Latin, the language of the ancient Romans, has left an indelible mark on our everyday vocabulary. Even without realizing it, we frequently encounter Latin phrases that have seamlessly integrated into modern usage. While many are aware of Latin’s association with the Roman Empire, fewer know that the name of the language originates from present-day Lazio, the region encompassing Rome, previously known as Latium.
The widespread dominance of the Roman Empire facilitated the official adoption of Latin across vast expanses of Europe and northern Africa, alongside Greek. As the empire declined, Latin gradually evolved into the Romance languages we study and speak today. However, Latin itself endured, persisting in domains such as science, politics, and religion. Consequently, numerous Latin expressions have persevered into the 21st century, offering glimpses into the language’s enduring legacy.
Captivating Latin Phrases Their Origins
Alea iacta est
Literal meaning: “The die is cast.”
This phrase recalls the symbolic act of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon River, which ignited the Second Civil War in the Roman Republic. Once this pivotal point was reached, there was no turning back. In contemporary usage, it signifies a decisive moment with no possibility of retreat. For instance, imagine just having submitted your exam—alea iacta est.
Literal meaning: “The other I”
Coined in the 20th century when psychologists identified dissociative identity disorder, “Alter Ego” refers to a person leading a double life, with a distinct personality separate from their everyday self. It is important to note that it does not excuse poor behavior, with individuals shifting blame to their “other self.”
Ante meridiem / Post meridiem
Literal meaning: “Before midday / after midday”
While these Latin phrases may not be explicitly recognized when spoken, their abbreviations, “a.m.” and “p.m.,” are commonly used and familiar to many. Unveiling these meanings reveals a deeper comprehension of everyday language, such as deciphering your alarm clock’s time indicators.
Ars longa, vita brevis
Literal meaning: “Art is long, life is short.”
Hippocrates of Kos, an influential figure in the field of medicine, expressed this sentiment. It emphasizes the dedication and effort required to create something extraordinary that endures, juxtaposed with the brevity of human existence.
Literal meaning: “Seize the day”
Coined by Horace in the first century BCE, this phrase encourages living in the present moment and making the most of one’s opportunities. While Drake popularized a similar phrase with his song “YOLO,” Horace’s “Carpe Diem” predates it by centuries.
Literal meaning: “Beware of the dog”
The inscription “Cave Canem” was first discovered in Pompeii, the ancient Roman city preserved in ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This warning, reminiscent of modern “beware of the dog” signs, adorned the entrance of a house. It serves as a reminder that, despite the passage of time, certain aspects of human behavior remain unchanged.
Cogito, ergo sum
Literal meaning: “I think, therefore I am”
The famous declaration “Cogito, ergo sum” finds its origin in the work of René Descartes (1596-1650), a notable mathematician, philosopher, and scientist. This profound statement reflects Descartes’ philosophy on the existence of the self. A fundamental proposition in Western philosophy, it has cemented its place as one of history’s most recognizable declarations.
Literal meaning: “Off the furrows” + “Trembling”
In 1813, British physician Thomas Sutton introduced the term “Delirium Tremens” to describe the syndrome associated with alcohol withdrawal. This condition, characterized by severe symptoms, is a well-recognized consequence of abstaining from alcohol.The phrase itself has since contributed to the colloquial understanding of being in a state of delirium.
Errare humanum est
Literal meaning: “To err is human”
Repeated since ancient times, this phrase acknowledges the universal human tendency to make mistakes. Cicero, a prominent Roman politician and lawyer, is attributed with this famous statement. The complete sentence, “errare humanum est, sed perseverare autem diabolicum” (to err is human, but to persist is diabolical), is akin to the “epic fail” of the Roman era.
Literal meaning: “For example”
Finally, the origin of the abbreviation “e.g.” is revealed. Once again, understanding the Latin phrases behind these abbreviations enhances our linguistic comprehension.
Literal meaning: “It is”
As a natural continuation, understanding “i.e.” can aid in distinguishing it from “e.g.” when differentiating between the two.
Literal meaning: “Remember that you will die”
This phrase emerged from a peculiar Roman custom. During parades celebrating victories, a servant would whisper “memento mori” to the Emperor, serving as a reminder of his mortality amidst his grandeur. Today, it is employed in art and literature to symbolize the transience of life.
Requiescat in pace
Literal meaning: “Rest in peace”
Contrary to popular belief, the abbreviation “R.I.P.” originates from Latin rather than English. It is a timeless expression used to convey condolences and wish eternal rest to the departed.
Veni, vidi, vici
Literal meaning: “I came, I saw, I conquered”
Attributed to Julius Caesar, this phrase succinctly captures his swift triumph in a short-lived war. It is a widely recognized expression that resonates with the notion of seizing opportunities, similar to “Carpe Diem” and YOLO.
Verba volant, sed scripta manent
Literal meaning: “Spoken words fly away, written words remain”
Caius Titus addressed the Roman Senate with this phrase, highlighting the importance of documenting official matters in writing to ensure clarity and permanence. Though evoking a romantic sentiment, it emphasizes the significance of preserving ideas through the written word.
Wrapping Up on Latin Phrases Commonly Used in the Modern Age
Now equipped with knowledge of the origins behind these Latin phrases, why not put it to use? The Latin language might be ancient, but it’s still very cool and encompasses so much. These common Latin phrases that stem from Ancient Greek history are still valuable in the modern landscape and can help you better portray your own Alter Ego! Engage in a game of trivia, impressing others with your newfound understanding of these meticulously crafted linguistic classics. Roll the dice—alea iacta est!