Apart from agenda, referendum, memorabilia et al., what have the Romans ever done for us?

What with the 2054th anniversary of the death of Julius Caesar this week (Et tu, Brute?) and London’s mayor Boris Johnson urging state schools to start teaching Latin again, the old language has been in the news saepius sepius (frequently).

Boris even went as far to say “I firmly believe that we must not starve the minds of students eager to embrace the great intellectual disciplines of Latin…There is simply no better way than to make young minds think in a logical and analytical way.”

But how useful is Latin? It’s a dead language right? I mean, when do we ever use it?

Well, if you’re a lawyer, a gardener or a medicus (doctor) you probably use Latin all the time. But even if you’re not you probably use Latin every day.

Here are a pauca sed bona (few, but good) Latin phrases and words.

Ad hoc: to this particular purpose Magnum opus: the greatest piece of work
Ad infinitum: going on forever Memorabilia: memorable things
Ad nauseam: continuing to the point of nausea Modus operandi (m.o.): way of operating
Ante meridiem (a.m.): before noon Nota bene (n.b.): note it well
Agenda: things to be done Per annum: yearly
Alias: otherwise Per capita: per head (per person)
Alibi: elsewhere Per cent: per hundred
Census: count of citizens Per diem: daily
Carpe diem: Seize the day Per se: by itself
Circa (ca.): around or approximately Post meridiem (p.m.): after noon
E.g. (exempli gratia): for example Post mortem: after death
Et al. (et alii): and others Post partum: after childbirth
Etc. (et cetera): and the rest of such things Post scriptum (p.s.): postscript
Ergo: therefore in conclusion Quid pro quo: something for something
Facsimile: make a similar one Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?: Who will guard the guardians?
I.e. (id est): that is or in other words Quo vadis: where are you going?
In memoriam: in memory (of) Referendum: something to be referred
Interim: meanwhile Rigor mortis: the rigidity of death
In vino veritas: In wine is truth Sic: thus
Ipso facto: by the fact itself Status quo: the state in which
Terra firma: solid ground
Via: by way of
Veni, vidi, vici: I came, I saw, I conquered.
Vice versa: position being reversed


  • Ali Turnbull
    Posted at 13:04h, 18 March Reply

    I failed Latin O level but I use Latin every day. I’m fascinated with the roots of English – I love all those TV quiz questions that begin: ‘From the Latin for x and y what word means z?’ And I like recognising when a word isn’t from Latin or Greek but, for example, Viking or Gaelic. I’m not sure how useful it is for today’s children to conjugate Latin verbs, decline nouns and read Caesar’s Gallic Wars. But I do think that knowing where words come from (even if you don’t call it etymology) is a good skill to have, especially when learning other languages.

  • Mark Orr`
    Posted at 16:10h, 21 March Reply

    It was a good reminder about all those phrases that we use every day coming directly from Latin. Mind you we also use Greek, Arabic and French.

    Personally I wouldn’t want my child to spend precious time at school learning Latin. There are plenty of far more relevant things they could teach her in the limited time available.

  • Ben Locker
    Posted at 10:43h, 02 April Reply

    My first Latin teacher made my life a misery after I got nought out of ten in a test, and also happened to draw a large tombstone at the top, engraved with my name, a cross and a perfectly-rendered ‘REQUIESCAT IN PACE’.

    No sense of humour, some people.

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