Phrase Friday: Non-English Phrases Used Frequently by English Speakers, Part 1 – Latin

Americans have a habit of using certain words and phrases from other languages, and we particularly love to use Latin and French. Italian, though less common, is also sometimes appropriated by English speakers, as are Greek and Spanish. While there’s nothing saying you shouldn’t use non-English phrases in your writing, it is important to know the correct spelling and meaning before you use them. Today I’ll cover Latin phrases, and next week I’ll talk about French ones. The following week, I will tell you about the less common phrases from other languages.

  • Ad absurdum: literally “to the point of absurdity” – used the same way you would the English phrase.
  • alma mater: “nurturing mother” – the school from which one graduates
  • cum laude: “with honor” – used in diplomas to grant special honors to those with above average grades
  • verbatim: in exactly the same words; word for word
  • E pluribus unum: “out of many, one” – the motto of the United States
  • status quo: the existing condition or state of affairs
  • Caveat Emptor: “let the buyer beware” – the principle that the seller of a product cannot be held responsible for its quality unless it is guaranteed under a warranty
  • tabula rasa: “blank slate” – a mind not yet affected by experiences, impressions, etc; anything existing undisturbed in its original state
  • ad nauseam: endlessly, to the point of nausea
  • carpe diem: “seize the day” – enjoy the day, take the opportunity
  • tempus fugit: “time flies”
  • bona fide: made or carried out in good faith; genuine; sincere
  • non sequitur: an idea or statement that does not follow logically from evidence
  • id est: “that is” – that is to say; in other words. Frequently abbreviated as i.e. (see last Friday’s post on i.e. and e.g.)
  • terra firma: “solid ground” – often used when referring to being back on land after traveling by boat or air.
  • vox populi: “the voice of the people” – popular opinion or sentiment
  • ad hoc: for a specific purpose or situation; improvised – outside the usual routine. For example, an “ad hoc” project at work would be something you are not normally assigned to do.
  • magnum opus: the greatest work of an artist, writer, or composer; masterpiece
  • persona non grata: an unacceptable or unwelcome person
  • quid pro quo: “this for that” – something given in exchange for something else
  • modus operandi: “Mode of operation” – the typical or usual way of doing something
  • mea culpa: “my fault” – an acknowledgment of error or guilt

Further reading: Daily Writing Tips (this site doesn’t tell you what language the phrases come from, but many of them are obvious and at least it gives decent definitions).

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