in you scratch my back, I scratch yours.
quorum — ‘of whom.’ A fixed number of members necessary to carry on business.
re: — ‘with regards to,’ from L. ’res,’ thing. Crosswords fans know the clue “Latin thing.”
rigor mortis — ‘stiffness of death.
Semper Fidelis — ‘always faithful,’ the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps.
sine qua non — ‘without which not,’ an absolutely indispensable thing. Good offensive line play is the sine qua non for championship football.
subpoena — ‘under penalty,’ a writ commanding an appearance in court.
versus — ‘towards,’ ‘against,’ usually abbr vs. and in legal cases as v.
viz. — abbr. for videlicit, ‘it may be seen.’ Archaic; just say namely. Don’t be a jerk.
I guess that’ll do for today. But if you still haven’t had enough, here’s a partial list of words we often use. Again, they’re not Anglicized; they are Latin, though some began with Greek roots — acumen, addendum, alias, alibi, altar, amen, animal, apex, apparatus, appendix, audio, axis, basis, bonus, campus, censor, census, circus, comma, credit, crisis, debit, decorum, delirium, dictator, dilemma, diploma, doctor, dogma, drama, duplex, editor, ego, enigma, errata, extra, fetus, focus, formula, fungus, furor, genitalia, genius, gymnasium, habitat, hiatus, honor, humor, idea, index, inertia, interim, item, legislature, liquor, major, mania, matrix, maximum, media, median, medium, memorandum, mentor, minimum, minister, minor, minus, moratorium, museum, nausea, neuter, nucleus, opera, panacea, par, pelvis, peninsula, petroleum, plus, posterior, prior, prosecutor, quantum, quota, radius, ratio, recipe, referendum, rumor, saliva, sanitarium, sector, senator, senior, series, sinister, sinus, species, spectrum, sponsor, stadium, status, stigma, stimulus, superior, tenor, terminus, terror, thesis, tribunal, trivia, tumor, tutor, ulterior, ultra, vacuum, verbatim, vector, vertigo, veto, video, visa, vortex.
Not bad, I’d say, for a “dead” language. I think there’s definitely a pulse there.