No other modern languages have left quite as big of a mark on English as German and French. But in this installment, we'll look look towards Latin, a language that, while long dead (i.e. no longer actively spoken), still plays an important role in many different areas of life.
English in particular uses numerous abbreviations that are based on Latin words and phrases. In addition to that, the terminology in different fields has been heavily influenced by the language. For example, legal and medical terminology has a broad Latin base, and universities use many Latin terms in their acedemic vocabulary.
Not to mention the many phrases and idioms that still circulate in our everyday speech. Few schools or universities in the US teach Latin anymore so we do not always immediately know the origin of some expressions or their literal meaning.
I myself sat through 5 (sometimes more, sometimes less successful) years of Latin in school at the end of which I received my intermediate Latin certificate ("Kleines Latinum"). To help you make sense of the most popular phrases I scraped together all Latin knowledge, did my research, and got a friend with a Latin proficiency certificate to proofread.
So read through the list of Latin words used in English below and find out how much Latin you know and if you can learn anything new. And don’t forget to check out Brainscape’s Latin flashcards if you really want to beef up your Latin skills!
Top 25 words (and phrases) we borrowed from Latin
1. ad absurdum
ad = to, toward
absurdum (adj.), neutral form of absurdus = irrational, absurd
To the absurd.
2. alea iacta est; originally iacta alea est
alea (noun) = (game of) dice
iacta [est] (verb), passive perfect of iacere = to throw, to hurl
[est (verb), present of esse = to be, to exist]
The dice has been thrown.
3. alma mater
alma (adj.), female form of almus = nourishing, foodgiving
mater (noun) = mother
alias (pron.) = another, other; different
5. alter ego
alter (pron.) = another, the other
ego (pron.) = I
alumnus (noun) = ward, nursling; pupil
7. anno domini
anno (noun), ablative of annus = year
domini (noun), genitive of dominus = master, ruler, lord
Year of the lord.
8. ante bellum
ante (prep.) = before; in front of
bellum (noun), accusative of bellum = war
Before the war.
9. post mortem
post (prep.) = behind, after
mortem (noun), accusative of mors = death
10. mens rea
mens (noun) = mind; disposition
rea (adj.), female of reus = guilty, guilt-ridden; accused
11. tabula rasa
tabula (noun) = board, plank; slate
rasa (verb), past participle passive of radere = to scrape, to scratch
Board that has been scraped.
12. bona fide
bona (adj.), female of bonus = good
fide (noun), ablative of fides = trust, faith
13. carpe diem
carpe (verb), vocative of carpere = to pick, to pluck
diem (noun), accusative of dies = day
Pluck the day.
14. coitus interruptus
coitus (also: coetus, noun) = a coming together; gathering
interruptus (verb), past perfect passive of interrumpere = to break off/apart, to interrupt
A coming together that has been broken off.
15. mea culpa
mea (pron.), female of meus = my
culpa (noun) = fault, error
16. summa cum laude
summa (adj.), superlative of superus = highest
cum (prep.) = with
laude (noun), ablative of laus = praise
With highest praise.
17. ex libris
ex (prep.) = out of, from within
libris (noun), plural ablative of liber = books
Out of (the) books.
18. habeas corpus
habere (verb), 2nd pers. sing. subjunctive of habere = to have
corpus (noun) = body
You [should] have the body.
19. in vitro
in (prep.) = in
vitro (noun), ablative of vitrum = glass
20. post partum
post (prep.) = behind, after
partum (noun), accusative of partus = bearing, birth, delivery
21. semper fidelis
semper (adv.) = always
fidelis (adj.) = faithful
22. et al. = et alii
et (conj.) = and
alii (pron.), plural of alius = others
23. etc. = et cetera
et (conj.) = and
cetera (adj.), female of ceterus = remainder, rest
And the remainder/rest.
24. e.g. = exempli gratia
exempli (noun), genitive of exemplum = example
gratia (prep.) = for … sake
For the sake of example.
25. i.e. = id est
id = that
est (verb), third person sing. of esse = is
Learn Latin with Brainscape
Latin may be long dead but it's far from being useless. There are indeed many more Latin words and roots used in English than the ones above. Learning the basics of Latin helps you understand English grammar and structure better than ever before. Latin may even help improve your SAT scores.
You're not alone on this potential learning journey. You can start learning Latin vocab and grammar today with Brainscape's Latin flashcards. Good luck!