Important Latin Words and Terms

Yesterday we talked about the value of the study of Latin. Today we give below some of the many Latin words and terms that all writers should know. These words and terms are seen written all around the world in almost all languages in all academic fields. Therefore, it’s important that all writers know them. They needn’t be learnt by heart, but it is a good idea to get familiarized with them as they are often seen written in different contexts in various media.

Most commonly used Latin words and expressions:

Ad hoc: to this. Something created for a specific purpose. Like an ad hoc committee.

Ad valorem: to the value. Something related to the value of another thing. For example, an ad valorem tax.

Affidavit: a sworn written statement. A legal statement.

Alibi: elsewhere. If a person has an alibi, it means he can prove he was elsewhere.

Bona fide: good faith. This mainly refers to contracts. To respect the contract, one must act in good faith.

De facto: common in practice. Something which is not established by law but is common in practice.  Like a de facto official language.

In toto: completely. Refers to something that is taken in its entirety. For example, taking a project in toto.

Modus operandi: a way of doing things. Mainly used when referring to a person’s way of doing things. Like  a thief’s modus operandi; that is, the way he goes about stealing.

Per se: by itself. When something is taken per se, it is taken by itself, without considering the external factors.

Prima facie: by first instance. This is used mainly in legal cases. If a case is prima facie, it means there is enough evidence to go forward with the indictment.

Pro bono: for the public good. If, for example, a lawyer works on a case pro bono, he works for the public good. In other words, he works for free.

Sic: thus. Sic is usually placed within brackets in front of incorrect word or words indicating that the words are not the writer’s.

Terra firma: solid earth. Being on terra firma refers to be being on firm ground rather than on sea.

Vice versa: the other way around. For example, if you say “he likes her and vice versa”, it means that she too likes him.

Vox populi: voice of the people. Refers to the general public, or the voice of the common man.

Which other Latin word or term do you think should also have been included here?

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4 Responses

  1. This is fantastic. I teach creative writing and need information like this for my students. (Your knowledge of Latin is impressive. The only other person I know who’s familiar with it is my husband!)

    Now I want to read your other blog entries. Hope you’ll check mine out, as well.

    Like

  2. There are certainly very many more English words or terms originating from Latin. After all in the Middle Ages Latin was the standard de facto language of the church as well as upper class and professional classes of England. Other common words that come to mind are: etc. (et cetera), ca. (circa) and N.B. (note bene). Otherwise I think Latin has only a “pro forma” right to existence in modern day languages. I see no practical benefits to spending a lot of time learning it. This time is better spent improving your own English and/or learning Spanish or getting to grips with another world of languages like Russian or Chinese. Those are real-world challenges of a higher degree!

    All I can say is fortuna secunda!

    Like

    • Yes, Johnny, there are many more commonly used Latin words. Not all could be placed here in this one post. Learning a language has many benefits, whatever the language.

      Like

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