Mind Your Pros and Quos

If you’re like me, you love your mildly-crappy lawyer TV dramas. And, if you’re also like me, you don’t understand a word they say because it’s all in Latin. More importantly than that, writing ‘Body of Christ’ in your novel when you really meant ‘Seize the day’ will make you look silly. So I have created a list of Latin words and phrases that are still used to this day.

  • Ad hoc can be translated as ‘to this’, but is used to mean something done in a rush. I prefer the term ‘winging it’, but unfortunately ‘winging’ is not a proper word with a proper Latin translation
  • Ad nauseam means you are sick of this whole bloody conversation; ‘can we please change the subject’, or ‘possumus mutare subiectum placet’ is a good thing to add to this
  • Alma Mater: this is a thing to do with American colleges. It means ‘bountiful mother’, but it is really just the college one has graduated from
  • Antebellum houses are houses from ‘before the war’, for you US afficionados
  • Carpe diem means ‘Sieze the day’
  • If you are compis mentis, you don’t have a mental health issue or learning difficulty
  • Corpus Christi means ‘body of Christ’, and I don’t have a clue how I got that mixed up with ‘seize the day’
  • De facto means ‘actually’ or ‘in reality’
  • If your characters are utter bastards, you may want to useĀ Et tu, Brute?, a phrase from Julius Caesar where he basically says that he didn’t expect such a thing from Brutus and he is such an utter traitor (and that’s the way Shakespeare would have worded it)
  • Ergo means therefore
  • Ever wondered what IVF stands for and means? In Vitro Fertilisation is the fertilisation of eggs ‘in glass’, or in test tubes
  • For those of you who have been through the recent changes to the Catholic Mass in the UK, you say ‘my fault’ now because somebody decided that’s what mea culpa means
  • Ipso facto is the ‘duh’ of Latin, and means that what you have said is true because it is (if you like reading, you are a book-worm; ipso facto)
  • Mens rea means ‘guilty mind’; a good title for a novel about a murderer, methinks
  • Per se: the literal translation of per se is actually ‘by itself’, although nowadays it is more meant to mean ‘exactly’ or ‘completely’
  • Pro bono translates as ‘for good’ but nowadays can be translated as ‘for free’
  • Quid pro quo means ‘this for that’
  • If you get a subpoena, it means you are under law to do what the subpoena says
  • Tabula rasa means ‘clean slate’, although I don’t know where you would want to use it
  • Terra firma is where we all like to stay, on firm ground
  • Want to know how to say ‘I think, therefore I am’ in Latin? Cogito ergo sum.
  • Finally, if you want to tell someone that you love them in Latin to confuse them, don’t bother; te amo means ‘I love you’
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